This is a charity spilling over with stories that will break your heart… a charity that is fighting to put an end to child trafficking and to give women and children at risk in Cambodia some hope for the future. Two Melbourne women started up Connecting Hands nearly two years ago and their work is starting to make a difference. But did anyone from the media turn up to hear about what they have done when they held an important event ten days ago? Not one. I’ll say it again – NOT ONE. I’ve been waiting and hoping to see if something would appear in the papers, but no – nothing.
If we heard that a 6-year-old Melbourne girl was being sold as a sex slave, don’t you think there’d be a bit of a fuss? Aren’t we a close enough global community that we SHOULD care when we hear this is happening to hundreds of children in Cambodia?
I love my daily news fix from both newspapers and TV and have enormous respect and admiration for my journalist friends. I also know the media is trying to survive in the toughest of times as we all try to adapt to this fast-changing world, affected so dramatically by the internet. The staff that are left are over-stretched, trying to cover the most basic of stories. I know. I get it. I just wish someone had been there ten days ago to show they cared.
Connecting Hands has put together an extraordinary cookbook with recipes donated by our country’s most famous and talented chefs, in a bid to raise funds for their cause. Called Food For Hope, it’s a brilliant book with beautiful pictures and recipes, and I hope you all buy it -and the story behind the book is WHY you should.
I first heard about Connecting Hands when we were invited to a dinner for the launch of the charity back in February, 2011. It was there we heard an incredibly moving speech from human rights advocate and trafficking survivor, Somaly Mam. She was sold to a brothel and forced into prostitution at just 14-years old. After surviving rape, torture and and abusive marriage for many years, she eventually escaped to France with the help of an aid worker.
Since that event, the Directors and Co-Founders of Connecting Hands, Kate Hutchinson and Deb Dorn, have achieved remarkable progress. I caught up with Kate at their book launch to find out what they’ve done.
Kate says she and her sister came up with the concept of starting the charity after a trip to Cambodia in 2009. They came across children in such dire circumstances they found it impossible to do nothing.
Unlike most people who see, are moved and then forget, they made a promise to make a difference. They kept their promise too.
‘We saw the poverty and especially the way it affected women and their desperate situation. We just wanted to make a real difference and work out a way to do that. It was the child trafficking that really affected us because the kids are in such a vulnerable situation and with the poverty, they’re at high risk,’ said Kate.
Kate had previously worked with another non-for-profit organisation and had visited several projects in Cambodia. This time she saw a definite gap that needed addressing. ‘There’s a lot of work to do, just in raising awareness. So many people are naive and don’t understand what’s really going on. A lot of people also find it just “too hard” so they close up and walk away. For us, it’s about raising awareness but also finding a creative way to engage people without putting it in their face too much – because it is a very sensitive topic.’
One way they’ve helped raise awareness is through enlisting Neighbours actor Tom Oliver as an ambassador. Tom has also travelled with them to Cambodia, visiting several of the centres which house young girls who have been rescued from sex trafficking. For Oliver, it was a heart-wrenching but rewarding experience. Connecting Hands passed on gifts to the girls – care packages and small amounts of clothing – that were gratefully received.
Kate says their next project is to build a teaching cafe in Cambodia to give the girls training for jobs that will lead to employment. ‘Already I think we’ve made a huge difference. I think the fact that they know we are there to assist them and support them long term. They know we’re in it for the long-haul – not just short-term. They’re really excited about some of the projects, especially the cafe.’
‘The cafe will be built for the young women who have been rescued from slavery. They’ve been rehabilitated and now they’re looking for something to sustain their lives with. Obviously we don’t want them to enter the sex trade again so we’re looking at ways to educate them. Some of them love cooking but to work in the hospitality industry, they need to have knowledge at a higher level. We’re going to provide them with the skills that will lead to paid employment, so they’re no longer at high risk. A lot of them have children and their children are also at high risk if their mothers don’t have employment,’ she said.
Much more about the work Kate and Deb have done can be read about on their website. (see below) But while they’ve achieved a LOT, Kate feels like they’re only just starting to scratch the surface. ‘There’s still such a long way to go. We’ve come a long way in the two years since we’ve started and I think the cookbook is a testament to that.’
Yes, the cookbook! That’s why Kate and Deb organised this function and invited patrons, supporters and the media to the Bopha Devi Cambodian restaurant at the Docklands. Celebrity chef Ian Curley not only provided a recipe for the book, he came along as a speaker and to sign books.
So who came up with the idea for a cookbook? Kate credits her sister, Deb. ‘She wanted to connect the cafe with something that also involved fund-raising and getting celebrities involved through endorsement. So in the book, a lot of the celebrity chefs talk about why they are passionate about Connecting Hands, so that elevates the book as well and that helps us to reach out to the wider community.’
Renowned chefs such as Maggie Beer, Neil Perry, Poh Ling Yeow, Pete Evans and Marion Gasby have all donated wonderful recipes, as well as comments about why they are lending their support. At $35 each, it’s a great Christmas present, so get on the Connecting Hands website now and buy up. It will save you heaps of time with your Christmas shopping!
Kate and Deb also heaped praise on the book’s designer, Adrian La Pira (Hush Logos) who donated his own time to make the Food For Hope the special book that it is – with mouth-watering photographs and easy to read recipes.
The Connecting Hands website is at: www.connectinghands.com.au