Chris Simpson

Semper letteris mandate

Local woman part of Everest hike to stop human trafficking

Denise Heppner, of Waldheim, Saskatchewan was the only Canadian woman to take part in this year’s Freedom Climb bringing awareness to human trafficking.


Denise Picture 2012 copyWhen famed mountain climber George Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb the as-yet unconquered Mt. Everest his famous reply was, “Because it’s there.”

But while the quote may be well-known, the ideology it reflected is less familiar. His response was born of a belief that life should be lived for joy, not necessity. And to Mallory, joy was found in conquering the unconquered.

For the millions of women, children and men caught up in human trafficking, however, living for joy of any kind is not even a dream.

This is where Operation Mobilization comes in, a Christian group committed to helping victims of human trafficking. One of their ministries is The Freedom Climb, which this year will see 44 women from around the globe hike to the Everest Base Camp and then summit Mt. Kalaphatar. The trek combines their determination to end human trafficking with a symbol of Mallory’s indomitable will to conquer the unconquerable.

“When we stand on the top of the mountain in Nepal, we will be declaring life and freedom for those who cannot speak for themselves,” says Denise Heppner of Waldheim, Sask.

Heppner is not only Saskatchewan’s sole representative in the climb, but also Canada’s, as she is the only Canadian among the women. For her, as for the others, this climb is more than just symbolic, aimed not only at bringing awareness to the issue, but also to raising the funds with which to fight it. Heppner’s personal target is a minimum of $15,000. This is $5,000 over her target as set by Operation Mobilization.

And what does this money fund?

When we ask that question of Heppner’s proud mother, Laurie Leigh, owner of Maple Creek’s Rockin’ Horse bar and grill, she answers, “It goes towards the human trafficking project. They rescue the women and children out of the situation they’re in and they rehabilitate them.”

Heppner was inspired to take on this path after hearing a speaker talking about the Freedom Hike.

We asked what specifically had touched her.

Denise Heppner Jan 2013“When the speaker was talking about the Freedom Climb,” she said, “he talked about the women and children that were helped from the climb last year. Last year was the first Freedom Climb and they raised $350,000!  They broke up seven trafficking rings and provided women and children with counselling, a safe place to heal, and taught them skills so that they could make a better life with their own hands.”

She said hearing about the horrors that victims of human trafficking endure “made me look over at my own three children sitting next to me with an enormously thankful heart that they were safe with me!”

Along with rescuing and rehabilitating those already caught up in human trafficking, the funds go towards reducing the risk of falling into it.

“He also talked about prevention programs where children were provided with education and life skills so that they were less prone to victimization.”

According to Leigh, people kept coming up to Heppner saying, “‘I heard that guy speak and you should do that,’ and her friends would go, ‘You should do that.’”

And so she did. Not that she didn’t have enough to do already.

“She’s got three young kids,” says Leigh. “And she teaches online, teaching through university, so she’s a busy girl.”

Along with praise for her daughter, Leigh also talks about the enormous, yet virtually invisible human trafficking trade.

“The biggest thing is that it’s happening all around us. Even here,” says Leigh.

After signing on for this year’s Freedom Climb, Heppner received a very personal thank you from a woman in Regina whose daughter has been trafficked in the city since she was 14. “I have lost her since to addiction,” the woman says, “and she continues to be trafficked by males to now support her addiction.”

The UN reports that The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates there are “2.4 million people throughout the world who are lured into false labour.” The same source estimates the profit of human trafficking to be in the neighbourhood of $32 billion U.S. dollars a year.

The funds each hiker raises come from individuals, groups and companies willing to donate. They also come from community fundraisers. A Steak Night Fundraiser will be held at Bushwakker’s in Regina in March to help Heppner meet her goal. Meanwhile, Leigh is planning to host a “wine and cheese, chocolate buffet ladies’ night out” at The Rockin’ Horse for her daughter

But it will be Heppner doing the climb, and when she is on the slopes of Kalphatar battling exhaustion and the elements we wonder what she will miss most about home.

“Definitely my kids and my husband!” she tells us. Initially she was also worried about being out of touch with them for so long, but that is no longer a cause for concern.

“I am very fortunate!  Advanced Safety Services is sponsoring me with a SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger and a subscription to all the bells and whistles!  They are setting up a web page where anyone who wants to can follow along with me and see where I am going!  I can also send messages regularly without having to depend on cellular service – or a charged phone!”

Originally published in The Gull Lake Advance, Feb. 12, 2013


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