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.
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 AFESIP (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 Somaly Mam Foundation, 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.
I don’t want to go without leaving a trace — Somaly Mam