In what appear to be Somaly Mam’s first public comments on the fallout from her resignation from the Somaly Mam Foundation (SMF) late last month, posts to one of her Facebook pages say that she will sell her house to support girls formerly under her care after SMF cut funding to an NGO she founded in 1996.
Agir Pour Les Femmes en Situation Precaire (Afesip), which received some $2.2 million in funding from SMF between 2007 and 2012, was informed on June 12 that funding from SMF would be terminated immediately, according to a statement posted to Afesip’s website this week by its CEO, Chhoeurth Sao.
Ms. Mam stepped down as president of her eponymous foundation following an article published in Newsweek that revealed her back story as a sex slave had been fabricated. SMF also hired a private law firm to investigate allegations published in The Cambodia Daily over the past two years that Ms. Mam coached girls under her care to tell fabricated stories of horrific sexual exploitation to the media and donors.
In a number of posts on the Somaly Mam and Mam Somaly Facebook pages, which include scores of personal photographs of Ms. Mam with her family, colleagues and girls cared for by her former organizations, there is an outpouring of despair at SMF’s decision to cut off funding to Afesip.
“It’s so sad I was at the center yesterday see them cry and I was at the office see my teams cry my heart was complexly broken I feel so so sad…now I try to sale my house to support them make them survive but it’s not easy,” one post says.
Another post on the Mam Somaly page says that Afesip no longer has money to feed the girls—numbering more than 260 according to a 2012 SMF report—under its care.
“You tell me that you will never let my girls suffer again…but now it so heart broken to see…Afesip… staff…girls suffer,” it says. “Afesip don’t have money even to buy food for girls…how they can survive?? I don’t want to get involved but when I see Afesip my girls suffer…I am suffer too.”
Apart from the millions of dollars SMF raised for Afesip, Ms. Mam also personally benefitted from the rising profile of her organization. From 2008 to 2011, SMF spending increased from $348,283 to $3.53 million, according to financial reports filed with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.
In 2011, Ms. Mam earned $125,642 in her position as president of the organization.
Another post to the Mam Somaly page on Friday bemoans the lack of legal or financial protection for the girls and young women under Afesip’s care.
“The sadness in life is to see poor become poor again and victims become victims again because is No Right for the victims and survived ..No money to have good Lawyer ..No money to have people who can help ..No …No…injustice still exists .. We just need to survive why you try to destroy ??? My poor Afesip staff ..my poor girls ….”
According to a statement posted to Afesip’s website on Wednesday, SMF executive director Gina Reiss-Wilchins visited Phnom Penh on June 12 and informed Afesip that funding from SMF, its primary donor, would be cut off immediately. The statement says that Ms. Reiss-Wilchins did not give a reason for the decision.
Contacted on Thursday, SMF’s New York headquarters did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Chhoeurth, Afesip’s CEO, could not be reached for comment Friday. However, Chao Sokphirun, Afesip’s health education chief in Siem Reap province, said staff are “concerned about” the financial state of the organization.
Tum Voleak, a security guard at the Afesip office in Phnom Penh, said Afesip staff were in a meeting, and that the office had been moved from Toul Kork district to Sen Sok district, “because right now, Afesip is having a problem.”
Ms. Mam’s ex-husband Pierre Legros, the former director of Afesip, said on Friday that the withdrawal of SMF funding could spell the end of the anti-trafficking organization, or at least mark the start of a long rebuilding process.
“[T]he report from the Somaly Mam Foundation investigation seems to be very interesting,” Mr. Legros said, referring to an unreleased report on the investigation that SMF commissioned when allegations of Ms. Mam’s fabrications were first published in this newspaper.
“I think [the cuts are] coming from this report with a lot of information and based on that report, I think the [SMF] management made a decision to stop,” Mr. Legros added.
“I don’t know how [Afesip is] organized, but I think it’s the end. They don’t have the capacity to react…or the strategy to react, or the management to really react facing this issue,” he added.
“So for me, it seems to be the end of a long story—but I’m not surprised.”
(Additional reporting by Khy Sovuthy)
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