Before Demi and Ashton founded their organization, DNA (Demi and Ashton Foundation) to help end world wide slavery, there was Somaly Mam; an ex-slave from Cambodia, on the front lines of human trafficking.
Mam, a “CNN Hero,” Glamour magazine “Woman of the Year,” and one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, maintained a humble tone throughout Thursday’s lecture, insisting, “I’m not a hero, I’m just Somaly.”
Born to a tribal minority family in the Mondulkiri province of Cambodia, Somaly Mam began life in extreme poverty. With limited options as part of a severely marginalized ethnic group, and living in unimaginable despair, her family often resorted to desperate means to survive. This confluence of dire circumstances led to the unspeakable horrors that would mark Somaly’s early years.
In her memoir, The Road of Lost Innocence, she states that she was born in either 1970 or 1971.In the mid-1970s, and the Khmer Rouge terrorized Cambodia and drove thousands of people into the country side. Essentially orphaned, Mam lived in a small Phnong village until a man picked her up and promised to find her father.he became his slave. Mam was instructed to call him “grandfather” because it’s a sign of respect to the elderly in Cambodian culture
Mam was abused by her “grandfather” until she was approximately 14, when she was sold to a brothel and forced into prostitution She was also forced to marry a fighter in the Khmer Rouge.
She escaped the country and her captures after witnessing the brutal murder of her best friend. She has since dedicated her life to saving victims and empowering survivors.
In 1993, an aid worker from France found Mam and helped her escape Cambodia. After Mam escaped the brothels, she went to Paris and got married. While in Paris, she came to the shocking realization that many other women and girls were ensnared in the same that she had been. She went home to Cambodia.
In 1996, she founded AFESIP (Agir pour les Femmes en Situation Precaire or Acting for Women in Distressing Situations), a Cambodian non-governmental organization dedicated to rescuing, housing and rehabilitating women and children in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam who have been sexually exploited. AFESIP conducts outreach work to try helping the women still enslaved. The organization also works with law enforcement to raid the brothels. Mam has saved over 7,000 women from sexual slavery. Her sanctuaries are in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.
In June 2007, Mam co-founded the Somaly Mam Foundation, which officially launched in September 2007. The Somaly Mam Foundation is a non profit organization formed in the United States that supports anti-trafficking groups and helps women and girls who have been forced into sexual slavery.
Until recently, many of us thought that human trafficking and slavery were a thing of the past, or something that happens in “third world” countries. We now know that slavery is everywhere and affects everyone-especially women. Women and young girls are sold into prostitution, in many cases, for less than $100.
Her work and dedication to the awareness of human trafficking around the world has inspired millions, including Demi and Ashton, to enact change; that’s why Somaly is an #Inspirational Butterfly.
What can you do to help bring awareness to human trafficking?
1. Connect with organizations like The Somaly Mam Foundation, DNA, Women of Vision, and World Vision, to get informed and stay up to date.
2. Share what you know. Many of us don’t have a problem sharing a ridiculous story on Facebook, so we shouldn’t have a problem sharing something that counts. Most victims of human trafficking are forced into slavery by someone they know! Sharing your information about human trafficking just may save the child or child of someone in your social network!
3. Volunteer. There are hundreds of organizations nationally and locally that you can donate a small amount of time to, to help end these atrocities against humanity. Again, the above organizations can point you in the right direction.
4. Motivate the media. Encourage your local media to report stories of human trafficking. This will bring more awareness to the problem.
5. Be creative!! Use your talents and ideas to create a campaign for support of victims or awarness-AND SHARE THEM WITH US!! We’d love to share your ideas and what you are doing with the rest of the butterflies:-)