After months of negative publicity surrounding its disgraced founder Somaly Mam, anti-trafficking NGO Afesip has taken the first tangible steps to resurrect itself, with a handful of remaining international donors traveling to Cambodia over the past week for “future strategy meetings.”
Ms. Mam has been the center of controversy since her backstory as a sex slave was exposed as a fabrication and it was revealed that she had coached some of the young women in her care to invent horrific stories of sexual abuse.
In May, she stepped down from her eponymous Somaly Mam Foundation (SMF), a vehicle to garner donations for Afesip. A month later, SMF abruptly pulled its funding from Afesip, crippling the NGO’s operations, then closed down in September following an internal investigation.
But since mid-September, Ms. Mam has been giving media interviews in an attempt to revive her career and reputation, and over the past week, representatives of Australian anti-trafficking NGO Project Futures, as well as “major supporters” from the U.S., descended on Cambodia to discuss Afesip’s future.
A December 3 blog post on Project Futures’ website authored by its founder and CEO, Stephanie Lorenzo, says the weeklong strategy session was held “to help build a long term and sustainable funding and service delivery model.”
Ms. Lorenzo, who in the post described the fallout over Ms. Mam as an “at times very tough journey,” said it would have been easier for her organization to end its association with Afesip.
“But instead we decided to do what we thought was right, it might have hurt our reputation, it might not have been the popular choice, but the last thing we wanted to do was drop…an organisation that was resilient as the women they house,” she wrote.
In a series of emails Tuesday, Ms. Lorenzo said “nothing was set in stone” regarding whether her organization would continue to support Afesip beyond the end of 2014, but said this would become clear by January, when Project Futures’ board is next scheduled to meet.
Ms. Mam’s New York-based publicist has ignored several requests for an interview with Ms. Mam, and Afesip CEO Sao Chheouth on Wednesday hung up on a reporter when asked about the state of the organization.