I'm worth it now
“It started when a friend of mine told me about a backpack program for human trafficking survivors in Florida.” shared Kristin Fahlman, a parishioner of St. Michael's in Calgary, “I thought it was interesting, but didn't think about it again for several years.”
It wasn’t until that one fateful evening when she attended a movie screening organized by the Catholic Women’s League at her church. It wasn't just any film; "Over 18" documents society's damage caused by pornography industries across North America and beyond.
“On the way to the screening, God reminded me of the backpack program in Florida. And that I should start a similar program here in Calgary.” shared Kristin. After the movie screening, Kristin tried to speak to Paul Rubner, who had been invited as an expert local speaker at the time, but there were just too many people who wanted to do the same. So she went home, trying to put it out of her mind. But God persisted.
Shortly after, Kristin was invited to a human trafficking workshop and, seemingly by divine intervention, her normally packed schedule was free. At the workshop, she again noticed Paul, who provided a presentation on the issue of human trafficking in the Calgary and Alberta context. She decided then that if he was available at the end of the workshop, this was the person she needed to speak with.
"When I explained my idea, Paul was extremely enthusiastic and, as it turns out, he was the key person in Calgary who would know how to implement a distribution system for the backpacks. He suggested involving the Catholic Women's League, a group I had just recently joined."
What followed was a series of meetings and brainstorming sessions between Kristin, a lawyer with a passion for social justice and deep compassion for a segment of society that very few people were aware of, and Paul, at the time a human trafficking investigator who had spent the last decade working with survivors of human trafficking and exploitation. Paul had an understanding of the needs and issues faced by survivors, along with the social agencies that sought to help them - but he knew there was more that could be done. All that was required was a group, or individuals, that had a realistic understanding of the issue that he could lend his experience and advocacy to.
“God has lined it all up for us every step of the way," said Kristin. Paul added, “We want survivors of human trafficking to recognize the strength inside of them and to realize that they are loved and accepted right in this moment.”
Long story short, IWIN - an acronym for 'I'm Worth It Now' - was born in 2019 with the support of the Catholic Women’s League (CWL). This program's mission is to make an impact on those who are often forgotten: survivors of sexual exploitation and domestic sex trafficking. And over three years later, the need for their ministry has only grown. Their services now extend to non-profit agencies in two provinces - with a vision to expand even further.
“The idea was to provide a tangible way to show trafficking survivors in Calgary, the vast majority of whom were born and raised in Canada, that people care and ‘nice things’ didn’t always have to come with strings attached.” shared Paul, who at the time was actively working with survivors and many of the agencies offering services for them.
“While IWIN doesn’t provide services directly, they provide backpacks containing essential items to the agencies that do. And given that these agencies are not-for-profit, every little bit of help they can receive means more resources they can devote to programming and helping their participants.” said Paul, adding, “One such agency in Calgary has received over $13,000 in ‘backpack support’ from IWIN in the past 2 1/2 years. The contents of the backpacks are items that the agency would have provided anyway, which means that those funds could be re-directed into other areas of the program.”
IWIN also has partnerships with an agency in Edmonton and one in Saskatoon, who also exist to provide services to trafficked and exploited women, although the Calgary program is by far the largest.
Survivors of human trafficking who received IWIN backpacks ware always filled with gratitude and appreciation for the kindness they had been shown.
"This backpack meant more than just a bag full of clothes. It gave me hope there is still good in this world".
"Thank-you so much for helping me to feel a bit more human and a bit more like I matter".
"It was a really nice surprise when I wasn't expecting it and I feel like it's a great act of kindness and I'd love to take part in something like that one day. It's really nice to get something and to feel like you don't have to give anything in return."
"This signifies that if one individual or organization believes in us, perhaps we can begin to contemplate having faith in ourselves."
The success of the IWIN program is largely attributed to the commitment of multiple groups and organizations who are dedicated to helping them achieve their goals, with a large portion coming from the Catholic Women's League in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
“Human trafficking can happen to any family in Canada and is happening mainly to Canadian citizens." Paul added.
This National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, February 22, it's critical that we consider why 95% of the trafficking survivors found in Calgary are Canadian-born. Our sisters and daughters are not exempt from the reality of human trafficking – so, it's essential that our brothers and sons join us in finding a solution. Let us not forget to open up the conversation about human trafficking, despite how uncomfortable it may seem.
Your comment will be posted after it is approved.
Leave a Reply.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers