PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – A Cambodian woman activist who has spearheaded her country's battle against sex traffickers is the first recipient of an award from a recently established human rights foundation, the German Embassy announced Friday.
The 1 million euro ($1.269 million) award to Somaly Mam from the Munich-based Roland Berger Foundation rivals in amount the Nobel Peace Prize, which includes a grant of 10 million Swedish kroner ($1.268 million).
The Roland Berger Human Dignity Award was given to Somaly Mam — who herself is a former sex trade victim — "in recognition of her fight for a world without slavery," the German Embassy said in a statement.
Somaly Mam was sold into prostitution as a child and later escaped with the help of foreigners and aid workers. She has written about her experience in a recently published book, "The Road of Lost Innocence."
She currently heads a group named AFESIP — from the French acronym for Acting for Women in Distressing Situations — which has helped build safe houses that provide refuge, care and schooling for girls rescued from slavery.
AFESIP has rescued about 4,000 girls and women from the sex trade since it was founded in 1996, AFESIP spokesman Som Sophatra said. There are 166 former victims now living in the group's three shelters in Cambodia.
Somaly Mam could not be reached for comment Friday. Colleagues said she was traveling abroad.
Som Sophatra said she received news of her award two weeks ago.
"First she didn't believe it and she went to confirm the story (with the foundation) about the donation," he said. "She was nervous and very happy at the same time because she never got such a big amount of money."
He said the award could not have come at a better time as the group has been facing a shortage of funds since the beginning of the year.
German Federal President Horst Kohler will present the award at a ceremony in Berlin on Nov. 24, the embassy said. It praised Somaly Mam for her "fearless voice for political lobbying and numerous campaigns against human trafficking."
In April, Somaly Mam received an award from the Swedish Children's World Association for her work. In 2006, she was honored as one of Glamour magazine's women of the year.
The independent Roland Berger Foundation, which documents human trafficking and slavery, was founded in March by Roland Berger, a guest professor of business administration at the Brandenburg Technical University in Cottbus, Germany. It says the award is intended "to raise awareness on human dignity and human rights worldwide."