So ashamed

12.11.12 | Posted in General

Somaly and Em


I’ve just returned from a screening of Half The Sky, a documentary about the oppression, and subsequent empowerment of women and girls around the globe. It was produced off the back of a book of the same name by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. I read this book years ago and it deeply impacted me. Many of the actions and projects I’ve birthed since then were inspired by that book, and a want – no, a deep need – in me to do more than what we’re all doing here, now.

The emotions the documentary stirred in me and my team (we all went to see the film together) are very raw this week, because it features Somaly Mam, (left) an extraordinary woman who was our guest speaker at Business Chicks in Sydney just last Friday. Somaly was trafficked into sex slavery in Cambodia at the age of 11 or 12 (she doesn’t know how old she was exactly because she’s never known her birth date or her real family). Somaly is a living, breathing example of a courageous woman who has had every wrong card dealt to her, but she’s overcome this with incredible kindness, love and forgiveness.

Somaly has devoted her life to rescuing young girls from brothels, and providing them with shelter at one of her centres. She’s gifted them with education, healthcare, and above all, love. She trains these young survivors to become a voice and they travel around educating men on safe sex and encouraging them not to frequent brothels. It’s an incredible result from a tragic situation – these girls are the faces of the world’s second largest crime and multi-billion dollar industry – human trafficking.

As I sat watching this documentary, I was overwhelmed with sadness – particularly the part where they showed a little three year old girl who’d been raped and subsequently sold by her mother to a brothel (I have two daughters – one is three and the other is 16 months) but the emotion I was more overwhelmed with was shame. Shame at the thoughts and questions that fill my head each day by choosing to live the life we all do here, now – I’m ashamed that I worry about which private school my girls will go to; I’m embarrassed by the food my daughters leave on their plate each night or worse, throw on the floor; I’m angry at the conversations my husband and I have about which overseas holiday we’ll enjoy next. All these thoughts and questions seem so trivial and small.

I’m trying to do my bit to wake people up here in Australia, in the same way I’m trying to wake myself up. At Business Chicks we tell the stories of women doing brave, amazing things in our magazine Latte and on our website every day; we find speakers with heroic stories to tell and big lessons to teach and we put them on our stage at our events; and my team and I try and be role models to others through our actions and beliefs. But, as I was last night, I’m often left feeling a sense of emptiness – that we all could be doing much, much more.

This Friday I head to Uganda with a bunch of Business Chicks members to see the on the ground impact on women and girls that The Hunger Project is able to achieve. Business Chicks has now collectively raised more than $355,000 for The Hunger Project, and last week at our event we raised more than $11,000 for Somaly’s foundation.

I’m proud of that, but I’m not done. I hope never to be entirely done.


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  1. Bec Bodman

    Wow Em. I was kind of shell shocked after last night too – I just kind of lay in bed wondering what can be done. But in all this darkness there are wonderful people in the world – like Somaly, Nick Kristof, Sheryl WuDunn, John Wood, Amie Kandeh and you!

  2. Belinda Bow

    What a powerful blog. Thanks so much for sharing. I too, am shocked and appalled by what is happening in our world today. So much so that I am now involved with 3 Angels Nepal. They rescue and then provide a Safe Haven home for trafficked girls. They also provide education and rehabilitation. Phenomenal work.

    In Newcastle we have developed a site devoted to helping them out. We have raised over $400,000 in under two years. You are welcome to take a look at the website to find out more,

  3. Emma

    Great work Belinda – well done you. I’ll be sure to check out the site. Not sure if you’re a member of Business Chicks, but if so, we’re featuring a bunch of women in the next issue who are also working for similar causes. It’s right up your alley – I think you’d love it. Keep on doing what you’re doing!

  4. Janine Garner

    Fabulous blog Emma and the book and subsequent stories of women overcoming adversity, of women creating change have affected me to to consciously make a difference. At LBD we launched the first gift giving pool of its kind in Australia to support women and children in disadvantaged communities at the grass roots of Australia with a focus on education and employment. Through our First Seeds project we are working with the Warwick Farm community to fund programs to support girls from yr 6 to yr 12 in the areas of self belief, education, empowerment, financial literacy etc. We are developing mentoring programs and educational grants. In our day to day it’s about being good role models, modelling behaviour, and being the Rapunzals our there that support and encourage others. We absolutely can all become bricks in the wall of change. Huge congratulations to you and the business chicks team for all you are doing to support change amongst business women and overseas via The Hunger Project. As always an inspiration.

  5. Dani

    Em, your voice is strong and powerful, and the work that you & Business Chicks put into the world every day is amazing and valued.

    The idea that it may never feel as though we have all done enough is a wonderful motivator to keep moving forward and striving for more.

    Your team are lucky to have you lead them, the BC community are lucky to have you & your team and your girls…well, one day they will know how blessed they are to have you guide them through life with such a strong voice and passionate cause in your heart.

    Keep moving forward Em. x

  6. Kaaren

    Darling Em,
    I salute you for being so real about this work. I am sorry that you feel ashamed or empty. However many who do this cutting edge change the world work say that we need to go through the despair in order to find our empowerment. This is the key to the biggest change that we can be. It’s also the hardest bit to be so aware of the darkness.
    That unconditional love Somaly talked of also needs to fill you up too my dear. You are doing GREAT work. Work of love & heart & connection. This is work that our community is hungry for.
    Get some pics out of the last years Biz Chicks events & notice that we are also there (in our hundreds & thousands) for you. To support the change we all want to see.
    To support you. With unconditional love.
    What a perfect place for you to be in before your time in Uganda.
    Huge hugs,
    Kaaren xxx

  7. Emma

    Thanks so much Janine for your kind words (as always!). I am proud of what we’ve achieved – in fact we’re at about $1,500,000 in funds raised by Business Chicks in total, which of course I’m happy about. It’s just that no matter what we do, I’m always spurred on by wanting to do more, and wanting to make my life a lot more meaningful than where I send my kids to school, what I drive, where I live etc. And massive kudos for you on the First Seeds project – it sounds amazing and I hope it’s filling your heart!

