Going where others fear to tread

To Be,

or Not To Be,

That is the question. Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to?
‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished.
So why does she go on? No. It is not
.. that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered Country,
from whose bourn
No Traveller returns.

She knows hell — and feels, smells, and sees it every time she closes her eyes.

The answer is:

To Be. She goes on.
  It is for the children — not herself.

“People ask me how I can bear to keep doing what I do. I’ll tell you. The evil that’s been done to me is what propels me on. Is there any other way to exorcise it?” Somaly Mam grew up in Cambodia as an abandoned orphan. She doesn’t remember her mother or father, only being cold most of the time. She remembers the forest, however. How to find ants and insects to eat.  But, that loneliness was heaven compared to the hell she would become trapped into.

Mam lived in a small Phnong village until a man picked her up and promised to find her father. She became his indentured servant or slave. Mam was instructed to call him “grandfather” because it’s a sign of respect to the elderly.  Mam was abused by her “grandfather” until she was approximately 14, [Wikipedia]

She was forced to marry and her husband abused her.  Her husband was a soldier and one time did not come back, presumed killed in the ongoing battles in Cambodia.  She was sold into a brothel by her “grandfather,” about at the age of sixteen. She was beaten by pimps and clients in the brothel,  eventually ending up in a Phnom Penh brothel where she endured  torture and rape for years. After many years, being made to watch as another girl, her friend, murdered, Mam escaped and was eventually helped out of Cambodia by a French aid worker, who became her husband.

Instead of trying to rebuild her life in France, where she married, Mam returned to Cambodia.  Coming back, she saw the brothels again, and she felt that she had to help girls who hadn’t been so lucky as her.  She couldn’t get the brothels out of her mind.  She had escaped, but felt that she needed to inform the girls that they had a choice, something not done for her. Her Temperament required her to help, for Somaly Mam is a Healer Idealist.  She must help despite the very real threats and danger to her and her family.  She has had a gun pointed at her head, her daughter kidnapped and raped, her sanctuaries invaded, and government officials and brothel owners constantly harassing her.  She has gone to where all others fear to tread.

Mam served as a nurse from Médecins Sans Frontières and, in her spare time, handed out condoms, soap, and information to women in the brothels. These items were never otherwise provided or available to the women that Somaly visited. In 1996, she founded find gay men (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 4,000 women from sexual slavery. Her sanctuaries are in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam In June 2007, Mam co-founded the http://brainsandcareers.com/older-guy-younger-woman/, 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. [Wikipedia]

“My story isn’t important, I only tell it to make visible the lives of the thousands of other women who have no voice.” Mam’s voice is soft and shy, as if even after nearly two decades of activism she were still getting used to speaking up. Her matter-of-fact accounts, delivered in halting, imperfect English, leave her listeners shaken.  She tells of victims of the sex trade that are as young as 3 years old.  At particular risk for AIDS are the young virgins. They fall prey to a myth among Cambodian men, that sex with a virgin will cure them of HIV. “The brothels have grown larger and more violent. We find women chained to sewers. Girls come to us beaten half to death. They are so young. Increasingly we see that the meebons [female brothel keepers] have addicted them to drugs so they won’t even try to escape. When I was young we were terrorized with snakes and heavy fists, but these girls suffer a more brutal sort of torture. They have marks that are worse than anything I have ever endured”

And their great passion is to heal the conflicts that trouble individuals, or that divide groups, and thus to bring wholeness, or health, to themselves, their loved ones, and their community.  … to understand Healers, we must understand that their deep commitment to the positive and the good is almost boundless and selfless, inspiring them to make extraordinary sacrifices for someone or something they believe in. [Please Understand Me II]

Brothels today abuse girls so brutally that Somaly has found women near to death. Men addict the girls to drugs so that they won’t try to escape. The torture has gotten worse since Somaly was in the brothels. She is driven — her girls, her healing of the souls of girls — is what keeps her alive.   What she does find difficult is re-telling, re-hashing her story, it’s like the pain never gets to heal, the wound gets reopened and opened again and again…but she moves through that and the children, the saving and healing propel her forward, gaining momentum, support, people helping, working with her, giving their support too. “I don’t sleep well. Especially when I have to meet journalists and they ask me about my past. When I close my eyes I feel raped and dirty. I’m very weak. At night when I don’t sleep, I think that right at that moment many children are being raped. The pills I used to take don’t work any more. But I can get by with two or three hours’ sleep. I don’t know what being happy means. But I like seeing the girls smile. That makes me feel good” “I strongly believe that love is the answer and that it can mend even the deepest, unseen wounds. Love can heal, love can console, love can strengthen and yes, love can make a change.”

