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Invisible Children

Last night, I watched a heartbreaking documentary called "Invisible Children". This movie was filmed by three American college students who went to Africa in 2003 intending to document refugees in the Sudan. Instead, they ended up in northern Uganda, where they heard about an even more alarming situation. For 20 years, a civil war has raged there between the rebels of the "Lord's Resistance Army", led by a demonically-inspired man called Joseph Kony, and the government. This army's purpose is purportedly to fight the government and help the Acholi people. Instead, it terrorizes them. Tens of thousands of children (no one is exactly sure how many) between the ages of eight and fourteen have been forcibly abducted, often by other children, and spirited away into the bush by Kony and his rebels. There they are made to participate in senseless brutality so evil it would make you weep to hear it described. Children are tortured and killed violently if they cannot keep up, or if they are suspected of rebellion, or simply at whim. Children are made to kill other children, and told they themselves will be killed if they refuse to participate. Girls are made into sex slaves for lieutenants and commanders, and often come back from the bush, if they escape at all, with one or more children and sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS.

Some of the children manage to escape. But if and when they do, they are scarred for life. Their drawings are all of soldiers, death, bloodshed. They have missed much or all of their education and their childhood is gone. They live in fear of being hunted down and killed or re-recruited by the rebel army. Many of them are permanently crippled or maimed. Many of the girls have children. They have seen things no child should ever see and been forced to participate in things no child should even know about. They are in desperate need spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

The Lord's Resistance Army has all the trappings of a cult: spirit possession, weird religious practices, and brainwashing. The soldiers are told that if they smear shea oil on their bodies, they will be invincible to enemy bullets. If they die, it is because they were "unclean" or somehow disobeyed orders. Children are systematically desensitized by being forced to participate in violence, and psychologically damaged by having weird "mind games" played with them. It is dark and demonic in the most real and insidious sense.

In a perverse double injustice, the children who escape are often ostracized by their community. Haunted by a past that none of them chose, they are unable to reintegrate, to continue their schooling, or to find work. They live under condemnation for actions that they were forced into under threat to their lives. The children born to the girls by rebel fathers face double shunning.

As a result of all of this, children in northern Uganda live in terror for their lives. Because most kidnappings happen at night, children who live in rural areas participate in what is called the "Night Commute". Each evening they walk, sometimes for miles, from their homes into town centres, carrying only their bed mats, and sleep, packed like sardines, on the floors of hospitals, bus parks, or anywhere indoors that is perceived to be safe. Each morning they get up before dawn to perform the trek back home. Each one repeats the same mantra: "We don't want to sleep at home because it is not safe. We fear being abducted by the rebels."

One can only imagine the disruption, both to the school life (when can they do homework?) and the emotional and mental life of these children who grow up having to commute every night because sleeping at home is not safe. Even upon those who are not abducted, the toll is taken.

So what can we do? These three college students started an organization called Invisible Children to document the plight of these boys and girls. They could not forget, and neither should we. Their aim is to educate the American public, to create a groundswell of support, and in turn to pressurize the American government to act to end this war. A humanitarian crisis of terrible proportions is happening in Uganda, and the West is mostly ignorant or uncaring. What we need is for people to learn about this, and from knowledge to do something. As one of the adults in the documentary I watched last night cried, "Are we not human beings?" Another, a bishop, forcibly reiterated that Africans are made in the image of God and that justice is for all, regardless of colour.

One concrete action that everybody can take will be happening on April 29th. That night, in cities all across America, a "Global Night Commute" will be held. People are asked to spend one night sleeping on the ground in their city centre, in solidarity with the children of Uganda. If it is a big enough event, the media will have to cover it. If the media cover it, the government will know that this is an issue that Americans care about. So please visit the website, www.invisiblechildren.com, find out if there's a Night Commute in a city near you, and sign up. It's only one night. It's a small price to pay to help raise awareness and stop this hideous war.

The website also contains many other ways in which you can help, including buying the DVD of the documentary, or buying a bracelet made by a former child soldier in Uganda accompanied by a DVD of that child's story.

I know the people who read this blog are few. But we all have spheres of influence. Read the website. Learn about the situation. Buy the DVD. Show it at your church or youth club or school. Make other people aware. Get involved. Pray about how to help. Just as faith without action is dead, knowledge without action is dead. Do something. Even if it's "just" giving money. The children of Uganda will thank you.

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