Monday, June 16, 2014

One of the nonprofit world's biggest fall from grace

by Gary Snyder

She has been praised and supported by Hollywood stars and United States government officials and celebrated by the American media — reinforced the image of Cambodia as a destitute country still suffering from its legacy of genocide, helping generate millions of dollars for charities.

But activists say Somaly Mam's story is part of a larger tale of deception meant to attract foreign money into impoverished Cambodia. Such duplicity, they say, has drawn some foreign donors into unwittingly perpetuating a system that keeps thousands of poor children with parents in orphanages for years.

Her plea for orphanages are often more intent on making money and too rarely make good on their promises. Sébastien Marot, the director of Friends International, a charity that specializes in helping children in Cambodia and neighboring countries, said the organizations misrepresented themselves as orphanages because it helped them raise money. “An orphanage is an easy sell,” he said. “They are distorting reality so that they can attract more compassion and money.”

Hong Theary, a 22-year-old university student who spent more than four years in an orphanage in Phnom Penh, says she was one of those forced to lie and beg for donations from foreigners, although she comes from what she calls a “happy family” of rice farmers. Her parents sent her to the orphanage thinking she would get better schooling.

“It was a waste of time — I didn’t get anything out of it,” Ms. Theary said of the orphanage, which has since shut down. “The only person who benefited was the owner.” The head of the orphanage instructed her to take on a Canadian couple as “adoptive parents.” “I regret that I did not tell them the truth,” Ms. Theary said of the Canadians, who visited Phnom Penh a number of times and gave financial support that ended up with the orphanage director. “They were always good to me.”

Ms. Mam was considered the country’s most famous orphan. Her accounts were called into question last month in a report in Newsweek that quoted childhood friends and local government officials from Ms. Mam’s native village disputing her story of orphanhood and teenage sexual slavery. The report also quoted a woman who said her own story of sex slavery was “fabricated and carefully rehearsed for the cameras under Mam’s instruction.” Ms. Mam stepped down last month from the American foundation, which is dedicated to eradicating the trafficking of women and girls in Southeast Asia, after the organization received the results of its own investigation by a law firm. The foundation now plans to change its name. 

But law enforcement is weak, and Oum Sophannara, the director of the child welfare department at the Cambodian Ministry of Social Affairs, said orphanages were often uncooperative. The business is too lucrative, he said. “They believe that if they can keep the ministry out,” he said, “they will continue to get funding.” (NYT)

Nonprofit Imperative gathers its information principally from public documents...some of which are directly quoted. Virtually all cited are in some phase of criminal proceedings; some have not been charged, however. Cites in various media: Featured in print, broadcast, and online media outlets, including: Charity Navigator, Vermont Public Radio, Miami Herald, National Public Radio (NPR), Huffington Post, The Sun News, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Wall Street Journal (Profile, News and Photos), “Betrayal”, (a movie), NBC (on Charity Fraud…TBD), FOX2, ABC Spotlight on the News, WWJ Radio, Marie Claire, Ethics World, Aspen Philanthropy Newsletter, Harvard Business Review, Current Affairs, Charity Navigator, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, St. Petersburg Times, Board Room Insider, USA Today Topics, Accountants News,, Responsive Philanthropy Magazine, New York Times, Portfolio Magazine, The Virgin Islands Daily News, NANKAI (China) BUSINESS REVIEW, National Religious Broadcasters newsletter, The Charity Governance Blog, American Chronicle, Palm Beach Post, Detroit Free Press, Oakland Press, Nonprofit World, Socially Responsible Business Forum, PNNOnline, Ohio Nonprofit Resources, Nonprofit Good Practice Guide, Nonprofit Startup Guide, Nonprofit Blog, National Coalition of Homeless Newsletter, Finance and Administration Roundtable Newsletter,, CORP! Magazine, Crain’s Michigan Nonprofit,, PhilanTopic, Nashville Free Press, Nonprofit Law Blog, Seniors World Chronicle, Carnegie Reporter, Assoc. of Certified Fraud Examiners Examiner,, Worchester (MA) Telegram and Gazette, Carnegie Corporation of America, EO Tax Journal, Wikipedia: Non-profit Organizations; Parent: Wise Austin, Accountants News, Veterans Today,, Far-roundtable, #Nonprofit Report, nonprofithelpnews, nonprofit news; National Enquirer, Northwest Herald, The HelpWise Daily, The #Nonprofit Report, Wikipedia (Nonprofit Organization),, Nonprofits: On the Brink (2006) Silence: The Impending Threat to the Charitable Sector (2011)
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