  8. Emma

    And me? I’m lucky to have you Dan. You’re a special, special soul and friend. x

  9. Emma

    Yep, absolutely, good things come from being uncomfy, restless and inquiring, right? Will be thinking of you on the plane and on the ground in Uganda Kaaren. There in spirit all the way.

  10. Kaaren

    And I will raise a glass to being uncomfy & singing hilarious travelling songs with CB on the road in Uganda. You know you can fix all the worlds problems with a few good girlfriends singing travelling songs in buses on bad roads in wild destinations. :-) Just takes a bit of courage & wild abandonment.

  11. Blythe Rowe

    WOW not sure what to say….. except that it just such a great reminder for me to be so incredibly grateful and thankful for what I have. Like Janine says, “together we can be the bricks in the wall of change” and with the passion, energy and action of wonderful leaders like you Em and you Janine and the other amazing doers out there, you give us the inspiration to want to make even more of a difference and give back to something greater than ourselves. Thank you, u should be so proud, and keep up the great work xx

  12. Deb

    Emma, thank you for your very inspiring words, right before our trip to Uganda…
    I agree with everything you said, there is heaps more that can be done, stories to share, people to meet… but where there’s a will there’s a way, right? And with awesome Business Chicks around the globe, things can change, they really can!
    Thank you again, keep up the wonderful work!

  13. Marcie

    Emma – I was honoured to meet the beautiful Somaly Mam this morning at the Melbourne Business Chicks breakfast. Her words carved a place in my heart and mind and I am inspired to do more. But she told us not to be ashamed of the lives we live, but to be appreciative. You do an amazing job of giving to others. And of course this is a good reminder that we can all do more… xx

  14. Inspired by… | Foxy & Fabulous

    […] I was fortunate enough to attend the last Business Chicks breakfast of the year and hear the courageous Somaly Mam talk about her personal crusade to end the sex trafficking and sexual abuse of children. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, I’m sure I had mascara running down mine. Her message certainly woke me the hell up, made me question the trivial first world problems that I agonise over in my own life as it did for chief business chick Emma Isaac, and I look forward to learning more from her journey to Uganda. […]

  15. Deborah

    I couldn’t agree more. I felt the same way when coming back to Australia after volunteering with in Sierra Leone earlier this year.

    The waste in our part of the world is amazing and what people worry about here seems ludicrous when you have lived and worked with people in Sierra Leone. People who do not have electricity daily, who do not have running water, toilets, hot water, clean water, food and most live on under $1 a day. A girl is more likely to be raped than finish school in Sierra Leone.

    We can be a part of the solution in helping organisations like and the ones you mentioned above. Just giving up 1 coffee a week sends a girl to school in a country like Sierra Leone.

    I also support 2 girls in Uganda with my son. My son David Dixon, who co-founded One Girl with Chantelle Baxter first met Brenda in Uganda over 3 years ago, she was about 12 then. She knocked on the door where they were staying with a letter in her hand asking for a sponsor as she had no parents, lived with an elderly aunt in the slums and had no money to go to school. They went to the school to check that it was true and visited her aunt where she lived in the slums. They bought her a mattress, school books and paid for her to go to school.
    Well that is 3 years ago now. Since then her Aunt has died. Fortunately, she has access to facebook via a friend and we communicate with her often daily, to check what is happening, how she is going at school and what she is eating and about personal issues as she has no adult or parent to talk to except David who is 28 and me!. David who is only 28 now, has been her parent for the last 3 years!
    Recently we were about to help her start a small after school business, selling bananas and she was told she and her sister were about to be evicted from the slum. Yes, evicted from the slum!
    They found a new place, it sounds a lot better, we pay the rent and care for Brenda who is now 16 and her younger sister. Brenda said she would even be able to start growing some vegetables at the new place in a community area.

    Then I had a message she has the measles. Well I wasn’t that worried as getting the measles isn’t deadly in the western world but then I looked up measles in a developing nation. Well, without treatment, as of course she has had never had any vaccinations she could go blind or get pneumonia and die. We immediately sent over some more money to pay for her to go to hospital.

    As soon as she is better I want to start to talk to her again about growing some green vegetables, on a diet of beans and rice the girls quite sick. They need greens but without land and money how do you grow vegetables? Once again thanks to the internet I found how people in slums grow vegetables in sacks. I want to connect her with BRAC who can support the girls establish micro-businesses when they finish school. We will never abandon those girls. We do this via the internet and David talks to her regularly.
    Anyway, I could say more but my point is yes, we are incredibly privileged in this country. And yes, we can help people help themselves no matter how challenging we think it is here – imagine what life is in a country still recovering from war.
    Good on you for going to Uganda I hope your experience is as rich as mine was in Sierra Leone.

  16. Caroline

    I too agree.
    I help by supporting
    A group of fantastic people helping girls in Cambodia.

    I think we also need to be firmer with our politicians and what they are doing to the poor people who are trying to come here for a better life. “Stopping the boats” is not humanitarian and we really should start looking at what’s going on in our own country as well as helping abroad.

    Thanks for a great blog!

  17. Sandra

    Congratulations Emma on your efforts to truly make a difference. Many people have no idea just how much of a massive issue this really is worldwide. As women, we must unite and open up about our personal stories in order to start to help others who are less fortunate who have become victims who have been accused of doing the wrong thing when in actual fact they are innocent victims. I wish you all the very best for your next trip, be brave be bold and be confident and you will shine like a star!!!