As part of our feature on Cambodia’s controversial activist Somaly Mam, Southeast Asia Globe conducted an email interview with AnnaLynne McCord, the president of Mam’s rebranded organisation Together1heart. As a prerequisite of speaking to us, McCord requested that we print the entire interview “verbatim and wholly”, which we have done below.
What prompted you to become president of Together1heart? When was the organisation set up and when did you join?
The board asked me to take over in November of 2015. I flew to Cambodia in August of 2014 and we developed a strategy to keep our girls fed, in school, out of the brothels and off the streets. We filed for status and were recognised by the US IRS as a 501-c-3 non-profit organisation as of November 2014.
How did the closure of the Somaly Mam Foundation affect Agir Pour Les Femmes En Situation Precaire [AFESIP]?
It caused 91 incredible staff members on the ground in Cambodia to lose their jobs effective immediately. It destroyed livelihoods, but it could not destroy our lives because our girls, the staff and Somaly Mam are survivors. As Somaly consoled me, “Sister, we have seen so much worse. We will be okay. We keep fighting. We are survivors.”
Has AFESIP/Together 1 Heart made any changes to the way they operate as a result of the negative media attention in 2014?
No. Neither AFESIP, nor t1h were the problem. The problem was quite simple actually. We live in a world which sometimes would rather destroy someone doing good than acknowledge just how far we must go to fight the bad. AFESIP/TOGETHER1HEART stands in solidarity against evil perpetuated onto women and children through sexual exploitation. WE DO NOT BACK DOWN. This will make us a target. That will not stop our fight. This will make those who intend harm to blame us for never doing enough. That will not tarnish our purity of heart. We only now seek donors and support with integrity. We are about the work and with our work lives hang in the balance.
What are your future plans for Together1heart?
T1H will continue the work Somaly Mam has been doing for 22 years. We will grow and expand and continue empowering our beautiful girls like Nora. Nora was in our young girls’ centre in Kampong Cham when I first started coming to Cambodia eight years ago. Nora has since finished high school, graduated university with a degree in psychology and is now employed treated new girls coming into the centre providing them with psychological. We had to temporarily close Kampong Cham and Siem Reap, two of our three centres. We are seeking funds to reopen them due to over-flow of survivors coming through our doors. For more information or to donate please visit: www.together1heart.org