International Network of Hearts logo. The organization is a non-profit based in San Diego that aims to rescue women and children from human trafficking and sexual violence. (Facebook/Only a Heartbeat Away)

Victoria woman hosts event to raise awareness about human trafficking

Fundraiser for orphanage aims to save children from being trafficked

Bella Montgomery spends her days running her business, Perogie Pinchers of Victoria, but recently decided to take on a new challenge.

Montgomery hopes to raise funds for an orphanage in Mexico that will support children saved from lives of human trafficking.

A non-profit organization called the International Network of Hearts focuses on helping children recovering from human trafficking. Montgomery said she was recently put in touch with someone who was connected to the group and learned about children — some as young as four years old — who end up being trafficked.

“When I heard that my jaw just dropped,” Montgomery said. “It just went straight to my soul and my hands couldn’t stop shaking… I just wanted to do everything to help these people.”

Montgomery said the orphanage houses children and provides them with an education and a new life.

“I just know that these people don’t have the resources that other countries have and for that reason I’ve chosen them to be my cause,” Montgomery said.

She plans on hosting a family-friendly fundraiser on Feb. 15 and hopes it will raise awareness about human trafficking as well.

Montgomery said some people think it isn’t a problem in Canada, but noted that it affects people here too.

“It happens in our own backyard,” Montgomery said. “And I think as a nation…we are told that we’re the best for people to find safety, freedom and love…we need to show just how much of that is really inside us.”

Statistics Canada show the rate of police-reported incidents of human trafficking has steadily increased since 2010, with 340 incidents reported in 2016. In B.C., there were 35 reports of human trafficking between 2009 and 2016. Meanwhile in Ontario, there were 723 incidents and 149 in Quebec.

Victims of human trafficking are most often young women under the age of 25, according to Statistics Canada.

However, human trafficking in Canada is difficult to measure “due in part to its hidden nature,” Statistics Canada says. Incidents are highly underreported due to various reasons such as victims being in vulnerable positions and therefore unwilling or unable to report to police, physical force techniques that intimidate victims, language barriers and distrust of police.

Statistics Canada says the recent increase in reports could be due to more efforts and resources put into investigating human trafficking.

Montgomery said she knew individuals that were trafficked at a young age because they thought they had no other choice if they wanted to survive.

“These are people I lived only doors away from when I was a little girl,” Montgomery said. “But just because they don’t live beside us doesn’t mean they don’t impact us.”

The fundraising event, titled Only a Heartbeat Away, takes place on Feb. 15 at the Ukranian Catholic Church of St. Nicholas located at 1112 Caledonia Ave. in Victoria.

The event costs $20 and runs from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Local musicians, the Tipsy Canoe Band, as well as a magician and facepaint and balloon artist will be at the event. There will also be door prizes, local desserts and perogie-making classes.

Montgomery would like to support local organizations as well, so non-perishable food items will be collected at the door for the Mustard Seed Street Church and Food Bank.

Montgomery said her goal is to raise $3,000 for the International Network of Hearts and she said everyone that is helping out with the event is offering their services for free.

“This is a whole community that has come together,” Montgomery said. “We recognize the need to help out.”

More information about the event can be found here.

Tickets for the fundraiser can be purchased here.

shalu.mehta@goldstreamgazette.com


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