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Somaly Mam Foundation 2.0

Oscar-winner Susan Sarandon and author and founder of the Somaly Mam Foundation, Somaly Mam
Oscar-winner Susan Sarandon and author and founder of the Somaly Mam Foundation, Somaly Mam, speak on stage at the celebration of The Visionaries at New York’s Alice Tully Hall in 2012. AFP

Somaly Mam Foundation 2.0

Disgraced anti-trafficking advocate Somaly Mam is back on the fundraising bandwagon following legal investigations into her credibility, months of negative publicity and a forced resignation from her own foundation.

In an email to her supporters this week, Mam sought donations to open a new US-based organisation next month called The New Somaly Mam Foundation: Voices of Change, Reuters reported yesterday.

The new organisation will combine with Agir Pour Les Femmes en Situation Precaire (Afesip), a local anti-trafficking NGO founded by Mam that lost most of its funding after the first Somaly Mam Foundation abruptly withdrew support in July.

The foundation edged Mam out after years of allegations that Mam fabricated her back-story and coached girls into telling false accounts of being trafficked culminated in a Newsweek article in May. The multimillion-dollar foundation was itself shuttered in October without accounting for outstanding donations.

“The future plan is to merge AFESIP Cambodia and the USA based organization as one,” wrote Stephanie Lorenzo, CEO of Project Futures, which helps fund Afesip, in a blog post earlier this month.

Afesip staff yesterday confirmed the merger, but said the organisations were not yet officially combined, before declining to provide further information. Lorenzo revealed in her post however, that as a result of fallout from the Newsweek story, half the local Afesip staff lost their jobs and one of the three Afesip shelters will have to close by the end of this year.

The website of Mam’s new fund says the nonprofit organisation “in formation” will not focus on rescuing women and girls, but instead work on post-rescue care and education.

While scant on details of how and when the new organisation will work, the site contains numerous defences of Mam, including letters from a former volunteer and a shelter resident who accuses the detractors of being inhuman and “like pimps and traffickers”.

Other local anti-trafficking NGOs yesterday said they would welcome Mam’s new fund.

“It would be a good thing if she started a new organisation,” said Chan Saron, a project manager at NGO Chabdai. “It was a personal problem and not about the good work of the NGO.”

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