She has been named as one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, Glamour’s Woman of the Year, and a CNN Hero. Along with such luminaries as Sophia Loren, Chilean writer Isabel Allende, Susan Sarandon, the late Nobel Peace laureate Wangari Maathai, and others, she was part of the historic first group of women ever to carry the Olympic flag at the 2006 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony. Two-time Pulitizer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Nick Kristof — heroic in his own right — calls her one of his personal heroes.
She is Somaly Mam, founder of AFESIP (Agir pour les Femmes en Situation Precaire, or “Acting for Women in Distressing Situations”), a Cambodian NGO dedicated to “rescuing, housing and rehabilitating women and children in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam who have been sexually exploited,” as well as the namesake of the Somaly Mam Foundation, a U.S. nonprofit “committed to ending modern slavery and empowering its survivors as part of the solution.”
Somaly, a sex slavery survivor-turned-activist, has told her own story in the autobiography The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine (Random House, 2008), and her story has been told in both Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (Vintage, 2009) and the recent PBS documentary based upon it.
Like over ninety percent of her fellow Cambodians, Somaly is also a Buddhist, though some (including the Buddhist blogosphere’s Angry Asian Buddhist) have pointed out that this is rarely (if ever) addressed in writing about her. Being an admirer of Somaly and her work, this was something I very much wanted to help rectify.
So I was incredibly honored and blessed to be able to do so for the Fall 2013 issue of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, which hit newsstands this week. (If you’re a subscriber, you can also read our interview online here.) The piece also includes absolutely amazing, original photographs of Somaly and some of her girls by the great Will Baxter. I hope you will take a look!