Event Recap: 'From Trauma to Triumph'

From Trauma to Triumph: How one woman’s journey inspired a movement from Cambodia to the coast.

On March 3rd, 2018, Free To Shine and Project Futures hosted "From Trauma to Triumph" with special guests Somaly Mam and Sina Vann. Somaly is a best-selling author and human rights activist listed in Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People and Fortune magazine's Most Powerful Women. Somaly Mam was sold into slavery at the age of 12. Forced to work in a brothel for nearly a decade, she was brutally tortured and raped on a daily basis. After escaping the industry, she went on to establish safe houses for women and girls escaping situations of sexual slavery and exploitation. For over 20 years, she has provided 7,000 survivors with safe housing, psychological support, medical treatment, legal assistance, education and training through the organisation, AFESIP.Somaly has been recognised as:

  • a CNN Hero
  • One of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People
  • One of Fortune Magazine’s Most Powerful Women
  • Recipient of the World Children’s Prize; and
  • Glamour Woman of the Year
“I’ll fight until my last breath to give back all the love that has been taken from those beautiful girls. Life is love.”- Somaly Mam

The second speaker was Somaly's long-time friend, Sina Vann who shares a similar past. Sina Vann was born in Vietnam, abducted and trafficked to Cambodia where she was sold to a brothel and forced to service up to 20-30 clients a day. If she refused, she would be tortured and locked in a dark, underground room without food. She escaped after 4 years.Sina showed a natural affinity for leadership and began supporting other girls at Somaly's centre to overcome their fears through shared experience. Within 12 months, she began training as a social outreach worker and has been employed by AFESIP since 1998.

The panel also included Free To Shine's Nicky Mih, Project Future's Clare Pearson and the MC for the evening was Sandy Bolton.Nicky Mih, Free To Shine's founder & managing director first met Somaly and Sina 8 years ago when she volunteered with 200 survivors of sex trafficking in Cambodia. At the time, Nicky was teaching 5th and 6th grade in Australia and only planned to volunteer for a month during the holidays. Unbeknownst to Nicky, this holiday trip would completely change her life and lead to her starting Free To Shine, an international non-profit based in Cambodia focused on preventing sex-trafficking and other forms of exploitation. Nicky recounts the life changing day back in 2010: "Sina was the first person to answer the door, and she greeted me with a warm smile and a professional handshake. She talked to me a little about her work before introducing me to the Country Director." Nicky was tasked with writing a Life Skills Curriculum for the survivors to help re-integrate them into society and provide guidance on how to move forward and thrive in their lives.The month working with Somaly and Sina was extremely emotional as she learned that of the young girls that are trafficked, "1/3rd are murdered in captivity, 1/3rd commit suicide and only 1/3rd survive."

“I saw terror in the eyes of girls who had just been rescued, I met survivors who had been tortured who were rebuilding their lives, and one young girl who was just 6 years old – she was sold when she was 4! It changed me. It taught me that you can love in an instant. It taught me what real strength was. And it taught me to spend my time doing something that really mattered.” -Nicky Mih

Seven years later, Free To Shine is now actively supporting over 600 girls and their families.

Clare is the CEO at Project Futures, a charity based in Sydney that transforms the lives of young girls falling victim to sex trafficking and slavery in Australia and Cambodia. Clare is a qualified psychologist, specialising in child and adolescent welfare, and passionate about community based projects aimed at making a difference in the lives of women and children.Project Futures has actively supported the work of AFESIP in Cambodia since 2009 and Clare offers vast and valuable experience in executing innovative programs in the areas of child protection, early intervention and education.

“Our mission is to offer a beam of hope for victims, restoring their voices and creating opportunities for brighter, more independent futures. Ultimately, this can only be achieved with a united stance and determination to eradicate the crimes of human trafficking.” -Clare Pearson

Looking back at the event and talking to those who attended, the night was eye-opening, inspirational and something that will be remembered for a very long time. To re-cap the night, below you will find photos from the evening, anecdotes from those involved and quotes from members in the audience.

Facts about Human Trafficking:

  • “The Asia-Pacific region accounts for 56% of the global total of trafficked people, three times higher than Africa.”
  • “Cambodia ranks 3rd highest for percentage of population living in slavery.”
  • “There are more than 4.8 million victims of forced sexual exploitation.”
  • “On average, they are half for 23.4 months before escaping or being freed.”
  • “More than 99.4% are women and girls; over 20% are children.”
"Before attending the event, I knew that sex slavery was an issue and that it existed around the world. It was only when I heard Somaly and Sina talk about their lives and experiences that I realised- these ladies are living proof that they are worth every chance they get because they didn't choose this unfortunate beginning to their lives but they have made the most of the choices they are now free to make. And the biggest realisation of all was- I can actually do something to help." - Hannah Jones
"What an EYE-Opener and truly inspirational! These ladies are a force to be reckoned with and their commitment to educating the world on these inhumane practices is to be truly revered. I just wanted to HUG all of them!" -Gabby Smith

Reflecting on the evening, Nicky, Free To Shine's founder and MD, had countless compliments for everyone involved and wanted to highlight the importance of the three different organizations coming together as friends. AFESIP, Free To Shine and Project Futures all have different, yet vital roles in the fight against human trafficking.AFESIP provides survivors with aftercare services which are extremely important in order for survivors to re-claim their lives and re-integrate with society. When examining human trafficking, many cite the supply and demand cycle: when one person is rescued, the traffickers do not go without, instead they go find another person to exploit in order to feed the demand. Free To Shine works to end this viscous cycle by supporting and monitoring the most at-risk girls in rural Cambodia. Free To Shine works to protect young girls by keeping them safe, in school and supported by their families and communities. Lastly, Project Futures plays an important role in the fight against human trafficking as they do an incredible job of engaging youth and future generations to advocate for survivors of this horrible trend. Project Futures is also very successful at raising funds for organisations that support survivors of human trafficking.Although the organisations have different approaches, the three come together to help each other, help others. We are so thankful for the camaraderie and passion that has been formed and look forward to future events, meetings and opportunities to elevate one another in the fight against human trafficking.

