By Maria Russo
Brave Is Beautiful was the theme that rung clear at an event to support the Somaly Mam Foundation on Thursday night at the Hudson Terrace in New York City. The event, which included a silent auction featuring stunning photography and artwork, and the raffling of items such as an $895 Marc Jacobs Bluette Handbag, $600 worth of Nars "Andy Warhol" cosmetics and a grand prize of two round trip tickets on Air Canada, was inspired by music, art and the words of Somaly Mam: "Brave Is Beautiful."
The room, adorned with two glorious swooping chandeliers that glowed an electric blue, housed a vibrant crowd of artists, musicians, philanthropists, well heeled New Yorkers and celebrities such as Seth Meyers and John Legend's fiancée Chrissy Teigen.
The purpose of the event was to raise $25,000 for the Somaly Mam Foundation, a nonprofit that is committed to ending modern slavery and empowering its survivors as part of the solution.
Today, human trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry and the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world. An estimated two million women and children are sold into sexual slavery each year, and in the Asia Pacific region, children as young as three or four have been sold for as little as $100 and forced to serve up to 30 clients per day.
Co-founded by sex slavery survivor Somaly Mam, the foundation works to "eradicate sex slavery, liberate its victims, and empower survivors to create and sustain lives of dignity as agents of next-generation change." The foundation supports rescue operations, shelter services, and rehabilitation programs in Southeast Asia, where the trafficking of women and young girls is widespread.
Somaly and her team are working to abolish modern slavery through strategic multidisciplinary partnerships and advocacy campaigns that shed light on the crime of human trafficking, and by engaging the public, business sectors and governments in the fight to end these atrocities.
"When the girls come to the center they are very traumatized," Somaly tells me in a brief interview. "Psychological therapy and art are very important in rehabilitating them. As part of the program, we give them paper so they can draw what they feel inside. For some girls, art has been a channel for healing."
The Foundation's new Executive Director, Gina Reiss-Wilchins, who had previously served as the director for the United Nations Girls Up campaign, spoke before the guest of honor took the stage.
"We're about taking our awareness and turning it into action," said Reiss-Wilchins. "Our team is tackling the issue from all sides. They're healing and educating girls; they're helping girls escape from brothels and reintegrating them into the world and into their lives again; they're building student networks; and they're educating the police and judges in the (Cambodian) community. Somaly is our modern day hero. She's been fearlessly doing this work for 20 years and I am proud and honored to be working alongside of her to eradicate slavery."
The evening ended with soulful performances by emerging artists, Yeanka, Iyadede and Nicky Egan, and classically trained pianist Chole Flower. Each musician attended the event to support the notion of Brave Is Beautiful, a mantra the Somaly Mam Foundation lives by.
"Every time I travel around I go back and tell my girls everything. I want to share with them the message of love; I want to tell them that they are not alone because lots of people love them. So I want to let them know, but at the same time I want to bring these people to them, so my girls have the opportunity to meet the people who are supporting us with their love." - Somaly Mam.
To learn more about the organization, and to support the cause, visit the Somaly Mam Foundation.
Photos by Anthony Russo