When making decisions, Healers follow their heart not their head, which means they can make errors of fact, but seldom of feeling. They have a natural interest in scholarly activities and demonstrate, like the other Idealists, a remarkable facility with language. They have a gift for interpreting stories, as well as for creating them, and thus often write in lyric, poetic fashion. Frequently they hear a call to go forth into the world and help others, a call they seem ready to answer, even if they must sacrifice their own comfort. [Please Understand Me II]

“I don’t feel like I can change the world. I don’t even try. I only want to change this small life that I see standing in front of me, which is suffering. I want to change this small real thing that is the destiny of one little girl. And then another, and another, because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself or sleep at night” If she killed herself it would mean walking away from the girls, not giving voice.
To Be, there is no question about it.
Quote1.pngI don’t want to go without leaving a traceQuote2.png — Somaly Mam

33 thoughts on “Going where others fear to tread”

  1. Also from Somaly:

    “I’ve committed my life to fighting this horrible scourge on humanity. Seeing innocent young women and children whose lives have been forever scarred leaves no doubt that they need a champion who is willing to invest all their time and energy towards eradicating the shameful practice of human trafficking. I cannot wage this fight alone and call upon anyone who cares about the innocent victims to donate their time, money and advocacy to this important cause. Each contribution means everything to the victims and know that I will be forever grateful for those who help make such an important difference.”

    Yes, I’m in.

  2. I’m glad to here of her. Good luck to her! Or at least to her cause as she doesn’t sound the sort to get good luck. But in any case I wish her the best.

  3. Most problems in Cambodia, including sex trafficking, corruption, and human rights abuses may be blamed on poverty and the destruction of social and physical infrastructure stemming from the country’s tragic past, namely, the Khmer Rouge and the use of Cambodia as turf for Cold War adversaries.

    1. My question to you is what is the point of “blaming” — what does that get you. The real question is what does one do now, Somaly Mam is interested in solutions.

    1. Perhaps it is better not to think of cureing human trafficking-it has gone on for ever, and thinking of abolishing it may be to deprssing. Maybe it is better just to think of saving children. One child, and another, and another, saving everyone of which is a thing worth doing in itself.

      1. It is about applying global pressure on the areas, about bringing in legislation against trafficking and implementing. It just has not been apriority because the gender involved is female, and the making of money from it, and the purpose to sexually abuse girls and women. Of course many people dont want it changed, it is their meal ticket and it fuels a depraved, misogynist attitude. Ordinary people all over the world are horrified by it and building a groundswell to wipe it off the face of the earth, no girl, boy or female has to put up with this because some people, in some places think it is so overwhelming. If you can’t stand the heat and don’t want to contribute, get outta the kitchen. Let us do our job in bringing the perpetrators to justice. Settling for anything less than wiping this stain on humanity is gutless. I don’t do gutless, nor does Somaly Mam.

  4. Hmmm… Just because she’s saving children automatically equates to the Idealist temperament specifically “Healer Idealist”? I’m not so sure that she’s abstractly inclined. She could also be an Artisan or a Guardian that is heavily traumatized by what she experienced she couldn’t shake that off and felt she needed to do something about it, that is, help others. Just because one is helping others with great sacrifice doesn’t automatically equate to that person coming from the Idealist temperament.

    Anyway, I think we need people more like Somaly Mam for the good of the world. That is all.

      1. Yes, Guardians and Artisans could want to “save” girls (and women), the question is: Is Somaly Mam abstract or concrete. It is my opinion, based on my experience and understanding of Keirsey Temperament, and my reading of Somaly Mam’s semi-autobiography, that there is no doubt in my mind she was an Idealist (complying and abstract), considering what she went thru, she is to me, one of the most incredible people in the world, ever. Not many like her, unfortunately.

  5. I really admire and suppor people like Somaly Mam because she can do from inside her own culture something I cannot as an outsider.
    How do you change a culture? To names a few. How can I, as an American, change the Mexican Drug Culture, Indian Caste Culture, a Cambodian Slave Culture? In 1974 while I was in the US Army stationed in South Korea I went to an orphanage run by the 7th Day Adventist. When we arrived no adult was present and one of the kids was badly bleeding. We gave him first aid and checked on other health problems. It was determined all the children all had worms. Why not treat the kids with worm killing drugs? We were told. “If we treat the children they will get worms again.” Why? “We can’t afford shoes and the children get the worms from the soil. Even if we bought the children shoes, they would get worms again. So we don’t worm the kids.”It was a very frustrating and enlightening experience. Changing the culture of Cambodia will start with education, good water, and electricity. (Electricity cuts birth rates in half in underdeveloped villages.) Many times you will find somebody to say to you. “Out of my country you foreign devils, you are not wanted, you don’t know our culture. You are here to steal our money.”
    Star Trek talks of a time in the future when humanity has established a stable and decent civilization for all the Earth. I hope that occurs

