The Catholic Register
September 17, 2023
Human Trafficking

Affirmation for survivors: you’re worth it

Backpack program spreads hope to exploited in Western Canada

Affirmation for survivors: you’re worth it

Paul and Kristin, top, with spiritual advisor Fr. John Nemanic in front of Calgary’s St. Mary’s Cathedral with IWIN Backpacks.

(Photo courtesy IWIN)

  • avatar
    Mary French
    The Catholic Register

The founders of IWIN want those caught up in human trafficking to know that there is a way out.

“We really want to raise awareness of the trafficking situation in Canada,” said Kristin, founder at IWIN, noting that 93 per cent of trafficking victims in Canada “are Canadian citizens. It’s happening to people of all walks of life — a lot of people don’t know that.”

“We chose the name IWIN, short for I’m Worth It Now, because we want survivors to know that they are worth it right in this moment,” said Kristin. “It doesn’t matter what their past looks like, it doesn’t matter what their future might hold, they are worthy of God’s love and respect, they are worthy of our love and respect, right now in this moment.”

In 2019, Kristin put in motion in Calgary the program which would eventually take the I’m Worth It Now name. Together with her co-founder, Paul (IWIN board members don’t disclose their last names to keep their private lives separate from their work), and a small team of volunteers, they’ve put together hundreds of backpacks over the past four years, offering comfort and hope to human trafficking survivors in Canada. Now a registered charity, IWIN continues to put together backpacks for those attending a rehab program. 

Each backpack, worth approximately $100, contains a change of clothes, toiletries and a card of encouragement with a unique bracelet for each survivor that matches a corresponding prayer warrior’s.

IWIN began by providing these backpacks to a program in Calgary called RESET, with which Paul had already had an extensive background.

“(Paul) was a detective here in Calgary, and he worked with us for many years,” said RESET’s program manager, Liz Gibson. “We had a partnership while he was in the base unit. Then he retired and he came to work for us for a year. He connected with IWIN, and that’s how we get the connection.”

Founded in 1989, RESET is a non-profit that focuses on helping women escape sexual exploitation and sex trafficking. RESET offers a housing and full-curriculum program to help women reintegrate into society and heal after their traumas.

To date, IWIN has distributed well over 100 backpacks to RESET alone, approximately $10,000 worth of donations. The women use the backpacks to attend the program’s classrooms, and are appreciative of receiving their own, fresh clothes for their fresh start at their own life.

“Some girls have come in here without shoes,” said Gibson. “Just to have those clothes and the things in these backpacks… It’s theirs, it’s clean, it’s brand new and it gives them a bit of self-esteem.”

IWIN has now expanded to several other institutions in Western Canada: Hope Restored, based in Saskatoon, and CEASE in Edmonton. 

“Most of the agencies that work with this population are non-profit, oftentimes operating on shoe-string budgets; these backpacks ultimately take a lot of money off the bottom line,” said Paul. 

Paul and Kristin first met in March of 2019 at a CWL viewing of Over 18, a documentary examining modern-day pornography and its effects. That day, Kristin felt a divine call to talk to Paul about starting the backpack program after a similar program that had been running in California. That December, they began their first trial run of distributing the backpacks.

“God persists when He wants you to do something,” Kristin explains. “In all of Calgary, (Paul) was at the time the police officer who would know how to distribute them, that was the area he was working in.”

Now, approaching IWIN’s five-year anniversary, the co-founders explain how the past years have seen the program slowly expand, and they are looking forward to continuing to grow their initiative with hope to reach one or two more programs in the coming years.

IWIN backpacks
The backpacks, containing clothes, toiletries, a card of encouragement and unique bracelet, are provided to human trafficking survivors in Western Canada. (Photo courtesy IWIN)

Paul explains that this can be a lengthy and involved process, as IWIN aims to supply backpacks to programs with a specific model.

“IWIN has chosen to work with the agencies that are helping people exit,” he said. “Kristin and I were on the same page from very early on, where we want to work with agencies that were assisting women in getting out, as opposed to agencies that were assisting women in working more safely.”

The backpack program is not the only way IWIN is combating human trafficking in Canada, however. It’s also trying to prompt conversation on human trafficking via the Red Sands Awareness Campaign. Those who participate in this initiative begin with a prayer service, followed by spreading red sand through sidewalk cracks. The red sand acts as a visual reminder not to walk over the most marginalized in our community, with red symbolizing Jesus’ blood, shed for all. Red Sands conversations are encouraged to be brought into churches and local schools.

“One way we want people to get involved is to talk about it… it’s a hard conversation to have, but people need to be having it, men and women alike… and bring an end to what’s happening in our country,” said Kristin.

“Just get the word out,” agrees Gibson, explaining how RESET is also working to deepen awareness of these issues. “We developed with Paul a training program, and I would love it to be right across Canada and everybody to be educated on this issue.”

RESET is offering a Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking Awareness Conference Sept. 18-19 in Calgary to serve this very purpose.

“We aren’t going to raise awareness without having conversations,” said Paul. “But conversations need to be based in knowledge and not Hollywood, we need to have conversations that are fact-based, and are relevant to where we are (in Canada).”

Kristin and Paul say little is understood or addressed when it comes to human trafficking and how prevalent it is in Canada. The Government of Canada website reports that nearly two-thirds of trafficking incidents in Canada come out of Ontario. A large percentage of victims also come from busy urban areas, like Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax. These victims can be trafficked both by strangers and people they may already know.

“The public in general could have a much greater impact… to be more aware and hopefully identify more people who are being victimized. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you don’t know what you’re seeing. That’s the point behind having these conversations and information sessions,” said Paul.

For more information on IWIN, or to request a presentation, visit

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