Somaly Mam, a big pot of milk scam

The last reports on the two stories of Somaly Mam – the fake and the real – is only a tip of the iceberg and it is a big tip. She attracted international attention for the organization that has her own name as an activist against sex and human trafficking, specialized in the rescue and support of girls and young women, who are victims of sexual slavery. In this article by Simon Marks of Newsweekly, the journalist that uncovered her fraud, it is said that she got a long list of prominent international admirers that include former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, actresses like Meg Ryan, Susan Sarandon and Shay Mitchell, New York Times Pulitzer-winning columnist Nicholas Kristof, Queen Sofia of Spain, former Facebook adviser Brandee Barker and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. Such public attention gave so much financial capacity that her “refugee center” known in French as Agir Pour Les Femmes en Situation Précaire, AFESIP (in English would be “Acting for Women in Precarious Situation”) became international, opening offices in Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, France and Switzerland. 

Why is this a big tip of the iceberg? Because it shows that people like sensational stories and buy them, giving the opportunity to clever individuals or groups to profit it in detriment of the real needed. At the same time, El Mundo newspaper from Spain was also denouncing since November further accusations into AFESIP of abuse and corruption that would continue filling headlines.

It will have by sure an impact on donors to countries like Cambodia in their support to many NGOs dedicated to problems like human trafficking. Probably, it will help us to develop means of control to get to the real victims, to the real vulnerable people, while giving attention to those groups and organizations that work mostly in silence but effective in their mission. We need to be transparent.

The story of Somaly is a big Cambodian scam, not so different from the pot of milk scam of Siem Reap. And there are many others around, with less publicity or big investors, but with the same scheme: creating high impact stories.

All these clever fakers can do whatever, but they are successful only for one reason: people want to believe something. Like in a religion system, like in a dogma, blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed (John 20: 29). And then, supporting a humanitarian cause is not for romantic positions and lazy assumptions. If you go to a Cambodian beach and you fall in love with that little cute beggar, you are not a social worker or a philanthropic, or a modern version of Mother Theresa of Calcutta or Gandhi or a missionary… no… you are an ignorant and a lazy and a blind… if you are very famous, prominent or well-off, so you have the same adjectives but with grandiosity. Giving a cent to that clever beggar, does not help to stop any problem, but it increases it. It feeds the snake of corruption and abuse.


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About Albeiro Rodas

Albeiro Rodas (in Cambodia Sky Ly Samnang), is a MA in Digital Communication, independent journalist and a Salesian of Don Bosco from Amalfi, Colombia, based in Cambodia since 1999. He is the creator of the Don Bosco schools of journalism in Sihanoukville and Kep with young people from poor communities and the founder of the Don Bosco Kep Children Fund. Medal for Social Commitment UPB (2010); among the 100 more upstanding Colombians abroad (Marca Colombia, 2012, and among the 12 Colombians that are making this a better world 2013 (

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