    1. //I really admire and suppor people like Somaly Mam because she can do from inside her own culture something I cannot as an outsider.
      How do you change a culture? //——-This is not an issue of culture, it is an issue of atrocities, poverty, (from a nutter Pol Pot ironically, Healer Idealist) who all but destroyed his people and country). It has also arisen from time of Asian wars, Vietnam, soldiers (that would include USA, Aussie soldiers), and the building of the prostitution game to cater, it’s causes are not cultural based, it has economic and misogynistic based, oppressive based. That the majority are females in poverty, that the majority are young girls and women and kidnapped into sex slavery. It happens in almost every country, the USA has sex slavery, educate yourself and research about this. To assume it is some cultural practice is grossly incorrect, it is behaviour of people making huge bucks from others misfortune and poverty. Sex slavery industry is about making money, it is economics, and the world has been slow to respond, to react to curtail it, because of the point is about povery and gender.

  6. If anyone ever researched, or even listened to what Somaly Said they would understand this. Along with tens and tens of thousands of others who can give you the real reasons.

  7. Pam ever been to a 3rd world culture where people eat pets. Where children are disposable and in some place the people are just a few rungs up from the stone age. You can disagree with me, but you are wrong. China and all of Asia has a very long history and fighting customs whose reasons for existance is forgotten is hard. I’ve been to war. Have you? Seeking out people to help is a very dangerou occupation. The Vietnam war which the US pushed and engaged in for years was a lesson that perhaps you have forgotten. I admire your passion on these issues, yet I question your ability to understand what is real in the world. Somaly Mam has been through what we would call hell. The very fact she is back in Cambodia shows a true determination to change her part of the world. We in America fight against ignorance, power and stupidity and thats thust the Republicans. We can’t get a decent health care. We have troops in 150 nations and go to war almost continually? How’s that working out for you. It’s not for me. If I were in charge I would augment the Peace Corp and try to help some of these nations states without being intrusive into their culture. I would love to see some to these 7th century cultures disappear but they are linked to religion.
    Our religious war ended here in the USA but they continue in places like Northern Ireland and in Israel Palestine. Will you join up to play Texas ranger to the world, to go into places and tell them to stop prostituion of women? You won’t have a verbal fight on your hands you will have to fight for your life. And you may well die. I have friends who havd died in war. It’s a hard thing to understand that most of the veterans I know dpn’t want us going looking for trouble. A basic concept that I beleive in is that you need to take care of your own people. We don’t do that.

  8. What are you rabbitting on about. ‘Culture’ is NOT responsible for abducting/kidnapping/selling young girls into prostitution, (that happens worldwide) chaining them up, often drugging get them addicted and some submission, repeated torture, aggravated, unimaginable violent sexual assaults. You bet your ass I’ve been there, (and other places people fear to tread). My money, my resources goes there. I have worked there. I build schools and ensure as many young girls get opportunity(s) to education. Gender inequality is virtually a worldwide issue, western countries are dealing with (or not) sex trafficking. The scabs that are involved in trafficking and child prostitution go where they can best exploit …that can be poverty ridden areas, post war torn, Cambodia fits that in this particular case. But oppression is a worldwide issue. People make money from young girls because they can. Gender inequality will continue to be as long as males buy, sell, and exploit women through prostitution and sex slavery. The basis of prostitution is ‘gender-based discrimination and inequality’, it creates a system where men are able to sexually exploit women.. if you get corruption in law enforcement then, in society, because of sexism, racism, abuse, and poverty it will fester and ferment this base.

    1. Things do not appear out of nothing. Cultures and norms form for many reasons.Teddy Roosevelt in his man in the area speech comments on the role of the Critic. “It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly…who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at best, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” You can launch a war like Vietnam but when you shut down one aspect of life. Other things happen. The Communits Chinese shut down drug dealers and prostitution in 1951. They executed and rededucated millions of people. It took a while, but prostituon roared back. Anger like yours,by itself does not solve the underlying issues that create problems in countries like Cambodia. Like the surface of a watch, you can’t see all the things that go on inside. You can rant, swear, stomp you feet but long term change, most times truce change comes slowly when youare dealing with humans. You can curse at people who disagree or call them names or try to deminish them with terms like
      “What are you rabbitting on about” but you win no friends that way and you make common agreement harder. I sused to listen the” Weathermen during the 60’s at the University. Full of Sound and Fury… And they convinced few and accomplisted little. Cultural norms and pathways and how knowing how a society works is integral to changing that society. If you don’t know how the watch is working how can you fix it. If you break a society like Cambodia was during Pol Pot, how can it be fixed? Somily Mam is working on the one aspect of society that she knows and can control. Working to change things from the inside.

