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Overcoming tragedy - 3 inspiring stories from real life

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1.     A survivor and a hero

  Somaly Mam was born in either 1970 or 1971 in Cambodia. Nobody knows for certain, since there are no records of her birth. She and her family lived in extreme poverty. When she was 12 years old, her parents abandoned her. She survived alone until a man she had never met before found her. He promised her he'd find her family if she went with him, so she did. He took her in and she became his slave. He instructed her to call him "grandfather".


 He regularly abused her until the age of 14, when he sold her off to a man who she then was forced to marry. He would beat and rape her, and sometimes even fire a gun at her. One day, at 15 years old, she finally fought back - she took his gun and shot him in the foot. He then sold her to a brothel. There, she was forced to work as a prostitute.

 She had to have sex with 5 to 6 clients every day. When she refused, she was taken into a cellar with snakes and scorpions, where she was then tortured and raped. She was also forced to go out onto the street and sell her body there. She witnessed her best friend there get shot for trying to escape. But throughout all this, she remained strong and was determined to escape someday.

 In 1993, an aid worker from France helped her escape the brothel and travel to Paris. There she worked as a midwife and got married. While living in Paris, she found out that many other girls were in a situation similar to her own. Compelled to help and make a difference, she returned to Cambodia in 1996. Pretending to have been sent there officially by the french government, she handed out condoms to women working in brothels. That same year, she founded AFESIP, a nonprofit organization that rescues, houses and rehabilitates women and children who have been forced into sexual slavery. The organization has sanctuaries in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam and works with the police to free women forced into sexual slavery.

 In september 2007, she launched the Somaly Mam foundation, which supports anti-trafficking groups and helps women who have been in sexual slavery find regular work. Her organizations have helped over 4000 women who were forced into prostitution. Somaly visits all of the girls she has rescued regularly. She comforts them and assures them things will get better.

 Her job is difficult and often dangerous. She once had a pimp threaten her with a gun, but she remained unfazed and talked him out of hurting her. She frequently gets death threats and so do her relatives. Living with the memories of her tragic past is not easy, either. She has even tried to commit suicide a few times and suffers from anger management issues. Sometimes, memories of the past keep her awake at night, so she can barely get any sleep and has to resort to taking sleeping pills. But still, she keeps going. The joy she sees on the faces of the girls that she saved makes it all worth it.

2.   The power of forgiveness

 On June 8, 1972, during the Vietnam war, South Vietnamese forces dropped a napalm bomb onto the town of Trang Bang in North Vietnam. Photographer Nick Ut was there at the scene. He took a photo of a little girl, running away from her home village naked with a look of horror and pain on her face. Her clothes had been burned off. The photo became famous and won the Pulitzer Prize. The picture was a wake-up call to many about the horrifying reality of war and the damage done by the war in Vietnam. 
 
 The girl in the photo was Phan Thi Kim Phúc and she was 9 years old. She survived the incident, but with severe burn scars all over her body. The doctors doubted she would survive. Kim, only a little child, had to stay at the hospital for 14 months, going through many operations, and then had to go through years of therapy. But she survived, and eventually moved back to her home village to live a normal life with her family.

 While at college, she met a man with severe burn scars on his arm from having rescued someone from a burning building. A girl she knew made a comment on his scars, saying that nobody would want to date someone with such ugly scars. Kim thought about how her scars were much worse. This caused her great emotional turmoil - she couldn't bring herself to eat, sleep or study for 3 days. Eventually, through prayer and self-talk, she managed to pull herself together again. However, she didn't think she would ever find a boyfriend or a husband. But she did find a boyfriend, whom she eventually married and had her 2 sons with. Her husband says that if anything, the scars make him love her more.

 Kim admits she felt bitterness and hate over the incident, which left her with chronic physical pain. She often wondered why it had to happen to her. But she soon realized that she needed to overcome these negative emotions to find peace. She needed to forgive, so she could move on for good. After she had forgiven those that were responsible for the event, she felt at peace.

