Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"You're going to Uganda!"

I have been a supporter of a global activist group called Invisible Children since I first learned of them back in 2005. I was introduced to the organization by a student who told me about a new film that people could order on the internet called Rough Cut. We had just left an assembly about the Sudanese genocide and all of us were feeling like we needed to do something to respond. I Googled the film and ordered myself a copy.

Rough Cut tells the story of three young film makers who travel to East Africa to document the Sudanese genocide in 2003. They are soon taken off-course, however, when they meet local Ugandans who are fighting for their own survival due to the vicious work of a warlord named Joseph Kony and his army who use child soldiers to commit some of their worst atrocities.

While the film makers are in Uganda, they meet not only local leaders who are trying to affect change, but also children who are fleeing the danger and trying to survive. They find children working together to survive and even making attempts to stay current with their school work. So moved, the film makers vow never to forget the story and to do all they can to help. The film they produce when they return to tell the story of their experience launched the Invisible Children movement.

In the years since the organization has begun, it has become a powerful change agent for both Ugandans impacted directly by the war and for young global activists who are working in the very real context of the conflict and its aftermath. Among the changes IC has affected are funding the construction of forty three new classroom buildings at various schools in the region, providing nearly 6000 scholarships for secondary, vocational, and college educations, building new radio towers that help to connect lost children to their families, and lobbying for legislation that provides military support and training for the Ugandan military in its efforts to oust Kony.

For a short video that gives an overview of Invisible Children's work, click here

Today, Kony and his army, known as the Lord's Resistance Army, now hide, severely decimated, in the jungles of the Central African Republic and DR Congo, hovering at the fringes of survival, waiting for opportunity to reinvent themselves. Invisible Children, still heavily invested in rebuilding Northern Uganda, continues to be a force directly involved in efforts to capture Kony.

In the summer of 2013, I traveled to one of Invisible Children's summit events: The Fourth Estate. These events are designed to inspire young activists to not only support the on-going work of Invisible Children, but also to explore the work of other agents of change in many domains of social justice, global health, environmentalism, creativity, and education.

Four students and a parent accompanied me for the four day conference held on UCLA's campus. The experience was quite powerful. In the wake of the event, our school club was activated for its most successful season of fundraising. We collectively raised over $11,000, far surpassing any other year's efforts since I began leading student groups as a club advisor in 2005.

In March of 2014, I was invited by the organization to join a group of Invisible Children's prize-winning fundraiser activists, on a visit to Northern Uganda to see the programs that the organization has built over the past decade. I'll never forget the phone call, exactly where I was on my route to pick up my kids from school, or the feeling of being selected for the trip, a piece of magic. For a video that captures some of the excitement of being chosen, see IC's wacky "Give It Away Like Oprah."

The blog posts that follow were written during that extraordinary trip that took place in June of 2014.

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