Worlds away and far from the palm trees of The University of Tampa, there are children are being abducted and forced into fighting and attacking villages in Uganda. Just before spring break, students got a glimpse of who these children really are and what they can do to help.
“I am representing the voices of people who are suffering,” said Norman, a 71-year-old Ugandan man, addressed a crowd of UT students in the Martinez Gym, speaking clearly and calmly.
“I am so honored to be here in the U.S.,” said Norman.
P.E.A.C.E (People Exploring Active Community Experience) hosted the Invisible Children organization on Tuesday, March 2. Two speakers and two documentaries were presented to the audience of more than 100 students and faculty.
For more than two decades a violent rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has attacked the villages of Northern Uganda. Among the ranks of the LRA rebel army are children soldiers as young as five.
The LRA abducts children to indoctrinate as soldiers as a tactic to grow in size. The rebel group trains them to destroy villages, fight the government’s army and kill civilians.
This brutal war caught the attention of three American students visiting Uganda in 2003, who began Invisible Children Inc, a non-profit organization to raise awareness and bring aid to the war torn areas affected by the LRA.
“We decided to come here and tell you of the 24 years of war. My country remains so devastated; there is no hope for life,” explains Norman.
The first film documented story of Emmy, a 14-year-old Ugandan. The engaging and charming boy lives in an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp with four siblings, two grandparents, an aunt and his mother who is infected with HIV.
“The love your mother gives you is different. If your mother isn’t there…it isn’t good,” Emmy says to the camera.
During the course of the film, Emmy’s mother succumbs to her illness and Emmy joins the statistic of 12 million children orphaned by AIDS in Africa.
“I blame God for taking my mom and my dad from me,” Emmy cries.
Compelled by Emmy’s circumstances, the Invisible Children volunteers return home and raise funds for Emmy to attend secondary school.
The second film updates on Uganda’s current status, which is more stable than the filming of Emmy’s story in 2005, but still remains battered by the decades of violence.
Norman, who addresses the crowd after the film, identifies himself as Emmy’s grandfather.
“I have seen human beings chopped up and cooked, things beyond human imagination,” Norman explains.
“Emmy, he is in secondary school now. With Invisible Children, we are using education as a tool to end war, to reconstruct our country.”
The organization offers donors the opportunity to pay $35 each month, which supports the secondary education and mentor guidance of one student in Uganda.
Comfort, a young Ugandan woman, spoke to the crowd after Norman. She was also orphaned by AIDS at a young age, and during the height of the war was “running for her life” each night.
“I would think I don’t want to go to school, it’s useless because maybe I’m the next target of the rebels,” Comfort explains.
Comfort’s Uncle was able to supply her with enough money to attend secondary school, where her education allowed her to avoid the dangers of the war.
“If I gave a kid money today it’d be gone soon. But If I put it into school, this remains in him. My education remains mine, a wealth that they cannot take that from me,” Comfort explains.
UT Political Science Professor Kevin Fridy has made close to 10 trips to various African countries, seeing similar devastation throughout the poorest countries.
“The poor community is easily exploitable; there if someone offers you food over there …you might do something that we wouldn’t do for thousands of dollars here.”
Fridy is aware of the prevalence of children soldiers throughout African countries, citing the economic and socioeconomic difficulties,
“You need to understand there’s a total disenchantment of the youth. Those villages are boring places with a lot of drug and alcohol addiction along with teenage pregnancy. It’s not difficult to see how so many join rebel forces. They supply food, money, power.”
Fridy agrees that groups like Invisible Children are raising awareness of an issue that people will care about, but results are harder to come by.
“It’s not easy to measure the results, it is not a straight line from education to measurable outcomes. If it were easy people would have done it by now.”
Although challenging, Fridy says he has seen an increase in student involvement with African affairs, and he credits groups such as Invisible Children and STAND for raising awareness.
“It gets people to care about something,” explains Fridy.
For students interested in becoming involved with service projects in Africa, Fridy recommends speaking with a professor who has contacts there.
There are various outlets through UT to become involved with a trip if students are interested, and there are many chances to donate to the causes.
Pauline Hill R.N, MSN and professor at UT has visited Uganda in its most dangerous areas.
“I’ve seen people coming into the triage with ears, lips or a nose cut off. Depression, HIV and malnutrition run rampid through those IDP’s. The war is not over, and we have to continue to educate,” said Hill.
For more information on how to donate through Invisible Children Inc, visit www.invisiblechildren.com.