Travel: Cambodia – Day 7

A week in and each day is getting heavier. We know our girls now on a much deeper and more personal level. Their families. Their kids. Their habits. Their lives. The more we know about them the more we love them and desire for them to find success.

Yesterday after a long day of teaching and brainstorming with the team in the 90′ heat and 95% humidity, we went out to see the brothels at night. Knowing where they came from gives us more motivation to continue our work here.

Proactively dressed young girls lined up like cattle was horrific. The bright flashing brothel lights were mesmerizing and intoxicating to anyone passing by. Luring in men young and old to fulfill their perverted fantasies with girls who are left broken and empty inside. As enticing as the brothels are, they each tell such stories of lies and despair and each of their pale painted faces feared any outcome of the night.

“You know you want to.”

“Haven’t you always wondered?”

“Please choose me!”

“Don’t choose me!”

“If you don’t choose me, I won’t be able to eat tomorrow.”

“If you do choose me, I will be at your mercy.”

“If I am left to your mercy, please, God, let me survive.”

Terror and numbness on their each precious faces left us all feeling hopeless as we slowly rode by each brothel, one by one.

On our way, we ran into our student who is still working in the brothels. She is one of the brightest and most talented students we have ever taught in any of our programs around the world. Her goal to start her own salon is driven by her wanting financial success, as well as helping sustain her mother as well as provide for her brothers and sisters.

It startled us a bit to see her dressed the way she was. Pale faced with long dark hair extensions and the highest of heels. Such a beautiful girl naturally that her ensemble was so distracting. Having no shame at all, she waved and was genuinely happy to see us knowing we’d never look down on her. We all see her for the silly little rascal she is with her button nose, squeaky laugh, and big smile. We usually see her racing to school just after 9am on her bike in Hello Kitty pajamas and a baseball hat exhausted from working all night. The fact the she arrives to school 20 minutes late would normally cause us to reprimand her, but in this case we are happy she shows up to school at all. From school, she hops back on her bike riding along the dusty dirt roads and goes home for a quick bite to eat and then she is off to work in a salon across town. In between a busy day with customers, she is getting ready to work in the brothel at night. As soon as she is done with a busy day doing hair and makeup in the salon around 9pm, she walks across the street to the brothel where she forced to drink alcohol, do drugs, and service men sometimes until 4am. At 9am she is back on her bike racing to school along the dusty dirt roads and her day starts all over again.

This is a typical day for her. An average day for a girl who is determined to never give up. A girl who deeply loves and respects her mother. A girl who will stop at nothing to succeed. A girl who is often ridiculed for her “choice” to work in a brothel night after night. A girl who despite her current career path has goals for owning her own business one day. A girl who manages to go to school and work 2 jobs on only 4 hours of sleep a night. A girl who dreams of having a husband who will love and treat her the way God intended for a man to love a woman. A girl I look up to and admire for all the courage I couldn’t have given the circumstances she was given.

We, as Americans, often complain being here. About the heat and humidity, the dust and dirt. But for our Khmer girls, it is their life. My team and I live in a dormitory-like house on metal bunk beds with 2″ plastic mattress adorned with hot pink mosquito nets, a bathroom with gaping holes in the ceiling, a shower with little to no water pressure, spiders and cockroaches coming out of every corner, floors that are impossible to stay clean, a kitchen stove that works only when it feels like it, and a washing machine that makes all our clothes smell like mold, B.O. and cigarettes.

Our students all live in either a safe house much like our dormitory home (sans air conditioning) with 20 other girls who have been rescued from brothels OR in very humble and tiny un-air conditioned houses with their families who they are often the sole providers for. And they are all proud to call where they live their home. They are proud to invite us to visit, cook us dinner, and welcome into their lives. They give even though they have nothing. They live daunting lives, yet they choice to smile and find the joy every day. Because of the example these girls have set, there’s no place I’d rather be.

The perspective I have gained from this culture and our students is overwhelming. I have learned such incredible life lessons from every one of our girls. Lessons of humility, determination, patience and faith. All things God wants to instill in me. Like Mother Teresa said, “Each one of them is Jesus in disguise.”

And that’s just who they are to me.



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Travel: Cambodia – Day 1

I couldn’t be more excited to be back in Cambodia. My journey in this eccentric country began in the summer of 2013. I yearned to write about my experiences but found it difficult to get these captivating and intricate thoughts onto paper. You see, it was hard to put into words- the beauty, poverty, charm, ignorance, love, and the hate that makes up the city of Siem Reap, Cambodia. As much of an irony as those characterizes are, they completely encompass these grounds and it was important that I become competent of that. I hate the poverty, but love the beauty I find in every sweet child, naked and dirty, with a smile from ear to ear. I hate the ignorance, but love the charm in every girl who sees a hope for a future that her society won’t allow her to have. The biggest irony of them all though, is that some may call these girls naive and their dreams hopeless but I… I call them warriors.

