Thursday, December 27, 2012

Jennifer MacFarlane: Photos to Support Women's Rights

Name: Jennifer MacFarlane

What is your job? Photographer, humanitarian photojournalist

What social causes are most important to you? Women's rights in developing countries.

What charity do you support – and how?

Somaly Mam Foundation. By organizing events to raise awareness about human trafficking. By enlarging my  photos to life size of the beautiful young girls from the brothels of Cambodia and getting them out there. By talking about what I saw first hand in Cambodia to my peers and to receptive audiences so that the idea of modern day slavery is not just an abstract notion.

Why do you have a passion for this one in particular, is there a personal tie?
In 2005 I was sent on assignment for Glamour magazine and the fearless and compassionate journalist Marianne Pearl to do a story on Somaly Mam, A woman who was sold into slavery at a young age who miracously managed to escape only to make it her life mission to rescue and rehabilitate and love as many girls as possible. Nothing prepared me for what I witnessed in Cambodia. We were granted access into numerous brothels and spent time with the girls. I fell in love with them and vowed to never ever forget them!

Is there a particular way you would want to encourage readers to be involved?

Educate yourself as to what is happening in the world! Find a cause and share your passion for that cause. I have seen how Somaly has inspired so many people! From Marathon runners to architects to beauticians to contribute their skills, their love in various way.

How would you define social responsibility?
None of us are free if some of us are in chains.

Do you have any tattoos that relate to your social work?

The woman on my arm represents the resilianace of the feminine spirit!! She has a bad ass wolf on her head and michelle and Saved Tattoo in williamsburg brought her to life!!

I'd like to add more about Somaly and how I came to support her work. I became involved with this issue after a visit to Cambodia in 2006

I went with the journalist Marianne Pearl to do a story on sex slavery in SEAsia and on Somaly Mam, the woman fighting to rescue the girls sold into slavery.

Somaly is an intrinsic part of the story of the fight against trafficking so I want to give some backround on her; Angelina Jolie wrote this concise summary of her history:

“Somaly Mam and Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime were born around the same time. By the time Mam was 5 the Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia and proceeded to kill 1.5 million people as Pol Pot implemented his radical form of communism. Torture, executions and forced labor were widespread.  Famalies fled for safety and massive internal displacement decimated Cambodian society in the years that followed

Against this backdrop Somaly was sold into slavery by a man who posed to be her grandfather. She eventually ended up in a Phnom Phen brothel beginning a decade of horrific rape and torture. She describes this period of her life simply “I was dead, I had no affection for anyone.”

Terror is the weapon of choice for those who hold women in sexual bondage. They depend on their victims being frozen with fear. Traffickers hope that with enough pain and degradation women will simply accept their fate as inescapable.”

One night her best friend was murdered by her pimp in front of her…and Somaly decided she must escape at all costs.

Somaly was able to escape with the help of a French aid worker. She did end up leaving Cambodia and starting a life in france with a husband and 3 beautiful children but she was not able to be at peace thinking about all the girls who would be beaten and raped every night.

At a great risk to her own life and safety she returned to Cambodia and started her mission.

To quote Somaly: “I don’t feel I can change the world. I don’t even try. I only want to change this small life I see standing in front of me which is suffering. I want to change this small real thing that is the destiny of one girl. And then another and another. Because if I didn’t I wouldn’t be able to live with myself or sleep at night."

Today she has rescued thousands of girls and her outspoken voice is changing the shape of her country and the story of trafficking in SEAsia

My 1st stop in Cambodia was Somaly’s shelter where I saw beautiful, sweet girls laughing, playing and studying.

My 2nd stop was the brothel where I saw the look of fear, desperation and hopelessness.

It is something I will never forget

I spent a week photographing these girls and listening to their stories …but the severity of their situation did not hit me until I returned home to Brooklyn.

As I was showering I realized that something I did not see in any brothel was a shower or even a bathroom in many cases. Clients went to the bathroom on the floor. Their prison in a filthy sperm-covered bed in a tiny hot room with paper thin walls. The stench of sperm is ABSOLUTELY suffocating.

The girls could not escape the horror of their reality even in the simple act of a clean shower…something we take so for granted.

My mission since I returned is to make sure, through photography, that the world sees what I witnessed.

I was surprised that so many educated people simply don’t realize the extent of modern slavery--or even the fact it still takes place.

I met the faces of modern day slavery and heard their stories. I want to share those stories as a first-person witness.

I hope that seeing these photos can open people’s hearts and inspire them to action.

I believe we all have the responsibility to take care of every being on this planet. None of us is free if some of us are in chains.

In Cambodia I met people whose strength and resilience holds profound lessons in the ability of the human mind to recover from evil.

I met a young girl who was rescued by Somaly named SreyPov, she was tortured horribly and barely spoke above a whimper when I met her in Cambodia.

A few years later I saw her again in NYC at an awards ceremony for Glamour Woman of the Year and what I saw was a beautiful vivacious young woman who had healed her pain and was using her experience to help others in her situation.

Somaly’s centers feel like a family house, the rescued girls often become social workers and fight for their sisters' freedom.

At the brothels, once they warmed up to me, the girls started to open their life for me to share with the world.

One girl that I photographed nervously, yet heroically showed me self-inflicted scars on her arm.

The girls often undergo this self-mutilation as a result of the highly addictive drugs that the pimps get them addicted to.

 We did not speak each others’ language but the sentiments on both our sides were much understood. These girls I met in the brothels were DESPERATE for their stories to be told. These girls stole my heart and I will never forget them.

Somaly inspires me every day…the power of one woman to bring about such massive change.

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