You know those moments, the ones that change your life or simply change the way you view a certain subject. It could be a birth of a child, a series of events, or simply listening to a song. One of those moments for me came after I read Somaly Mam's The Road to Lost Innocence.
First, let me take you back to 2004. My first trip to Thailand was in August of 2004. The trip was life altering as I got to see and experience things I had only read about. However, there was one thing I wish I didn't have to see or witness- and that was child prostitutes or sex slaves. I'll never forget walking down a dark and quiet street in Bangkok and noticed a bunch of young teenagers hanging outside a house. As I got closer I realized they were in lingerie...children in lingerie. As I looked up to the second floor I caught several children peeking through the caged windows. These children were no older than six or seven years old. This memory is burned into my brain.
On the way back home I picked up the book Sex Slaves: The Trafficking of Women in Asia. It broke down, by chapter, the business of sex slaves. I started to understand how the brothels are run, who's involved, and where and how this happens. After reading it, I knew if I ever went back to Asia I would volunteer or help out in some way. So, several months before my husband and I took our 3 month trip to Asia this year, I started making phone calls and researching groups online. I only found a couple and they were either underground or never returned my email. At the time I did not know about Somali Mam's organization and although we got to do some volunteer work in Laos and Thailand we, unfortunately, did not get to volunteer at a woman's shelter.
During our trip my husband had heard about Somali's book and bought it for me to read while we were traveling. Somali Mam is a Cambodian woman born without a family (Khmer Rouge), kidnapped and sold into slavery at a very young age. She does not know her real name or her actual age. Her story is traumatic...traumatic on your heart and traumatic on your soul. The things she has gone through are hard to imagine or simply understand. I do know that somehow she had the will to live and now devotes her life to helping other young girls escape the brothels and get acclimated back into society. She lets them know that there is love in the world and that there is someone fighting for their lives, their lively-hood, and their childhood. I think I cried throughout 90% of the book, it's that heartbreaking and that beautiful. I just remember thinking while I read it 'god, how does this happen to someone?', 'how can this person survive and then go on to help others like her?'.
Unfortunately her story is far too common, especially in Cambodia. According to the Somali Mam Foundation '2-4 million young women and children will be sold into prostitution in the next 12 months'. There are many factors that attribute to this- the voracious appetite from local men and foreigners, money, culture, police and government turning their heads the other way, etc. This needs to END. But it can't without your help. Awareness is HUGE- spreading the word, starting the conversation, and volunteering.
Somali Mam is one of my heroes. I am amazed and in awe of her courage. Hopefully one day I will get to meet her and thank her for being one of the strongest women alive and for being the voice of girls who feel they have no voice.
If you would like to learn how to help or donate please go to her website. I also urge you to read her book. You won't be the same when you are done. And remember...it takes just one person!
Below is a video from a recent Somali Mam Foundation Benefit.