Invisible Children exposes the crisis in Northern Uganda
By Augie Craig
“My heart is beeping,” a little boy explains to the camera as he tells how he and his brother were kidnapped, forced into military service in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), an armed guerilla group seeking to overthrow the government in Northern Uganda. He goes on, saying although he was able to escape from his kidnappers, his brother was killed while trying to flee. He says his heart “beeps” (meaning “beats”) when thinking about the pain he witnessed.
As tragic as his story sounds, it happens every day in Northern Uganda. This is a story in Rough Cut, a documentary produced by Invisible Children, an internationally acclaimed human rights organization.
In the spring of 2003, the founders of the organization trekked to Uganda and “discovered a tragedy where children are both the weapons and the victims,” according to Invisible Children’s Web site. They recognized these children were being completely ignored by the general public—they were virtually invisible. The founders distributed Rough Cut to friends and family. It was disseminated further, and that was the beginning of Invisible Children.
Since the 1980s, Uganda has been ravaged by civil war, which contributed to the rise of the LRA. Led by Joseph Kony, the group systematically murdered, raped and kidnapped the people of the region.
Around 90 percent of the LRA’s soldiers are children, fighting a war older than they are. According to Human Rights Watch, conservative estimates place the number of abducted children around 20,000. Kony and his men stock their troops by kidnapping children from their homes during the night, brainwashing them and giving them a choice between death and killing for the LRA.
To save themselves from being kidnapped, about 40,000 children in Uganda used to walk up to 15 miles every night to sleep in fenced-in camps as part of what is now known as the “night commute.” As part of Invisible Children’s effort to raise people’s awareness of the situation and ultimately stop these kidnappings, they organized the Global Night Commute in April 2006. At locations in 126 different cities across the country, volunteer youths walked to large fields to show their support for their peers in Uganda.
Invisible Children designed a second nationwide event called “Displace Me,” during which 68,000 individuals slept in fields and city squares in 15 U.S. cities to get a feel for the way people in Uganda live every day.
The organization also has political aspects. One campaign involved having supporters get together to write letters to senators and the president, urging them to push for action in West Africa.
“The earth is run by politics. To beat it you need to go into politics…it’s [about] knowing where the power lies,” said Ithaca College sophomore Stephanie Sang, co-founder of the IC chapter of Invisible Children, which she started with fellow IC sophomore Beth Henderson during fall 2009.
Invisible Children pushed for the passing of a bipartisan senatorial bill, “The Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act,” which authorizes $10 million to be used to fund humanitarian assistance to areas outside of Uganda affected by the LRA. It also requires the United States to work with multilateral partners to develop a plausible path to disarm the LRA while ensuring the protection of civilians. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously passed the bill on Nov. 17.
For now, the night commuters have stopped; there has been a substantial effort to help improve schools, and rehabilitation centers have been set up in the area to help people affected by the war return to normal life. There have also been attempted peace talks between members of the Ugandan government and high-ranking officers of the LRA. However, most of these talks have been less than successful because Kony wasn’t present.
One of the main ideologies that fuels Invisible Children is the mantra “jump first, fear later”—to first and foremost do what you think needs to be done.
“We’re old enough to know that maybe we can’t save the entire world, but we’re young enough to not give a shit about [that possibility],” said Sang.
Invisible Children pushes for young people to get out there and work themselves to make a difference instead of appealing to middle America’s checkbooks. They realize the reality that throwing money at situations doesn’t solve problems. They are not simply asking for people to blindly donate money to help some nameless person who happens to live in a certain area of the world—they are using different experiential methods to get people to feel empathy toward the people they are trying to help. In order to get real action, you have to get up, be reckless and fight for what you believe.
Augie Craig is a freshman psychology and mathematics major, and his heart beeps, too. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.