Thursday, July 8, 2010

69: The Self-Empowered Woman: Somaly Mam

Dear Followers,

I am frequently asked how I "discover" the amazing women who become part of The Self-Empowered Woman blog. Not surprisingly, the answer almost always has something to do with reading. But I was introduced to today's heroine when I read the wedding announcement in the New York Times of Michael Raymond Angelo and Scott Michael MacDougal. I was impressed that they were both involved in New York's Somaly Mam Foundation, which works to end child prostitution and sex slavery, particularly in Southeast Asia. The couple met Ms. Mam in New York and even traveled to Cambodia to visit one of her shelters. Their efforts on her behalf aroused my curiosity, so I did a little research in order to share her story with you.

Almost all of us have complained at one time or another, but when you learn about the amazing story of Cambodia's brave Somaly Mam you'll realize how lucky you are to have your "problems" rather than the ones she has faced!

Somaly Mam has endured enough in 40 years to encompass several lifetimes. She never learned who her parents were (1: No Paternal Safety Net) because she was abandoned; she was first raped at the age of twelve. By the time she was 14 she was sold into a forced marriage to a man who beat her, and eventually sold her to a Phnom Penh brothel where, in her words, "we were treated worse than dogs."

While there, Mam was repeatedly gang raped and tortured (12: Hard Times) and the awful things saw and experienced led her to make rescuing young powerless girls her life's work. The acronym for her organization is AFESIP (the English translation would be Acting For Women In Precarious Circumstances) and it works to rescue young girls from the pimps and brothels that abuse them.

In Cambodia, a five or six year old child can be sold into slavery for as little as $100, and the going price for a young girl prostitute is less than $2. So far, Mam has rescued over 5,000 girls and her shelters offer medical, psychological and educational care for the young girls who look to her for help.

According to the Cambodian Ministry of Women's Affairs there are over 1o0,000 prostitutes in Cambodia, almost half are under 16, and more than half are HIV positive.
The reason Mam was able to escape sexual slavery and work to help others is that her appearance was not appealing to Khmer and Chinese brothel customers. They prefer plump, light skinned girls, but she is tall, slim and dark skinned; the brothel eventually let her go. Since that time Mam's mission has been to help other girls (7: Magnificent Obsession).

Mam married a French expatriate, but they have divorced (15: Forget About Prince Charming). She is a devoted mother to her three children (16: Intensive Motherhood). Thanks to her and the shelters she has established in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, girls who otherwise had no future have been taught to read, write, and acquire skills to support themselves without having to sell their bodies.

Looking forward to your comments...