Countless frail bodies lie stacked together on the concrete surface of a Ugandan bus park – a pile that, if it weren’t for the occasional arm twitch, looks more like a field of corpses than a group of frightened children.Before the sun rises, the group wakes, folds its ragged blankets and traipses out of Gulu, Uganda back to their homes. Because with daylight, the children say, comes a shred of safety; it’s only in the darkness that they seek refuge from the threat of being kidnapped.
These are the images and sentiments members of the Invisible Children campaign say they hope will resonate with students when the screen goes black at tonight’s second showing of “Invisible Children: Rough Cut.”
Though there were few empty seats in the Student Center Ballroom Monday night, students were silent as African children told of their friends and family members who had been captured by a rebel group. And while reactions at the screening ranged from silent stares to gasps to tears, Carson Bankord who is traveling through Texas with three others from the Invisible Children group, said he hopes the images do more than just shock students.
“I want to see change,” he said. “Not only in Uganda, but through the high schools and colleges in America.”
The lives of the children in the video and all over Northern Uganda are the ones the Invisible Children organization aims to change – an effort that started after three college students traveled to Africa in 2003 looking for a story to film.
What they found in Uganda was a country in the midst of a 20-year war where children were hiding every night to avoid being kidnapped by a rebel group that abducts children and trains them for their army.
Dan Kidega, the youth MP for Northern Uganda, said in the documentary that the rebels choose children because they’re easiest to brainwash into being soldiers.
“Nobody joins voluntarily,” he said.
The rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army, is led by Joseph Kony who, according to an article from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, thinks he is connected to a spirit and wants to overturn the Ugandan government and implement a system based on the Ten Commandments.
What started as an amateur film project has turned into a growing non-profit group whose mission is to spread awareness about and change the situation in Uganda, said Sean Walker, the movement coordinator for Invisible Children.
Walker said in the last year and a half the group has grown from about 10 volunteers and five paid staff to 50 volunteers, 30 paid staff and 50 “roadies” – people like Bankord who have given four months to travel the country in an oversized van, screening the film and talking about Uganda.
“It’s so weird because I never thought I’d be a part of something that’s a different social issue in a different country,” said Bankord, who explained that he heard about the situation in Uganda about four months ago. And though he said living out of a van “is so not me,” he felt this was what he needed to be doing right now.
Although the situation is nowhere near remedied, Walker said they are starting to see a difference.
Uganda began peace negotiations last year and a truce was signed in August, according to a Nov. 13 CNN.com article. However, Walker said, while the number of children commuting each night has dropped because of decreased access to the territory by the LRA, the problem has only been dented.
The focus this year will then be on raising awareness and aid for the Internally Displaced Persons camps. These IDPs were meant to protect children and others from the LRA, but with overcrowding and poverty they have become a place strife with malnutrition and disease similar to the conditions of the children shown commuting in the movie, Walker said.
“The camp has just not done what it has intended to do,” he said.
Last year more than 80,000 people in 130 cities participated in a Global Night Commute to recognize and call attention to these children’s situation, Bankord said. This year, the event will be called Displace Me and will take place in April in 15 cities with the hope of gathering more people at fewer locations to create an environment similar to the IDP camps – all to get citizens and the government to take notice, Bankord said.
Until then, students can get involved through the “TRI” campaign, which entails pledging $3 a week to Uganda or through the “Schools for School’s program,” which began Feb. 5 and involves American schools teaming up with schools in Uganda to provide them with the money and supplies they need to stay open.
And while Keith Whitworth, a sociology instructor, said it’s no secret that TCU is not a hot-bed for grassroots movements like this – the situation in Uganda is not only being noticed, but the Invisible Children campaign on campus was also started and has been sustained by students, something Whitworth says he’s never seen in his nine years here.
“At times people around the world will ignore certain social problems unless it touches them personally,” Whitworth said. “In this case you can’t ignore it because it’s delivered to your front door.”
The “roadies” will be on campus today, visiting classes and talking about their cause before screening the documentary again tonight.