The contents of the backpack were easy to take out. A change of clothes, some carefully-chosen toiletries, a hand-written card and a hand-made bracelet. “They were also life-changing”, says one of the first women, a survivor, to receive one of the specially-prepared backpacks assembled by caring members of St. Michael’s council of the Catholic Women’s League.
The woman received the backpack when she arrived at RESET, a Calgary-based agency that helps women ages 16 and older escape sexual exploitation and trafficking. Bringing nothing but the jeans and T-shirt she’d worn for three days, the woman says she, “can’t put into words how much it meant to have something to change into. I cried when I read the card, and wore the bracelet on my ankle for three straight months. It’s now hanging on my wall.”
St. Michael’s CWL, with help from councils at Holy Name, Holy Spirit, St. Peter’s, St. Bonaventure and St. Albert the Great, launched the IWIN – I’m Worth It Now backpack initiative in late 2019. IWIN has already distributed eight of its first 12 packs in partnership with Calgary Police Service and RESET Society of Calgary (formerly Servants Anonymous). Another 18 will be assembled this year, says project lead Kristin Fahlman.
Kristin had previously participated in a project to combat human trafficking overseas and had learned of a similar backpack program operating in Florida, but did not know of the need to help survivors here. After attending a local conference about human trafficking in Canada, she knew God was calling her to take local action to address this issue.
When the conference ended, the Holy Spirit led her to Detective Paul Rubner, a Calgary Police Service officer who works on the front lines of human trafficking in Calgary. “I introduced myself and explained my idea. He was extremely enthusiastic and, as it turns out, he was the key person in Calgary who would know how to implement distribution system for the backpacks.”
Research shows human trafficking is one of the fastest-growing crimes in Canada, affecting people from all walks of life. It is also one of the most lucrative of criminal activities, with traffickers profiting up to $600,000 per victim, per year.
“We chose the name IWIN because we want survivors to know that they are worthy; worthy right at this very moment. It doesn’t matter what their past looks like. It doesn’t matter if they have plans for their future or not. They are worthy of love and respect,” says Kristin.
Each backpack is linked to a “prayer warrior” who receives a bracelet that matches one in a backpack. Survivors are told that someone else has a matching bracelet—and is now linked to them in prayer.
The next group of backpacks will also include hand-made reusable face-masks made by CWL members. “Two masks were added to each of the remaining packs and the plan is to include them in all future backpacks,” explains Kristin.
To learn more about IWIN and how you can assist, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Edited by Joy Gregory for Faithfully, on behalf of the Catholic Women's League.
Photos submitted by Jan Myhre, Calgary Diocesan CWL.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers