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Chicago Woman Helps Human Trafficking Victims Start Fresh

Kwagala Project founder Kristen Hendricks poses with women from Uganda who were victims of human trafficking. (Supplied to CBS)

Kwagala Project founder Kristen Hendricks poses with women from Uganda who were victims of human trafficking. (Supplied to CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – A Chicago area businesswoman is proving all it takes to make a difference is a big heart. She’s helped hundreds of women start their lives over again in the U.S., after they were victims of human trafficking halfway around the world.

Kristen Hendricks was running a jewelry business a few years ago, when a story about human trafficking in Uganda caught her attention.

“The more that I saw the need there … it just kind of became my heart,” she said.

She traveled to Uganda, visited girls who had been rescued, and soon devoted her energy full-time to helping them.

“I actually got to speak with survivors, and I saw that there was hope,” Hendricks said.

She founded the Kwagala Project, which provides education, housing, vocational training and therapy. It’s funded in part by the sales of beaded jewelry, made from recycled paper by the women in Uganda.

Columbia College business student Hannah Kardux said, “For a semester, I actually ran a business for the women in Uganda, selling their jewelry here on campus.”

Kardux, a senior, proves that kindness is contagious. She was moved to help Kwagala after meeting Hendricks. This semester, she’s devoted another class project to Kwagala, focused on raising awareness.

“So you write what you empower, and then take a photo of yourself – who doesn’t like taking photos of themselves? – and then you just share it on social media,” she said.

Hendricks said the lesson in all this is “You don’t have to be a social worker. You can use your skills, you can use whatever you’re passionate about. I was in design. You can use that to help people.”

The iEmpower campaign already has more than 600 uploads on Instagram; if you go to #iEmpower, you’ll find all the pictures, including some taken by the women being helped by Kwagala in Uganda.