"Now, not only do they have freedom and the chance to tell their story, but they provide the opportunity for others to stand up and have a voice. Someday soon we can all unite to put an end to sex trafficking. I love how Free To Shine find and protect girls at risk, and Project Futures help those who have not been so lucky re-build their lives. We have already started talking to friends, work colleagues, and sporting groups we are involved in to gather more people to support us in our quest to help! - Belinda Bailey

Sina shared to the audience that for the first 10 years after being rescued, she was never able to share her story publicly. Now, with the help of Somaly, Sina shares the dark experiences that were forced upon her, tearing up when recounting the torture but standing strong and confidently showing her physical scars from the past.

Sina also shared with the audience that for the first 10 years, she couldn't look at herself in the mirror. Sina's journey has been very difficult but she has found solace in sharing. She explained that only after publicly sharing her past, was she able to slowly move on and accept herself. This is the moment that Somaly described as the transition from victim to survivor.

"I was amazed at Somaly's ability to forgive the perpetrators. She clearly demonstrated she held on to no hatred, as this would be detrimental to her own health. What remarkable women both Somaly and Sina are. And what an honour it is to work with them to prevent trafficking." -Karen Warren
 “Listening to Nicky speak along side survivors (not victims!) of trafficking, I was so aware that Free To Shine's mission is really what MUST happen. There is no choice here. Understanding the clear vision and strategic mission of Free To Shine in preventing the torture of vulnerable children and women, seeing their spirit pushing through the challenges of an international issue and bringing about change for a generation of people made us all sit back and ask ourselves what we each can do to make a difference too.” - Karen Omerod
 "One of my favourite shots of the event. Sina Vann sits pensively after speaking about her journey and now working with Somaly in Cambodia to make a [difference] to so many young girls and [women.]" -Robert Munden (Photographer: Robert Munden Media Solutions)

Somaly has such a forgiving yet strong demeanor and shared this great advice to the audience:1. "Don't be angry. I tell my girls, no matter what they did, no matter how much they hurt you, no matter what anyone has done, don't be angry. The anger burns you, it burns inside.2. "Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody. I, you, her, everyone. It's just a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes. Don't stay in the mistake, don't try to blame another, just say 'I made a mistake' and keep going- let it go and move on."

“Such an empowering atmosphere was created by the 4 speakers and MC. Hearing the stories and the triumphs of all four of the women and their success they have achieved by spreading their wisdom, knowledge, passion and will to never give up hope was ground shaking. It’s given me gratitude for my life at its current but also, fueled the fire that was already lit to make change!” - Ellie Godlement

(From left: Sandy Bolton, Nicky Mih, Clare Pearson, Somaly Mam, and Sina Vann)

"Somaly has an astonishing quality of showing strength while being kind, emotional and so naturally funny. We had a long laugh about how she never stops eating and loved the cheese platter!"

"Wow, what a deeply moving, inspiring and enlightening night! Such a privilege to be in the presence of these women, we’re often touched deeply by the victims of such travesties yet feel overwhelmed and unable to help. We then go about our days and nothing changes. I’m so blessed to have friends that are ‘doers’, change makers and who are creating positive change. Every amount given whether that’s your time and energy to spread the message or some funds big or small, are highly valuable. We can make a difference. Do what you can." - Amanda Boreham
“The first hand stories were profoundly moving. You can read stories or hear about them but actually meeting people who have survived raises it to another level of awareness. Also [Nicky's] comment about being surrounded by goodness since beginning [her] work has stuck with me. Such a positive and beautiful reframe when most people would expect a totally different kind of answer. I suppose the human experience is the thing that surprises the most. The strength, the courage, the determination, the vision all of it was inspiring.” - Jay Ellul
“Thought of the night: Absolutely inspiring. Impact it's had on you: Reaffirmed the healing nature of forgiveness, advocating for others and daily meditation. The thing that sticks with you the most: It is possible, in any situation, to transcend fear and apathy." - Jojo Lee
"Saturday evening was a very emotional one for me , having recently been to Cambodia and seen the pain and horror of what had happened there. I came home very angry, that people could do this to one another. And yet these women who had lived in horror were so brave and strong and thriving and inspirational. Yes, their bodies were tortured and they were beaten and assaulted ( I can’t even say the word rape) yet there was such love within, that they could save their own sanity by loving, helping and caring for each other. Does this not show the world how love is the healer for all. These are women, we could all learn from and I greatly admire them and will do all I can to share their message." -Jo Falla

Free To Shine would like to sincerely thank everyone who was involved in this unforgettable night. Thank you to all of the volunteers, those who attended, those who shared the event on social media and of course, thank you to Somaly Mam & Sina Vann for their courageous presentations and for igniting the worldwide movement against sex trafficking.Free To Shine would also like to thank to KOBOMO for their support and help sponsoring the evening. Please visit their site here.To learn more about the organizations involved, follow the links below for their websites and facebook!

Free To Shine:Nicky MihFacebookWebsite


Project Futures:

Clare PearsonFacebookWebsite


AFESIP:Somaly Mam & Sina VannFacebookWebsite

All photos by Robert Munden Media Solutions- Photographer's Facebook