Somaly Mam’s story is one that you won’t soon forget.
Born in a tribal community in Cambodia’s Mondulkiri province, Mam grew up in dire poverty with no running water or electricity—and without parents. After years of begging for food and shelter from village elders, an older man posing as her grandfather promised the young girl he would reunite her with family.
Instead, he sold Mam into sexual slavery at a brothel filled with children where she was brutally tortured and raped daily for years.
After she was forced to watch the execution of her best friend who was made ‘an example’ to the other terrified slaves, Mam vowed to do whatever was necessary to escape. She built relationships with foreign clients who had money and prestige and was finally able to break away to Paris where she married a social worker. After discovering the human trafficking she endured as a young girl was rampant around the world, she returned to Cambodia with her husband where the two began what became Mam’s lifelong dedication to rescuing and rehabilitating women and children sex slaves.
At The Somaly Mam Foundation gala in New York this month, stars like Susan Sarandon, Russell Simmons and Petra Nemcova tributed the inspiring activist, who has been honored as a CNN Hero and Glamour Woman of the Year.
“Her greatest beauty secret is her spirit of giving,” Sarandon told YouBeauty at the fundraiser, where Mam referred to the philanthropic actress as one of her greatest mentors and a mothering figure.
The Body Shop is another supporter that has helped Mam’s namesake foundation grow in leaps and bounds. A couple of years ago, the socially-conscious beauty brand kicked off the End Sex Trafficking of Children & Young People campaign in over 50 countries, where associates in stores gathered over seven million signatures to petition the United Nations Human Rights Council for legislation to end the trade.
Due to petition efforts, Cambodia just recently passed its first anti-sex trafficking legislation and 15 other countries have committed to making actionable change as well.
The Body Shop also raised over $3.5 million for Mam's foundation with the help of a fundraising hand cream—a feat the retailer hopes to repeat early next year when it releases a charitable bag designed by Jimmy Choo founder Tamara Mellon. The monies have now guaranteed food, shelter, rehabilitation and career schooling for rescued slaves in the program, which the foundation previously had to reassess on a monthly basis and sometimes painfully cut due to costs.
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