From Caringbah to Cambodia – 2 girls seek the truth! [FROM I AM ISSUE 13]

Local Caringbah girls Sarah Hutt and Brittany Woodford have been best friends since year 7. When Sarah decided to embark on a challenge to ride across Cambodia, and raise $7000 to assist in awareness of human trafficking, Brit was right there by her side.

On the 7th of February Sarah and Brittany, along with Sarah’s mum, boarded a flight to Cambodia. They were about to push their body and mind beyond their first world comfort zone by heading straight into a brutal reality affecting over 1 million girls and women globally—sex trafficking.

Originally they joined the trek in support of the Australian based organisation, Project Futures, who aim to put an end to sex trafficking all over the world. Ultimately there would be other personal challenges, as well.

The focus is on South East Asia with a group of 18 covering an area, by bicycle, in excess of 400 kilometres. They will visit the centres developed by Somaly Mam, a child slave and sex worker who fled her confines in Cambodia when her best friend was murdered in front of her, where they will view her life’s work in saving victims, building shelters and implementing programs to heal and empower survivors.

While they make their way through Cambodia, Sarah and Brittany will see first hand the damage human trafficking does physically, mentally and emotionally to it’s victims . I AM magazine was lucky enough to meet with the two friends before they departed on this brave and challenging journey.

This is quite an adventure you are both about to embark upon, have either of you been to Cambodia before?

Sarah; “No, it’s the first time for both of us. It’s going to be insane!”

Tell us about the challenge…

Sarah; “We’ll be exploring Cambodia over 11 days for Project Futures where we’ll visit the centres of Somaly Mam and witness the change that has happened in saving girls from the brutal yet common occurrence of human trafficking and sex slavery.”

Brittany; “We’ll visit centres where women who have been rescued by the Somaly Mam Foundation are providing programs to assist in the rescue and stabilisation of other girls trapped in sex slavery. These girls will continue her legacy. We will also get to experience the local life with visits to local villages.”

Sarah; “We’re excited about the opportunity to get hands on in the rice fields and harvesting, really experiencing Camdbodian life. It is insight into Cambodian life and the lives of the girls that are trafficked in Cambodia.”

Who is Somaly Mam?

Sarah; “Somaly Mam’s story is that she was ten years old when she was sold to a brothel. She was raped up to 30 times a day. If she refused, her keepers would lock her in a cage and fill it with snakes and cockroaches and leave her there for a week without food or water. On occasion they also used electric shock to punish the girls if they said, ‘no’ to any of the clients. Somaly Mam’s best friend was shot in front of her. This was the breaking point for Somaly Mam—when she made the decision to escape. She was assisted by a foreigner and eventually was able to start a new life overseas. But even with the safety of her new life she wasn’t able to forget the girls in Cambodia. Somaly Mam returned to Cambodia and started her organisation, the Somaly Mam Foundation.”

Brittany; “Sex slavery in Cambodia is horrific. Somaly Mam quotes in the back of her book that there are girls sold as young as five for a few dollars. One of the youngest girls rescued from a brothel was only two years old.”

Cycling through Cambodia is going to be tough!

Sarah; “Yes…in some places it’s going to be in about 15 inches of mud! Thankfully, though, we will be away from the Cambodian traffic. There are two days where we do 100 kms one day and then 104 kms the next. We’re not, by any means, dedicated bike riders.”

Brittany; “The road to Kurnell has become our training buddy. We’ve done quite a few practise rides out there already. It’s been so much fun discovering what your body is capable of. A few weeks ago I hadn’t attempted bike riding since I was a child. The first stretch was 40 kms, then 60 kms…we just keep going. I’m a big fan in believing our limits are merely mental blocks.  Besides, the pain we go through riding bikes across Cambodia is nothing compared to what these girls go through trapped in brothels.”

Sarah; “We are keeping those thoughts as motivation to do this. Even if our legs burn and our body aches, we would both crawl across Cambodia if we had to.”

Was it a surprise to have your mum join the cause?

 Sarah; “Well, I kind of signed my mum up. At 52 years of age she was concerned at first about her fitness level, although she is SUPER fit! And, then she received a surprise confirmation of acceptance in her inbox. My family does a lot for charity so after the confirmation she hasn’t looked back, and on the 7th of February she’ll be right there beside us.”

What do you think will be the hardest part of this challenge?

Brittany; “It’s going to be emotionally draining. And dealing with the anger at the reality of things, I expect will be hard.”

Sarah; “Listening to these stories of brutality against human beings first hand is going to be a thousand times harder than pedalling the bike.”

What do you hope to gain personally from the journey?

 Sarah; “I want to know that I can do it. That I can push myself beyond the limits that I know right now. Physically and mentally. This is definitely a personal challenge.”

Brittany; “I want to be exposed to this. I’ve always helped out with charities and raised money, but I’ve never been there, you know, seen it. I want to see the truth!”

[For more information on Project Futures or the Somaly Mam Foundation go to: http://www.somaly.org & http://www.projectfutures.com]

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