Travel Log 11: “Holding up Half the Sky” by JonCarlo DeFeudis. Seville, Spain.

Half the Sky is a novel that was adapted into a documentary by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. I watched the documentary, which is a powerful film that brings the audience face to face with women who have made it out of the worst situations. The goal of Kristof and Wudunn’s novel and film is to use the essential human knack of storytelling and the influence of tragedy triumphing into transcendence to show the world an unspoken problem, which is the lack of women’s opportunities, rights, and the great oppression of women that occurs all over the world, unbeknownst to privileged eyes. Half the Sky focuses on various young girls and women who have fought through the worst situations in poverty stricken countries. These stories derive from societies that allow sex trafficking, poverty, rape, disease as an excuse to abuse and mistreat women and girls. Half the Sky was an extremely humbling experience for me as a student and as a man. Through this film I have come to understand how important it is to make progress in giving empowerment to girls and women to get an education and help to overcome any obstacles. Half the Sky is a meaningful name, for it portrays the overwhelming population of girls and women in the societies of the world who are not able to succeed because they are not allowed to. The theme throughout is that when given an opportunity to succeed these girls and women fly above and beyond expectations and have dream just like you and I.  Half the Sky is a beautiful way of saying there is so much more sky to explore; if these women can achieve liberation from the cage placed upon them.

From the dark and hopeless streets of sex trafficking in Cambodia, came a story which hit me to my very core. The story of Long Pross, (who renamed herself Samana), a young girl of perhaps fifteen, rising from the shackles of being a sex slave allowed me to see how the forces of good and bad in humans can affect us. Samana was rescued by a woman who had come out of similar circumstances, Somaly Mam and her organization which gave the victims the opportunity to recover from their trauma and mold a future for themselves. Her tale allowed me to understand how inhumane humans can be to one another. Samana explained how she was fooled into being sold as a sex slave because of her family’s poverty. From there she was forced to have sex with men many times a day and was beaten endlessly if she refused. On one such occasion her eye was gouged and yet she was still forced to have sex with men. Samana, now recovered and the under the wise wing of Somaly Mam explains the origin of her new name, “From the moment I became a victim, no one would forgive me. They always said I was a whore. […] There was no love for me. But I’m not angry, I’ll stand taller to help other girls” (Half the Sky), Samana means forgiveness and from forgiveness Samana flowered into a strong woman who has shared her experience to help other girls and young woman empower themselves. The goodness in Somaly Mam and the willpower of Samana made me compassionate and although I was horrified by what these to women had gone through and what countless others had and are going through, I felt hope and happiness to see them so happy and dedicated to helping others. Somaly Mams organization works to give these misplaced girls a chance to find the power of love again. The victims, often very young, play and learn together in the sanctuary Somaly Mam created, a chance to be girls once again. One such powerful example was that each girl has her own song that tells of their hardships, and one girl who looked to be younger than 10 years old shared hers. It was a sad, yet proud moment for the girl as she had found liberation in singing her song. Furthermore, Somaly Mam and other women like Samana regularly make trips to brothels to speak and give help to other girls stuck as sex slaves, there are even times where Somaly Mam goes on missions to save girls. Somaly Mam often said that these children she has saved are her and she wants to see them become just like her, to help others in need. Samana reflects that desire to help others as well. Truly to come out of such dark places as being a sex slave to finding positivity, smiling, and willingness to forgive and help is truly special. I believe with such strong attitudes, the problems of sex trafficking Cambodia can eventually come to end. Kristof mentions earlier in the documentary that the way to solves these problems at the root is to have people from within the community lead the charge, foreigners cannot effectively make change by telling them “things are wrong here”. There is much more to it, and it begins at a very personal level and sharing stories of tragedy triumph, just like Samana.

As a business management student, there are many connections to make to Half the Sky. Many of the amazing women discussed in the film dream about or are working on cultivating their own business in order to create a better life for themselves. Many girls still needing education expressed the dream of becoming accountants, doctors, entrepreneurs, they are driven to become business women, something we can all similarly understand. One way a business management professional or student can support the cause of supporting women globally are through micro-lending organizations. In business classes we are taught that investment is a vital function for the growth and development of a successful business, and that includes investing in people. In micro-lending ventures one can invest and loan money to these organizations, which in turn give the money to young entrepreneurs just like the girls and women of Half the Sky to support their dreams of using their talents and creating a business. It is a beautiful process and it gives way to a wave of innovation, income, opportunity, and success among the poverty stricken communities in the world.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. 2015.Show of Force, LLC & Fugitive Films, LLC. PBS & ITVS.Video Documentary.


(New information from Nicholas Kristof on the story of Somaly Mam and Samana):



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