Parts of Somy Ali’s life portray an enchanted, almost fairy-tale like, existence. The striking Pakistan-born philanthropist was once a Bollywood leading lady who fell in love with her teenage movie crush. But her educational endeavors reveal a woman who finds great reward in the pursuit of knowledge.
Ali was born in 1976, in Karachi, Pakistan, to a Pakistani father and an Iraqi mother. She describes her childhood as “exciting,” largely due to the fact her father was a successful film director and producer who created a film studio on their home’s second floor. As a child, Ali attended the Convent of Jesus and Mary, a Roman Catholic all-girl’s school.
Then there are the not-so-charmed aspects of her life, the hardships and pain that made her into the woman she is today: the founder and president of a South Florida–based nonprofit that rescues and empowers victims of physical and sexual abuse and human trafficking.
In Pakistan, Ali was sexually abused, since the age of 5, by house help. Unfortunately, domestic violence was also a regular occurrence in her young life.
In Pakistan, Ali was sexually abused, since the age of 5, by house help. Unfortunately, domestic violence was also a regular occurrence in her young life. “Growing up in Pakistan, there was domestic violence everywhere. My mom’s socialite friends were all abused. It was the world-famous euphemism: she fell down the stairs. My mother, herself, was a victim of domestic violence. My brother and I used to hide under the bed and watch my mother get beaten. It was awful,” she recalls.
When Ali was 12, she, her mother and brother left Pakistan for the United States. In her home life, Ali was a regular 1980s girl. She loved the movie Weird Science, was infatuated with Jon Bon Jovi and loved his song “Livin’ on a Prayer.” At school, though, Ali encountered a painful type of culture shock when her accent made her a target for bullying. She was called awful names and went home crying every day. At 13, she was raped.
While Ali never dreamed of becoming an actress, she still enjoyed watching the Bollywood films she had watched while she lived in her native country. She developed a major crush on Salman Khan, whom she describes as “the Brad Pitt of India.” One night she had a dream that she was living in India and they were married. Soon after she concocted a plan to move to India, become a film star and, ultimately, marry Khan. While that might be just wishful thinking for many a teenage girl, Ali convinced her mother to allow her to move to Mumbai at 15. Leaving behind a world of hurt, she dropped out of school, moved to India and became an actress in Bollywood films. As fate would have it, she met Khan at a casting and they fell in love, just like she had imagined. They were together for eight years, but then two months before they were set to be married, Khan was unfaithful and the pair split.
Shortly afterward, the then 24-year-old Ali came back to the United States to pursue her education. She initially attended Nova Southeastern University, in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where she earned a psychology degree. While she was attending classes, Ali worked at the college radio station discussing political and social issues. This sparked an interest in journalism, so she briefly attended the University of Miami, pursuing a master’s degree in communications. During that time, she became captivated by documentary filmmaking and left UM to attend the New York Film Academy. In 2003, she graduated with a degree in filmmaking, editing, scriptwriting and direction. She later attended the Connecticut School of Broadcast where she pursued broadcast journalism.
In 2005, she moved back to Miami, and inspired by her childhood experiences and educational pursuits, she began to focus on creating No More Tears, a nonprofit organization that supports and empowers victims of abuse and human trafficking. Ali wanted all to make sure that all proceeds went to benefit victims, so she invested the money she earned from her Bollywood films to buy three homes in South Florida.
She lives off the rental income and to this day does not take home wages from her organization. She created No More Tears with her own money and is the only employee. She invests everything she earns from her freelance work (she takes occasional modeling and spokeswoman jobs locally) in the foundation. No More Tears also receives individual and corporate donations. However, as the number of victims continues to grow, not having the necessary funds to continue to help everyone is a constant concern.
Ali says that on an average day, she receives about 15 calls, either referrals or from the victims themselves, seeking assistance. She works alongside the FBI, homeland security, police officers, lawyers and victim advocates throughout Miami-Dade, Broward and West Palm Beach counties. Ali meets victims in public places (for safety reasons) and assists them with whatever they may need: therapy, safe placement, doctor’s visits, court appearances and grocery shopping, among other things. “There are no days off,” she says.
No More Tears has assisted more than 4,000 victims, and Ali is extremely proud of that number. To date, only two victims have gone back to their abusers. Through her work and individual experiences, Ali has been a witness to many injustices and atrocities, something that has stirred inside of her the desire to never stop helping. “It blows my mind how resilient we are. First time I was abused was 5, then again at 9, then raped at 13. How resilient are people? It’s amazing, you can really come out of it and use that bad to do something good to help people,” she says. “Never give up. You cannot give up.” ■
For more information about No More Tears, or to make a donation, please visit: No More Tears.