 On Veteran's day, 1996, Vietnam war veterans gathered to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington. Kim was also there. She gave a speech about the attack she survived. She talked about how she no longer felt anger towards those responsible, as she had found the strength to forgive them. Suddenly, John Plummer, the pilot who was in the plane that dropped the bomb, stood up and started moving towards Kim. He shouted to her that he was responsible and that he was sorry. Kim came down from the stage and hugged him, and told him he was forgiven.

 Kim believed she survived what happened because of a higher purpose, and that the event was necessary to teach her a lesson about helping and forgiving others. In 1996 she founded the Kim Phuc Foundation, that helps other child victims of war. That same year she also became a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. She found joy in helping people, visiting other victims of war at hospitals and giving them hope. Her strength to forgive, positive attitude and tireless efforts to help others inspire everyone she meets.

3.     The last words that inspired millions

 Randy Pausch was a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University. He was a very popular and respected teacher. He was happily married with 3 children - 6-year-old Dylan, 3-year-old Logan and 18-month-old Chloe.

 In 2006, he was diagnosed as having pancreatic cancer. He got every treatment possible, but in 2007, the doctors told him the cancer was incurable. They said he may have as little time left as 6 months. He had no choice but to accept that the battle was over.

 Still, he kept an optimistic attitude, and never wallowed in depression - he had a family to care for. He spent a lot of time thinking about ways to make the loss as easy as possible for them. He wanted his children to have happy memories of him, and to make sure they knew how much he loved them. After he was diagnosed, he spent nearly all his time with his family, drawing strength from the moments of joy he had with them. He moved houses so that his wife would be closer to her family and have some emotional support. But he was always wondering if there was more that he could do.

 His university invited him to take part in the "Last lecture" series. The concept of it was for people to give the speeches they'd give if they were to die soon and this was their last lecture. For Randy, this scenario was close to the truth. This lecture would be his chance to leave as many words of wisdom for his children as possible, while he still could. He wanted it to be a sort of "message in a bottle" that his children could watch when they are old enough to understand.

 So, in September, 2007, he gave his last lecture, titled "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams". He dedicated the lecture to his children. He spoke about the dreams he had when was a child, and how he proceeded to fulfill them. He talked about what he had learned from really going after his dreams, no matter how many obstacles were on his way. He also told stories of helping other people reach their dreams, which made him as happy as pursuing his own. He shared all the lessons he had learned during his life and encouraged people to have fun, and to make the choice to have a positive attitude.

 The rest of the lecture was dedicated to all the people in Randy's life. He paid tribute to his mentors, friends, co-workers, parents and his wife. He also took the chance to give his wife her birthday congratulations - he brought out a big birthday cake and had the audience sing happy birthday to her while she was wiping tears from her eyes.

 The positive, fun and light-hearted tone the lecture was given with was incredible. His inspiring life lesson - to never give up pursuing your dreams, and his positive attitude while facing a terminal illness made it a truly inspiring experience.

 The speech was videotaped and put on Youtube. It quickly went viral and made him famous. He had never planned on this, but he was now inspiring so many more people than he could've possibly imagined.

 The lecture inspired people to turn their lives around. His suggestion to allow kids to express their creativity and paint their bedroom walls themselves was put into action by many people. Countless people were inspired to start chasing after their dreams and change their lives. His positivity and can-do mentality was infectious.

 Randy appeared on the Oprah show and on Good Morning America. His positivity and his genuine love of life and other people shined through in every appearance and he never failed to inspire and impress. A book was published about his life, titled "The Last Lecture". It became a bestseller. 

 Randy was glad that his lecture helped people, and was grateful to all the people who had contacted him to express gratitude and support. He was very humble about it, describing the lecture's success as surprising and attributing it to luck.

 In July 25, 2008, Randy passed away at the age of 47. His words of wisdom affected many people and he managed to leave behind a big legacy while not even trying to. He died a happy man who had gotten to live a wonderful life.

You can watch his last lecture here.


Photo by flickr user paul.

2 comments:

hero said...

intersting articel, nice blog, by the way my name is hero

sara said...

feeling blessed!

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