My first day back to school- I run into the salon (which was built for our students so they would have a place to work as soon as they were done with school) and am immediately overwhelmed with the space…its lovely! Wood floors, track lighting, and a beautiful chandelier hanging from the ceiling. I was so happy to finally see it in person.  Even more than the space, though, I was most ecstatic to see the girls. They ran towards me as we squealed and jumped up and down like a bunch of giddy school girls! It has been 6 long months of missing them and I was overjoyed that I finally with them again. My feelings of a proud mama were overwhelming with how much they have grown from the first time I meet them 7 months ago.

After school that day, a student invited me and one of the other instructors, Heidi, to her salon, which is one the other side of town. It was Heidi’s last day and she wanted to give her a manicure as a going away gift. As we waited for her to finish with another client, we began chatting with them, along with the salon owner ( mind you, in our broken Khmer and their broken English). As we shared our passions and purpose for being here, she asked for me personally, to cut her hair and our student’s client asked for Heidi to do her makeup. Although a small gesture to many, this was a bonding experience that broke through language barriers and allowed us to share love and friendship. This was just another normal day in the salon.

After I was done cutting and styling the owners hair, our student’s next client came in. She was a sweet smiley girl, no more than 15. She greeted us all before she bounced into her stylist’s chair. She pulled out a small bag from her purse and began doing her makeup at the same time as her hair was being done. We became intrigued as her demeanor slowly started to transform coinciding with her new face and hairstyle. Starting with her foundation, which would have better suited for my pale skin rather than her natural deep olive tone, I was mesmerized at how her spark dimmed with each pass of her makeup sponge. As the stylist finished her hair and as her face turned geisha white, she added pastel pink blush, black eyeliner, mascara, and bright pink lip gloss. I sat across the salon from her gazing at her reflection in the mirror which was filled with so much sadness. Holding my breath was all I could do not to cry, knowing that in 5 minutes she would walk across the street to work at the largest brothel in this red light district…A brothel that caters to men from all over the world.

The young girl paid her hair stylist $1 and left without saying goodbye to anyone. Her head down and so focused, as if she were talking herself into what she was about to do. I couldn’t help but dwell on the fact that this was the life that my students used to live every night. Night after night. This is a reality for thousands of girls in this city. This is a reality for millions of girls all over the world. And now, this is still the reality of one of our beauty school students. I kept telling myself that one was too many, that there had to be more I could do…

The Bystander Effect (if you don’t know what that is, shame on you and Google it!) happens on a daily basis. I promised myself that I would never be a bystander. Ever. No matter how uncomfortable the situation. Today, a horrible feeling and guilt and shame came over me. Why didn’t I continue to talk to her? Why didn’t I try to stop her from leaving? Why didn’t I help her? Was I a “bystander”? Today, was I the one thing I promised I’d never be?

I dwelled on her for while. Too long maybe. But being right in front of a girl who is suiting up for the fight of her life is the motivation I need to continue my work here. While she is fighting to survive tonight, I will fight for her further. However long it takes, I will fight.

I keep telling myself that one is too many…


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Fashion: Salada Magazine – 15 Year Anniversary Issue

Photography and Direction: Amanda Peixoto-Elkins

Assistant Director: Sara Higley

Hair: Lady Dianna

Hair Assistant: Susana Cordova

Makeup: Kristina Goldberg

Makeup Assistants: Katie Johnson and Joseph Advari

Styling: Mary Lalittle

Styling Assistant: Twyla Monti and Lisee Moore


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Fashion: Bello Magazine – Sports


Photography: Amanda Peixoto-Elkins

Hair: Lady Dianna

Makeup: Amy Clarke

Talent: Heather Dorak

Styling: Lizette Mora

Location: Pilates Platinum Santa Monica


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Fashion: Carmen Miranda Gets Married!





Photography and Art Direction: Jen Sosa

Hair: Lady Dianna

Makeup: Amy Clarke

Models: Bernadette Plazoa and Johan Khalilan

Assistant Stylist: Tayen Styles

Event Styling: Caroline Cervantes and Oh Love Struck Event

Flowers: Primal Flower

Invitations: Kendra Enriquez

Location: The Saguro in Palm Springs


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