Thirty-one-year-old actress AnnaLynne McCord is the president of nonprofit organization Together1Heart, working to care for young women and girls in Cambodia who are victims (or at risk of being victims) of slavery and successfully “recover, educate, train and reintegrate” them into society. From yoga and meditation to educating and providing psychological assistance, young girls and women are able to fully recover and rejoin mainstream society.
“There’s this incredible sense of love that you’ll never feel anywhere else in the world than in the moments that you share with a child who is just unconditionally trusting and loving you,” McCord said. “And then, it’s compounded for me by their stories. What happened to me, caused me complete distrust. Fear to be in relationships, fear of commitments, fear of long-term anything, fear of opening up and here are these little girls who have been through the absolute, most atrocious thing you could fathom and they’re looking at you with openness and love and they teach you about forgiveness and they teach you about self-love and they teach you about life — and that, to me is the most profound.”
A normal day for the girls at Together1Heart begins at 4 a.m. to start the day with meditation and yoga, focusing on the “somatic body experience” as well as art therapy through acting, singing and dancing their stories. Some choose to write their own songs in Khmer, the Cambodian language, and honestly tell their stories through the gift of song.
McCord recalls being brought to tears during one of the first songs she heard. She describes the girls holding each other while the young girl sings through her tears the story of her and her friend’s rescue at 15-years-old.
“When you go through a severe trauma, words fail you,” McCord said. “You have to find a way of expression. Even for me, clearly acting became an outlet where I could feel these feelings and get these things out of my body that were so toxic without having to fully look at what’s going on in the inside… This one girl tells the story of when she was rescued with her friend at 15 and she survived, but her friend didn’t, she killed herself. She couldn’t handle the pain and continued to ask herself why she was the one who had to go away and your heart is just on the ground being stomped.”
However rewarding, McCord explains that even for celebrities like herself, one must fully heal to be able to heal others, and through “Together1Heart,” she has been able to accomplish both.
“I think that now more than ever,” McCord said. “The satisfaction personally is that something that began as such a desperate way for me of looking for a meaning in life has become the source of my healing and everything that I might have tried to give to them, they have given in 1 million fold back to me.”
Through the power of peer-to-peer connection and healing by other survivors, successful recovery is promised, lifelong friends are made and girls complete the program feeling better than they might have felt having never gone through the traumatic experiences that brought them to “Together1Heart.”
“When my memories came back due to EMDR therapy for my own trauma on Aug. 16 of this year, within 10 days, I was on a plane to Cambodia like, ‘I am not coming as a president of the organization, I am not coming as an ambassador, as an actress, as a supporter. I am not coming to work, I am coming as one of your girls that you need to fix and help me.’ And that’s what she did and that’s what the girls did for me and I think there’s something beautiful in the full-circle element of that. My doctor even said that I created a community for this moment to happen. I had so much support built-in because of all of the work and years allowing me to be okay which was a lot of what these girls have given me,” she said.
McCord extends her hands to the youth and asks them to use their passions, abilities and voice to continue making a difference, and ultimately, be a “change maker” themselves. Through their skill of social media and passion revolving social issues, the youth is the source of today’s change.
“The youth are the key,” McCord said. “I think that sometimes as we get older, we lose our ability to see a better world. We get cynical and tired, but there is something just so beautiful about the youth and their belief and the ability that one person has to change the world. I look at Somaly (Vice President of Together1Heart), she changed 7,000 girls. One person can change a lot. ‘Do you want to?’ is the question- And a lot of young people do… By mobilizing your high school, your neighborhood, your friend group, whatever it is… Even the ice bucket challenge. Adults just don’t think about that stuff and I would really love to see the youth find their own clever, viral ways to find things very personal to you, like sex trafficking is to me. Find a calling and change the world.”
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