ELBURN – Kristen Hendricks of Elburn knows first-hand that individuals can effect change on a seemingly insurmountable social issue.
Six years ago, Hendricks launched the Kwagala Project – an organization dedicated to rescuing, restoring and empowering women and children who have been victimized by trafficking, gender-based violence and poverty in Kampala, Uganda. It provides survivors with housing, education, vocational training and therapy.
Kwagala means love.
Since its launch, Kwagala Project has helped more than 300 people, Hendricks said. She said the number is difficult to quantify and many of the girls are in the program for several years.
“We can offer girls a brand new life,” she said.
Hendricks, 40, was one of 13 people recognized April 30 during the American Red Cross’ annual Heroes Breakfast in Chicago. Hendricks was honored as the Citizenship Hero.
More than 170 people were nominated.
“It was obviously a huge honor, especially being in company with the other heroes,” Hendricks said.
The Kwagala Project stemmed from the philanthropic arm of a handbag company Hendricks co-founded, she said, noting the charitable segment supported anti-trafficking groups.
The philanthropic arm became its own entity after the business got clobbered by the recession, Hendricks said.
Hendricks said she wanted to do something in a developing country because she knew she could make a bigger impact that way.
In 2008 she traveled to Uganda, where she saw first-hand what was happening there.
Although it was horrible, she said, she was encouraged to see that it wouldn’t be structurally difficult to establish something there.
The Kwagala Project has received corporate support, Hendricks said. While fundraising is never easy, she said, it’s easier once people see what their contributions are doing.
“They’re really saving lives and getting girls out of horrific circumstances,” Hendricks said. “It’s just proof that they can really do something.”
Visit www.kwagalaproject.org for information about the Kwagala Project or to buy jewelry made by the girls involved with the organization.