Convocation speaker wishes students strength, happiness

Somaly Mam speaks at Convocation. Photo by Stephen Ingle.
Somaly Mam speaks at Convocation. Photo by Stephen Ingle.

“Give back. Create change. Help others.”

Student Body President Tim Vela told freshmen to follow in the footsteps of Somaly Mam, author of The Road of Lost Innocence, during his Freshman Convocation speech. During the ceremony, 14
freshmen discovered that they had been selected to travel to Cambodia as a part of Readership WT.

“I feel like it’s a really big honor to be able to go, to be able to see what [Mam] has seen,” Samantha Pearson, one of the students selected for the trip, said. Pearson, a freshmen special education major, said she hopes this trip will change her for the better.

“I hope this trip will change me to realize how good we have it,” Pearson said.

Mam’s book focuses on her experiences as a child in a brothel in Cambodia. Mam discussed how difficult it initially was to share her story.

“For me it’s painful to write my story,” Mam said. “I don’t want to die without letting people know. I hope that people who read my book will go and help [the girl’s who are still in the brothels].”

The Somaly Mam Foundation helps to save girls from brothels and give them opportunities to learn and work.

“Helping them is helping myself,” Mam said. “Helping them and seeing them with hope gives me hope.”

Mam had no name and no birthday. She had no family. She was sold into the sex trafficking industry when she went with a man who promised that he would help her find her family.

“No one loved me,” Mam said. “No one. Love is a big thing to me.”

Mam compared her life, and the life of others girls in the brothel, to the life of students at the University to try and give them some perspective.

“Life is short,” Mam said. “Life is so short for you here. Life is so long for us in the brothel.”

Mam said that the transitioning process for the girls once they leave the brothel can be difficult. She said the key to surviving life after the brothel is acceptance.

“They don’t want to know why,” Mam said. They just want to die. I told them I understand. Don’t forget just accept that we have been through many things.”

Despite the fact that the she was victimized by men, Mam believes that it is important to have men at her centers and to help her cause.

“I need the man mentality,” Mam said. “I need men to help me change men.”

Mam said that although it has been years since her time in the brothel, she still bears the internal scars of the experience.

“The scar inside [is] not easy to forget,” Mam said. “It [is] not easy to disappear. I still cry, but I’m still strong, so strong.”

Mam’s told students she wasn’t them to be happy and make a difference.

“I want all of you to be happy for what you are,” Mam said. “All of you, each of the people can make something happen. Be strong.”

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