Thursday, November 22, 2012

Somaly Mam: A Reason to Be Thankful This Thanksgiving

Vol. I, No. 3

Somaly Mam doesn’t know when she was born, and doesn’t know her real name. She’s from Cambodia, and she grew up an orphan. For a time, Somaly survived on other people’s kindnesses for food and shelter. And then a man took her in whom she refers to as Grandfather. Eventually, he sold her to a brothel. “I was born without love,” Somaly says simply, as a way of explaining how this sort of transaction can take place between a child and an adult.

Courtesy of Somaly Mam Foundation

Somaly was actually one of the lucky ones. She made it out of the brothel, many years later, and lived to tell about it. Some of her companions did not. As one of the other women put it, who was sold into sex slavery at the age of four, “A few moments of his pleasure killed me.” That woman had contracted AIDS from one of the brothel’s clients; those were her dying words.

And herein a point: Somaly and her team of survivors and activists refer to the men who frequent the brothels as “clients”. This is curious to me, because what they are is rapists. These women and little girls have no choice in the matter of when or whether they’ll have sex, and as Somaly described it, none of the girls “was even given a teaspoon of water to wash with for an entire day spent with clients.”

Of course, this is all very difficult to comprehend, isn’t it? It’s distant and surreal to imagine a parent figure selling a child into slavery, sex slavery no less. But it is real, and we actually can help.

For starters, Somaly’s story is not just a devastating account of evil. It’s a story of a woman’s journey from a terrible past to a present of empowerment and joy and light. As she puts it, she “believes in real and true love without any conditions.” And yes, this means forgiveness. All the things you can’t believe someone can talk about when they’ve lived what they’ve lived. Somaly and her team of survivors and activists have rescued more than seven thousand enslaved women! (To read more about how they do this, click here.)

Courtesy of Somaly Mam Foundation

And this is where you come in. You can actually help Somaly. Those survivors, the ones who’ve grown up in the brothels and have been rescued, are also creators. They craft handmade sterling silver necklaces, beautiful scarves, cufflinks, and other gift items that would be so very meaningful to receive this holiday season. And, Somaly has actually published a book about her journey. Just in time for the holidays, you can make a real difference.

What could Somaly’s dream be, you ask? After all, this is a blog about people who follow extraordinary paths in life. Well, as Somaly puts it, “My dream is to have more and more survivors.”

Let's help her achieve just that.

Read more about Somaly at

Somaly Mam, right, and me. Photo courtesy of Andrea Reese

1 comment:

Rajiv Satyal said...

inspiring story... thank you for featuring!