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An evening with Somaly Mam

Somaly Mam at the Santuary on Penn in Indianapolis

The college life is one of lectures. From the first hour of Welcome Week, to the last speech at graduation, everyone is talking. Every once in a while, you hear a lecture that matters. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to listen to one of those lectures when anti-trafficking activist Somaly Mam came to Indianapolis to talk about her anti-trafficking efforts in Cambodia. She left me pondering at night for several weeks.

Somaly Mam is a Cambodian trafficking survivor, human rights activist, and author. She was born into a marginalized ethnic group in Cambodia, and later trafficked by a man who pretended to be her grandfather. The man sold her to a brothel where she was raped and abused for many years before she worked up the courage to escape. She soon returned to Cambodia, where she started an organization dedicated to saving victims and empowering survivors of trafficking. To date, Somaly’s organization has helped an estimated 7,000 victims.

When she stood up to talk, I hadn’t yet read anything about her life. I was hoping to get the full dramatic story of her experiences, but the first thing she said was something like,

“I am Somaly. I was trafficked. It is very sad, but I’m not here to talk about that. We’re not here for crying; we are here to talk about solutions.”

At first, I was thrown off by the way she breezed over her own life. Then I realized she had said something very important. I wanted to stand up and applaud her. Here at last was a woman with whom I could relate! Even more exciting, she was credible, thanks to her years of personal and professional experience. It was simple. It was beautiful. I could have danced. (I never dance. Ask my boyfriend.) The root of what she was saying came down to this: solutions.

Human trafficking is one of those social justice issues that will convince you in five minutes you’re a die-hard activist. When a little girl with big brown eyes tells you about being raped by her own family, you’ll do anything to be her advocate. Trust me. There are so many tragedies, and all the stories deserve a voice. (I do believe that, or I wouldn’t be doing this project.) But in Somaly’s words, the stories are about recognizing tragedy and creating solutions for it. She asked us to get down and dirty, to the very core of the issue. How can we rescue more girls from trafficking situations? How can we educate them and give them a chance to live another life? How can we fill them with the food every soul longs for (the Gospel)? How can we teach our men that objectifying women contributes to the problem? How can we explain that pornography goes beyond innocent “me time,” because it destroys young girls’ lives? The list goes on.

There are individuals who dedicate their lives to rescuing the broken lives of trafficked individuals. They are daily creating solutions and actively answering the questions above. Somaly is one individual who spends the majority of her time working with girls in the brothels of Cambodia. Little people like me are here to honor their lives and contribute to their life work. These stories and the artwork are here to educate and raise money that will go back to an organization that does work like Somaly’s in the United States. The money is for solutions: a home for the homeless girls, an education for their new lives, life counsel for their broken hearts, and outreach for those still lost. Maybe you will join me, when the time is right.



*Information about Somaly Mam was taken from the biography on Somaly Mam’s website,


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