Friday, May 22, 2009

A True Cambodian Heroine

I had nervous diarrhoea the whole morning because I knew Somaly Mam was going to be on our show. Seriously, I had to pop a whole bottle of po chai pills!

Like Stan, I have interviewed many VIPs in my career: from political leaders, heads of MNCs to celebrities. But there is something about this simple remarkable woman that made me feel terribly, terribly humbled and awed.

After seeing her being swallowed up by crowds at the SCWO (Singapore Council of Women's Organisations) event the night before, I felt almost "unworthy" to hold her captive - so exclusively - for an hour. I've never felt this way before.

This is a woman of great courage. A woman so single-minded in her mission to rescue girls sold into sex slavery (some as young as 5 years old) that she is willing to risk even her own life.

And her life has been threatened many times, her home was burned down, her daughter kidnapped and raped. Yet, her NGO - AFESIP Cambodia - has to date rescued over 5,000 girls in Cambodia, rehabilitated them and reintegrated them to society.

But she's compelled to do this work because she herself was raped as 12, forced to marry at 15, and thereafter sold into a brothel where she served 20-30 men a day, against her will. Despite having no education, she was named one of TIME magazine's most influential people in 2009.

A picture is worth a thousand words, so check out her work here:

At the SCWO talk last night, which was part of the Primetime Outreach: Women Leaders series, the host asked Somaly, "You've been to the United Nations, to international conferences and met many world leaders. Who is the one leader you'd most want to meet but have not?"

Somaly laughed. "When I go to these meetings, I don't know these famous people. I am not educated, I don't read magazines or newspapers," she admits with a bashful chuckle. "They pull me to meet the First Lady, I say what is the First Lady?"

But the people who touch her, she knows by name. Like a Singaporean volunteer by the name of June, which she calls "June girl" because she has given of her time and love to the girls at the shelter. For Somaly, no rank or title matters more than Love.

If you'd like to find out more about her life, I'd highly recommend you grab a copy of her autobiography The Road of Lost Innocence. It's available in all major bookstores and all proceeds go to the girls in her Foundation. If it's out of stock, I say place an order for it! It's a powerful book, a must-read for all.

You can also find out more about her courageous work by visiting the Somaly Mam Foundation website. But don't just be inspired, take action! Somaly extends a personal invitation for you to visit the girls.

My Hero Somaly Mam in The Living Room: This autographed copy of her book will remain one of my most prized possessions!

During the news break, I ask Somaly, "What sort of support do you most need right now?"

Somaly's beautiful face breaks into an almost cheeky half-smile. "Just come and see. And you will know for yourself."

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