Celebrating Heroes: Somaly Mam

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“I continue to give my life to help those in pain and respectfully call upon all those who have love to give, to give wholeheartedly for those less fortunate.” – Somaly Mam

Today is Somaly Mam’s official birthday – she doesn’t know her real birthday or the year she was born (it is thought she was born in 1970/71) or even who her parents were.

So who is Somaly Mam you might ask? She is head of the Somaly Mam Foundation, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to the eradication of sexual slavery and the empowerment of its survivors.

During the mid-1970s when Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge party were terrorising Cambodia, wiping out a quarter of the population, Somaly Mam was separated from her family. She was taken in by a man who promised to help find her father but instead he kept her as his slave until he sold her, at the age of 12, to a brothel in the capital, Phnom Penh. It was here that she endured horrific torture and rape on a daily basis.

She watched in horror as her best friend was murdered by a pimp and knew she had to escape or face the same fate herself. With the help of a French aid worker she managed to flee to Paris but instead of living out her days in peace, she returned to Cambodia where she worked as a nurse with Medicines Sans Frontiers, handing out condoms to women in the brothels. In 1996 she set up Afesip (acting for women in distressing situations) to rescue, house and rehabilitate survivors of sexual slavery in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. The organisation works with the police to raid brothels and bring the women to safety – some of the survivors are as young as six.

Somaly has already helped over 4,000 women escape sexual slavery and in 2007 set up the Somaly Mam Foundation to raise awareness, campaign for change, fund projects and support anti-trafficking groups. Because of her work she has been threatened by pimps and brothel owners and in 2006 her 14-year-old daughter was kidnapped and raped by three men in retaliation for her work.

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Somaly Mam could easily have stayed away from Cambodia and her past, but instead she decided to fight back and confront a problem which affects thousands of women and girls in Cambodia and millions more in other countries. It is estimated that around two million girls are held as sex slaves around the world.

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“My lowest point was when I was trapped as a sex slave and didn’t know how to find my way out. My adoptive parents always gave me good advice: “Use the difficulties to make you stronger, difficulty is your life’s experience.” Their words gave me hope to move on. I now understand life is love, life is about forgiveness,” Somaly said,  “In life you have to learn that you are enough, if you learn how to be enough and accept it then you can unlock all your potential.”

To find out more about Somaly Mam and her Foundation please visit the below links:

http://www.somaly.org/

http://www.afesip.org/

You can also follow Somaly on Twitter here – https://twitter.com/SomalyMam

And on Facebook here – https://www.facebook.com/somalymamfoundation

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