…One thing I’ve learned from blogging these past months is that any time I blog on political controversy my blog traffic shoots up, there are lots of comments, I get emails, etc. But when I blog on other things – on faith things, on humanitarian things – the opposite happens…lower traffic, no comments, few emails. SO, I had to title this blog as something political in hopes of stirring up people about children dying in Uganda.
Admit it. You hear, “children” and “dying” and “Uganda” and there is part of your brain that sighs saying something like, “Horrible, awful, there isn’t anything that can be done.” Well, I asked a friend of mine to blog about how that might not be true.
So tell me, when was the last time you felt your life being changed? college commencement? September 11th? The first time you had an In-N-Out Burger? My life was changed last year…the first time I watched a documentary called Invisible Children.
Full disclosure-Since I was about 12, my singular focus has been a successful career – a tunnel vision drive that brought me out to Washington, D.C. I congratulated myself on not falling for the heartstring pulling of another passion filled but woefully under-funded organization that promised it would change a problem, but possessed neither the vision nor intellectual capital to follow through.
Quite satisfied in my smug brush off of “do gooders” as I called them, I convinced myself that changing the world was great idea for doe eyed idealists but otherwise an utterly unattainable pursuit. Even after marrying a woman who has more heart for the underprivileged than anyone I’ve ever met, I comforted myself with the idea that it was my focus on career that would ultimately allow her to help people full time.
And then there was Invisible Children.
In 2003, three friends from my hometown of San Diego embarked on a journey that ultimately led them to Northern Uganda, where they documented the plight of children being kidnapped and impressed into the rebel army. These children, many under the age of 15, are forced to walk five miles nightly to avoid being kidnapped by the rebels, a journey called “night commuting”. Fueled by screenings across the country, and masterful use of new media, a movement of over 130,000 strong began building an organization dedicated to ending the twenty year war and improving the lives of northern Ugandans.
Annually, Invisible Children hosts a nationwide event that calls upon their supporters to gather and focus on the challenges faced by those affected by the war. Last year, over 85,000 millennial’s (born 1980-2000) gathered in cities across the country to simulate their own “Global Night Commute” and call for action to protect the “Invisible Children.”
This year, after successfully improving the lives of the children, IC has shifted its focus to the plight of the more than one million refugees currently suffering in Internal Displacement Camps (IDP). These refugees, forcibly placed in the camps by the government are living at the very edge of survival, with 97% of the annual deaths in Uganda being caused by the conditions in the camp.
In order to raise awareness about the plight of those suffering, IC called this years event “Displace Me” and over 65,000 participants in 15 cities recreated the conditions of an IDP for 24 hours.
My wife and I participated in the event on the national mall, adjacent to the Washington Monument. There aren’t words to describe what it was like to watch 7,000 of my fellow millenials have passionate, educated discussions about foreign policy in Africa or to give up creature comforts to sleep overnight in a cardboard hut they had built with their own hands, to help those they had never met.
While Displace Me was the highlight of the year for IC, they are moving ahead on many fronts to improve the lives of those affected by the twenty year war:
Bracelet Program – IC has created a sustainable income for many Ugandans by having them manufacture woven reed bracelets that they then sell accompanied by a DVD with the story of the child the proceeds from each bracelet is helping.
The Education Program – Visible Child Scholarship provides full-ride scholarships and full-time Ugandan mentors for war-affected children. Extensive evaluation in Northern Uganda has shown that secondary education for the neglected youth is one of the region’s greatest needs. ICEP gives scholarships to vulnerable children attending secondary schools across Gulu District. Scholarship criteria are based on a combination of academic performance and need, with special consideration for children who are orphans or heads-of-households. Each child is assigned a mentor—an ICEP-employed community leader whose purpose is to build a personal relationship with the student. Through this relationship, the mentors give academic accountability, provide parental and career-oriented guidance, encourage success, and foster leadership skills for each student in the program. The mentor is what makes this program stand out among other scholarship programs in Uganda. There are currently 560 ICEP scholarship beneficiaries and 18 mentors.
Schools for Schools – IC is partnering with schools in the United States that will sponsor and correspond with schools in Uganda.
I have read those that believe Africa to be the “wounded continent”. I have seen the eyes and actions of my generation and I believe that by God’s will, we will heal the wound in our lifetime.