Victims for victims, women for women, human for human
The woman responsible for resonating the voice of trafficked victims in Cambodia is Somaly Mam. Some of you might have heard of her, some of you might not. She is the driving force and “the face” of the Somaly Mam Foundation and AFESIP.
I have never met her in person but I have seen pictures of her and there is no doubt that she is a beautiful woman. In 2006, Glamour Magazine named her “Woman of the Year”. She was an Olympic flag bearer in the Torino Game 2006 and on top of the different international awards she received for her effort in combating human trafficking, she has been photographed with many famous international celebrities and influential people. It’s almost as if everyone just can’t get enough of her and she seems to be the perfect person for the job.
They say that beauty is power and Somaly certainly uses it to her advantage. She spends most of her time promoting her cause and does it successfully in terms of generating funds and support for the foundation she runs. (Check out the foundation’s website at http://www.somaly.org.)
The thing is, her beauty is definitely not her only recipe for success. What separates her from other personalities such as Nicole Kidman, Darryl Hannah, Petra Nemcova and Susan Sarandon (all famous celebrities who speak out on violence against women) is that she too was a victim of sexual slavery. Being sold by her adopted father at a young age, she had endured all sorts of unspeakable acts including being gang raped, held at gunpoint, stripped naked and tortured. So, when she speaks on behalf of these women, she brings a different but yet powerful dimension to those who are willing to listen.
Which is why, I find it a tremendous honour to have the opportunity to work with her organization, not just because she is famous or because I am a woman. It’s simply because I’ve come to realise that Somaly Mam has used her past experience as a victim to benefit all the other women she vows to rescue.
She understands and knows what these women need from a realistic point of view, including finding ways to prevent them from falling into the same trap again. Therefore, AFESIP seeks to provide a rather holistic approach towards protecting, rehabilitating, training and reintegrating the women back into their communities with the opportunity for employment. It is often rare to find an organization that goes through the whole nine yards to make sure that victims are able to regain hope, dignity, self-confidence and independence.
The following articles will focus on the struggle and challenges faced by those who have suffered and those who are trying to help.