WHEN sisters Kate Hutchinson and Deb Dorn went on a holiday to Cambodia almost four years ago, they could not have known how much their lives were about to change.
While travelling around the country, the Ferntree Gully women witnessed women and children struggling to rebuild their lives after being forcibly involved in the sex trafficking trade.
"We saw a really big gap. No one was supporting or finding solutions for them, they were shattered," Miss Hutchinson said.
What they witnessed resulted in them starting a charity, Connecting Hands, to aid the women and girls in their plight. Miss Hutchinson said it was a matter of turning compassion into action, and not offering mere lip service.
They connected with another charity on the ground — AFESIP Cambodia — and for the past three years have helped rescue women from sex slavery, as well create better lives for them.
"Deb is a grandmother, and she kept thinking, 'imagine if that was my child'. Everyone wants to sponsor a child, but when they're affected by sex slavery, they don't want to touch it," Miss Hutchinson said. "But they're normal everyday people and they can't get out of the situation.
One of Connecting Hands' fund-raising projects was a cook book featuring recipes from 'celebrity chefs', Pete Evans, Maggie Beer, Poh Ling Yeow and Neil Perry being among the 12 contributors.
Connecting Hands hopes to soon open a cafe in Cambodia where women can gain experience in running a small commercial kitchen in the hospitality industry. "A lot of the women want to become chefs, so the training will be empowering for them and teach them to live a sustainable life," Miss Hutchinson said.
The sisters also want to open a cafe in Melbourne to raise money for their overseas programs and, one day, provide sex trafficking victims with an opportunity to live in Melbourne.
Miss Hutchinson said she and her sister were inspired by the women's positivity and plans. "They sat in their huts, talked about their dreams — they were even bigger dreams than we have. One girl wants to be a lawyer, another a communications specialist."
Connecting Hands also educates men to stop them using women in the sex trafficking industry, as well as provide psychologists for the women and a recreation cottage where they can relax.
"We look at the positive angle, because otherwise you can get bogged down. We're more looking towards the future and hope," Miss Hutchinson said.
Connecting Hands hopes to raise funds for its work with a fun run at Albert Park Lake on Sunday, February 17. Information is available at connecthinghands.com.au.