My third full day here in Cambodia provided moving glimpses of restoration. After getting some computer work done on my terrace, I hopped in a tuk-tuk to head over to the hotel where my friends Karen and Mark are staying. It was farther than I thought and I was able to see a part of the city I’d not yet travelled through. I’m very grateful to have my friends here at the same time and for their gracious inclusion in their plans. It is giving me a chance to process, reflect, and learn from their previous experiences and relationship building in Cambodia.
Karen and I headed over to Daughters of Cambodia Café and Spa. This is one of the fair-trade businesses run by this amazing NGO. This describes their approach, “Daughters has developed a unique model in Cambodia, one in which sex workers come direct to the organization from the brothels by choice. Daughters’ day centre, in the heart of an area of Phnom Penh brothels, reaches out to girls working as sex workers and offers them ways out of this situation. We are not a shelter, but we facilitate the girls’ exit from the sex industry by providing a number of resources and programs that enable them to set themselves free and sustain healthy choices for their own lives. They come because they are already motivated to change their lives, and Daughters gives them choice and dignity in building a different future, that make their choices sustainable and respect their human rights. Most organizations in Cambodia that work with sex workers, rescue them by force; the process is traumatic, and in most cases is not sustained once they re-gain their freedom because no alternative job has been provided and pressure from parents for money forces them back to the brothels. At Daughters, if girls wish to change their life-styles, they are empowered to make changes by building their internal capacity and through immediate alterative income generation in the provision of jobs. Rather than learn NGO dependence, the girls learn to be responsible for their own lives and accommodation and provide for their staple needs out of their salaries, in order to foster sustainability.” And this is what they say about their commitment to fair-trade business opportunities, “At Daughters we are aiming for sustainable outcomes, in which clients can successfully live independently in their own community, and achieve quality of life. An important part of girls being able to make and sustain lifestyle changes is provision of a job. Daughters has several small businesses to provide jobs and training to girls who leave the sex industry. Our businesses are fair trade, with higher salaries than in other comparable businesses in Cambodia, and good working conditions. Clients are able to access free supplementary services built into the working day including medical clinic, counseling clinic, creative programs, daycare, and educational programs.”
We began by heading up to the café and enjoying lunch. Our server was working very hard on her English and even remembered Karen’s face from seeing her a year ago. It was hard to believe that this bubbly young woman attuned to customer service professionalism had once been in a brothel. Then a smiling young man brought us our meals. You see while the majority of the programming for daughters reaches young women, they also have a part of the program that works with the “sons”. These young men once worked as sex workers as well – known as “lady-boys” in this part of Asia. They also gain the opportunity to learn new job skills and transition out of the sex trade and into sustainable employment and a new life. This particular young man knew very little English, but his laughter and joy at serving us was palpable. This was my first glimpse of the work of this NGO that I’ve been praying and dreaming of partnering with since Karen first told me about encountering them a year ago.
On Tuesday morning, I will head out to the slum area of Phnom Penh to the training centre of Daughters and will meet with Ruth the founder and executive director. I hope to learn much more about their incredible work so that I can convey it honestly and well to New Direction’s networks. But our stop at the café was a wonderful opportunity to see some of the results of Ruth and her team’s labour.
After lunch, we went down the stairs into the spa room. We had signed up to receive the head-to-toe massage and were ushered in to get our feet washed. As I sat experiencing this foot-washing I couldn’t help but think of the account of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. This young woman was serving me – and I wished I could hop down from the chair and serve her. Again, I found myself trying but unsuccessful in attempting to connect the horrors of a brothel with this beautiful young woman so tenderly and yet skillfully (they were trained by a Canadian massage therapist) massaging my feet. The spa only allows female clients and massages are done in chairs with clients fully clothed. Massages go from the feet to the knees then on to the arms and conclude with neck and head. Such protocol reminds the client of the traumas these girls have endured and ensure a safe and professional environment for them to work as skilled practitioners. The girls, side-by-side, chatted away in Khmer to each other, often smiling, checking the clock to ensure they were moving through the massage according to schedule, following the method they had been taught to a tee. In their uniform of simple white t-shirts emblazoned with the word “Daughters” and linen brown capris, they were clean, healthy, and appeared as any of the many south Asian women I encounter in my own neighbourhood back home. As Karen and I left she shared that she’d had a really neat prayer time for the woman who was doing her massage. But truly, we were the recipients of amazing grace. What a miracle. What a privilege to be served by them. What an amazing demonstration of transformation.
While I look forward to sharing much more with you about the Daughters of Cambodia organization after I meet with Ruth and her staff on Tuesday, I hope that in the meantime you will check out their website and begin to pray for and learn the incredible story of this truly life-giving work.