  9. My point was not about settling, Pam. My point is that if we look at the trade to much it induces hopelessness whereas thinking about the last person saved and the next person that might be saved will give ourselves a different message.

    1. …there is no argument to the complexity of issues we deal with here. And there is no criticism of an individual doing what one person can do. BUT there are many solutions to this complex problem, and many of us are able to tackle that in numerous ways. “Which we are doing”. Because issues can seem overwhelming to some people, does not mean effective solutions are not being created and enacted. Whilst I treasure other temperament types inclusion in this process (and they all participate) I am beginning to get an interesting perspective upon the importance and sheer driving force Idealists bring to humanity’s complex issues. I can assure you, (from a personal perspective) ‘no action’ or contribution by me (again, personally speaking), is the greatest crime of all. I may advocate loudly and longly, as is my hardwiring, but be rest assured it is matched (far greater) by doing, contributing and solving complex issues in different ways with best possible outcomes.

      Wes, you assume a lot.

  10. …and don’t under estimate the impact and determination Somaly has had world wide, gathering, advocating for support for these atrocities being perpetrated in and around her home, Cambodia and other regions within Asia, (as well as western countries). It is indeed a case of one person changing the world. The States is only just in early stages of learning about her and her work, (life’s passion). Susan Sarandon, Demi Moore and Ash. Kutcher and various other high profile Americans have been lobbying to name just a few.

  11. Shakespeare gave words to one of my ancient relatives in a play he wrote. “We are but warriors of the working day.” I have laways liked that. I don’t assume, I know a bit about countries like Cambodia. Any Passion without substance is self love. Somaly Mam is doing the best she can in her own quiet way. For that we can support and give her credit.

  12. Somaly is an inspiration to all of us, no matter which temperament! All of the personality types can do what they can- in the realm that works for them- whether spiritual, political, or any other point of view. It makes no sense to try to label the problem strictly cultural or political. There are too many factors. Each person who feels the drive to help should be applauded for doing what they can to chip away at this enormous atrocity. Even helping just one female or male makes the effort and sacrifice worth it!

  13. Thank you for sharing this article! As an healer idealist myself, I appreciate getting to see an example of how another in my temperament chooses to spend her time. I have never done anything as profound as Somaly, and I am awed by how persevering she is. I only hope that she can find happiness within herself, as she stated that she doesn’t know happiness.
    Anyway, Thanks for sharing.

  14. I truly believe she is an Idealist Healer. To have been through all that, and go back and want to help others… not many peole would be willing to do that. I’m a Healer myself, and the majority of people don’t understand the way we work. I know, and Mam knows, to think you can change an entire culture by yourslef is a bit stuck- up. We also know that the smallest action can change the world. Saving just one child can have an enormous impact. You can start a chain reaction that goes on forever and has enormous consequences or benefits with the smallest action. Picking up a pen can start a revolution, and reading a book can lead to a cure for cancer. Imagine what saving just one child’s or woman’s life can lead to. The world is truly a better place with her in it. I’ve asked my mom if for Christmas we could fly to New York and help with the Hurricane Sandy aftermath. Unsurprisingly, she said no, (not enough money) but I still wish I could go and help.

    It’s the ordinary acts of courage that save us. If that’s true, then what happens when someone commits an extraordinary act of courage?

  15. You should reconsider this article. It has come to light that Ms. Mam is a fraud. There are articles in Newsweek and other mainstream news media to this effect. Having been a long time supporter of her and donating to her foundation it has been rather shocking to read revelations that her childhood story is false.

    1. Yes I am reconsidering my article — such a shame, it was MY BEST ARTICLE — you know it’s all about me ;-(

      However, I don’t want to rush to judgement. Most of the time, the media get things wrong. I know from direct experience.

      It still is unclear how much was false — she resigned but maintains the accusations are not true. I don’t want to pile on, just because I was deceived. The cause is real, and she had done a lot of good. Those in glass houses should not throw stones (and I maintain all of us live in glass houses). On the other hand, I don’t give money to charities.

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