Why would 68 women from several countries gather in Fernie, B.C.? To come together for a cause that moved them so greatly that they had to do something to help. They came to climb mountains and in the process became warriors fighting to protect enslaved and trafficked women and children.
Some were drawn because they love hiking, but others had never hiked a mountain before. Some were young women, fit and active, but were used to breathing at sea level. The oldest was a determined 79-year-old woman, who proved the doubters wrong and climbed every day. All came determined to challenge themselves to their core. They came to bring awareness to, and raise money to help women and children around the world who are being sexually trafficked. The event not only raised awareness through the climbers, but through the speakers, some of whom had escaped a life of sexual slavery. The Freedom Climbers filled the Lizard Creek Lodge for the week of August 6-12 this summer.
The event also raised over a quarter of a million dollars to help projects around the world that help rescue and rehabilitate women, including one right here in Canada, The Joy Smith Foundation. The Fernie women ran numerous fundraisers over the past year including an art auction at The Castle, a creative art modge-podge evening at the Elk’s Hall, a family spaghetti dinner and silent auction at Mountainside Church, as well as raising money through individual private sponsorships. Numerous businesses in the area got behind the event and generously donated merchandise and services.
Freedom Climbs focus on stirring compassion, action and advocacy on behalf of the nearly 30 million people – mostly women and children – who are exploited, enslaved, and trafficked globally. Climbing mountains is a symbolic representation of the hardships endured by those affected by human trafficking.
Two years ago, five local women were inspired to sign up for a Freedom Climb in Colorado. Five friends decided to do it together to support one friend, Ramona Gliege, who had participated in a Freedom Climb on Kilimanjaro and had recently lost her son in a tragic accident. Training for, and participating in the Colorado Freedom Climb gave the others an opportunity to support her as well as support a cause that was important to her.
After recuperating from the Colorado Freedom Climb, the Fernie friends wanted to see a Freedom Climb held in Fernie. Locals, Ramona Gliege and Kim Hopkins, along with Denise Heppner from Saskatchewan, and the Operation Mobilization team in Ontario, took on the task of organizing it and bringing it to Fernie. Sixteen local women trained and fundraised together for the event. During that time, they and 42 other hikers climbed Castle Mountain, the Three Sisters, Heiko’s Trail and Polar Peak. High on the mountain of the Three Sisters, the 58 female participants camped together under a sky filled with stars. All the while the 10 member prayer team supported them in prayer throughout their hikes.
Each hiking group had a guide at the front and a tail-gunner at the back. They lead the way and made sure that no hiker was left behind providing aid and encouragement to those who needed it. At many times, participants were overcome with exhaustion or gripped with fear in a precarious situation on a steep shale side-hill. This brought new perspective to the Climb for local participant and tail-gunner, Mary Shier. “During my first Freedom Climb, we were focussed on meeting personal goals. During my second Freedom Climb which was on home territory, I was focussed primarily on helping others meet their goals. This supportive role seemed particularly poignant as we aimed to shine a light on the struggle of women and children to gain freedom.”
Though the Freedom Climb experience was physically and emotionally draining, participants would say it was well worth the time and effort. The Climb challenges people to become a voice for the voiceless, and to stretch themselves in ways they might not have thought possible.
Freedom Climbs have now evolved into Freedom Challenges and include physical challenges other than climbing mountains. During the Colorado Freedom Climb, the participants learned about the many places in the world such as Moldova and India where sexual slavery is commonplace and heartbreaking. During the Fernie climb, the participants became cognizant of the fact that it is also commonplace right here in Canada.
The Fernie Freedom Climb 2016 was a huge success, and all the women reached their goals! A huge shout out to the organizers who spent countless hours in preparation, to all the hikers, prayer team members, fundraisers, guides and tail-gunners, local mountain Sherpas for the camp-out, sponsors, and supporters! It was truly a team effort and it wouldn’t have happened without them all.
Anyone interested in finding out more about the cause or to financially donate can do so through Operation Mobilization – The Freedom Challenge. Local climbers included: Diane Carlson, Jo-Ann Decker, Joy Falk, Amy Gliege, Natalie Hickerson, Ramona Gliege, Debbie Gould-Hawke, Sue Hanlon, Rae-Lynn Hickerson, Kim Hopkins, Teresa Mazzei-Lewis, Mary Shier, Kathy Sutherland, Reanne Tanton, Maureen Thrun and Rosanne Vandersteen.