Invisible children visible in San Diego

Hafsah Mohamed

In the past 17 years, over 66,000 children have been kidnapped and forced into rebel militia in northern parts of Uganda.

The children who are abducted are between the ages of 8 and 16. They are kidnapped in the dark of the night from their homes, rounded up, and taken to the desert.

Once there, the children are forced to watch rebels kill and torture other children, almost always someone they know, like a family member or friend. This tactic desensitizes them to violence and ensures that the kids don’t think about escaping.

As a result, thousands of children, in an attempt to avoid being kidnapped into the militia, flock to larger cities to sleep in “safe” places, like the bus parks or centers created for the children to sleep in.

The Lord’s Resistance Army, led by a man named Joseph Kony, is a group of rebels with the intention of overthrowing the Ugandan government. People grew weary of the fighting, so as a result, Kony resorted to abducting children to solve his problem of a shortage of soldiers.

Americans would not have known the truth and the plight of these kids if it wasn’t for the work of three San Diego college students who went to Uganda in search of a story and ended up finding their life’s purpose.

The documentary about this crisis was recently screened at Access, Inc., a social service agency in Linda Vista. “Invisible Children” was the rough cut of the Ugandan footage shot by Jason Russell, Bobby Bailey and Laren Poole in the spring of 2003.

The independent documentary focuses on kids called “night commuters,” who leave their homes and walk up to 20 miles every night to more populated cities in search of safety from the LRA.

The film is an eye-opening and life-changing experience and the images of the “invisible” children and their stories are shocking. “Invisible Children is not only breaking new ground, but has had a greater impact on my life than any other documentary I [have] ever seen,” commented director of National Treasure Jon Turteltaub.

Dan Eldon, a journalist who died in Somalia, was quoted in the documentary saying, “[i]t disgusts and inspires” – about the situation not only in Uganda, but the entire continent of Africa.

Invisible Children Inc. is a local non-profit organization that grew out of the efforts of Russell, Bailey and Poole. In their mission statement, the non-profit stated that “[.] changing the lives of people in underprivileged areas in Uganda is just as important as changing lives in the western world.

The only way change can come in Uganda, and other places in need, is to educate and empower the rest of the world to do something.”

“People should care because making a difference, even a small one, will make this a better world to live in,” said Ashley Beard, a former roadie and volunteer for the Invisible Children.

Invisible Children has organized local and national efforts that have been effective in spreading the word. Projects like the bracelet campaign, where bracelets made in Uganda are sold in the United States, do two things; they provide money to put a kid through school, and they help the economy by providing wages for the Ugandans who make the bracelets.

The Global Night Commute happened earlier this year, where thousands of Americans slept away from home for one night to experience what the kids in Uganda go through every night. Many San Diegans showed their support by spending the night in Balboa Park.

The volunteers at Invisible Children Inc. are organizing the Uganda Lobby Day, which is happening on October 9th-10th, 2006, where people will lobby in Washington, D.C. to urge more successful U.S. involvement about the predicament in northern Uganda.

Those who can’t make it are asked to place a phone call to their local Senators and Representatives. For more information, check out invisiblechildren.com.