Brewing their way out of the sex trade

On your next trip to Phnom Penh, let Daughters of Cambodia make you feel at home.
Brewing their way out of the sex trade

At the Sugar & Spice café in Phnom Penh, a young woman balances a tray of gourmet sandwiches, soups and brownies.

“Enjoy your soup, sir,” she says, as she looks the diner in the eye.

There’s more than meets the eye at this highly rated café, one of several businesses run by faith-based social enterprise, Daughters of Cambodia.

Daughters of Cambodia also has a guest house, spas and boutique.

The businesses provide vocational training, employment opportunities, daycare, medical treatment, counselling and life-skill classes.

Started in 2007 by British psychologist Ruth Elliott, its mission is to help young women and men escape the sex industry by employing them and training them to start new lives.

Daughters employs about 200 people, and it has notched a success rate of 98% in helping young people exit the sex industry.  

They are trained as baristas, servers, chefs, book-keepers and managers.

A key factor in the organisation’s success comes from its leaders’ ability to ignite purpose among those who’ve lost theirs.

“The hardest part of my job – and the most important priority – is focusing on the well-being and recovery of our girls. It’s helping them find hope and purpose,” says Breanne Orndorff, who directs the business operations and outlets.

Many of the workers had been trafficked or tricked into the trade. Some turned to it because they were trapped by circumstances. “I felt I had no value,” a trainee says, reflecting on her experience as a sex worker.

Daughters of Cambodia visits these young women and men and invites them to find a different life, a living wage and the opportunity to walk away from the sex trade – permanently.

“We don't want them to be dependent on us. They need skills to live on their own,” says Orndoff.

Daughters of Cambodia has developed a process for helping each person regain their confidence and self-worth.

It takes time.

A young woman who joins Daughters as a trainee might first learn how to sew or make jewellery even as she receives counselling. She learns new skills that may include budgeting, parenting and conflict resolution.

The most confident trainees learn how to speak in English and engage with customers in the hotels and cafes.

The organization has a list of what it will do, and won’t do, for its clients.

It won’t give clients a free pass. They have to go to work to get paid. They can struggle and fail as they learn, but they also have to keep a standard of work. They get loans to buy bikes, but these loans have to be paid back.

“We’re patient, and we give them lots of grace when we see them putting in effort to learn cooking and hygiene skills. But they need to make progress and be eager to learn,” Orndoff says.

The most passionate learners become line managers who, in turn, train new girls in customer service and in English.

“If the trainees can see success in their friends,” says Orndoff, “then they’ll start thinking: ‘If my friend can do it, so can I’.”

Daughters of Cambodia plans to expand to Siem Reap with a larger hotel and spa. It’s also seeking overseas distribution for its jewellery, scarves, bags, children’s toys and t-shirts.

Eventually, the hope is for Daughters to be entirely run by Cambodians – and most importantly, by people with a restored sense of purpose who seek to restore the purpose of others.

You can support Daughters of Cambodia by visiting them in Phnom Penh, staying at the White Linen Boutique Hotel, eating at the Sugar & Spice cafe, or shopping for high-quality products made by their clients.

Find out more about the other programs run by Daughters of Cambodia here.

About Daughters of Cambodia

Daughters of Cambodia was founded to help those exploited by the sex trade break out and start a new, independent life with employable skills. It aims to support at least 100 girls each year, helping them recover and with life skills training.