So I originally heard of “Invisible Children” way back in late 2005. A worship band that I was friends with had produced a video which was dedicated to the Invisible Children organization and used video footage of African children from a visit the band took to Africa. It was also a night where several organizations were highlighted and talked about, and they had one of the filmmakers there to talk about the documentary they produced and the plight of these children who were being abducted to fight in a war that was not their own.
My wife and I were just dating at the time, but I distinct remember watching the Invisible Children Rough Cut DVD together in her apartment living room and just being moved to action. At this point, Invisible Children had been set up as a 501©3 non-profit, and had just been raising funds through their rough cut DVD and apparel. Invisible Children had begun a movement of gathering young people and having them spread the word and hosting playing parties and starting clubs and organizations.
After watching the DVD, my wife thought it fit in great with her teaching the book “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and the slave relationship shown with the character Jim. She has previously been showing the film “Hotel Rwanda” in her 9th grade English class, but these three filmmakers behind Invisible Children brought the perfect mix of an engaging story, humor, brokenness/empathy towards these children, then hope in this film, that she felt it was a much better fit.
Along with that, both of us were highly involved with our church’s college ministry, Pulse. In mid-2006, we had a renewed vision to bring Social Justice to the forefront of what we were doing. As Christians, we need to look beyond what’s going on in our little circles, but actually go out and do something about these injustices in the world (other wise, it’s like throwing a party for ourselves and turning a blind eye to every thing else in the world. It labels those marginalized as unimportant and that they don’t matter. But they do!). I helped introduce the Invisible Children document and cause to our group and we showed the film to our college ministry of 40-50 people and it just resonated and made such an impact in our focus and desire to go out and serve others.
Around that same time, the Invisible Children organization had begun having Road Tours where representatives would help people organize local large public showings of the documentary. Knowing that this was more than just an issue that Christians should be aware of, I contacted the group to see if we could organize a showing on the campus of San Jose State University.
The following article was published in The Spartan Daily of SJSU after our showing of the film.
‘Invisible Children’ documentary opened viewers’ eyes to Ugandan crisis
Mitchell Alan Parker
Issue date: 2/8/07
More than 200 people gathered in the recently refurbished Morris Daily Auditorium on Tuesday for a night of music, dance and activism.
The event was organized by Pulse, a new San Jose State University club that is part of a college ministry group from Great Exchange Covenant Church in Sunnyvale.
13 other clubs, sororities and fraternities – including Mosaic Cultural Center, Campus Crusade for Christ and Nu Alpha Kappa – contributed to the promotion and organization of the event, said Randall Wong, worship director of Pulse.
The event began at 7 p.m. with a 20 minute set by San Francisco rock band Mixed Media followed with a 10 minute performance by dance troupe 8 Count before the main feature began: a screening of the documentary Invisible Children.
The film chronicles three college-aged, first-time filmmakers from Southern California who journey to Africa in search of a story, said Megan Barnard, team leader of the Pacific Northwest road crew, which travels up and down the area screening the film.
“They found that Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army was abducting children, brainwashing them and forcing them to kill Ugandans and each other,” Barnard said.
The film raised just under $2,500 on Tuesday by selling DVDs along with bracelets made by Ugandans.
Filmed in 2003, “Invisible Children” focuses on Night Commuters, which are children who walk 20 miles from their houses to sleep in the hospitals and streets of a Northern Ugandan city, often guarded by a single soldier, according to Barnard.
The children fear being abducted by the rebel army, which has been fighting the Ugandan government for twenty years, so they must leave their villages and homes every night to commute into the city where they feel safer, Barnard said.
According to the film, 640 people were killed and 2,000 abducted in the span of three months.
“This event is pretty much a way that we wanted to kind of bridge a lot of different organizations, not just Christian organizations,” Wong said.
Any group can invite the Invisible Children crew to show the film, Wong said, who has seen the film multiple times and found that it was a great opportunity to express what Pulse wants to promote with its club.
“As Christians we stand for social justice and what’s socially right in this world,” Wong said. “I think just raising social awareness is something that is important to (Pulse). I think one of the things we really feel is that college students are people who want to see change. We are the future workers of this world; we are the future moneymakers of this world. If we want to see change, it really rests in college students.”
For some, the film was quite personal.
“Nothing was made up,” said Akech Ajak, an undeclared sophomore at De Anza College, who is originally from Sudan and said he had similar experiences with those in the film.
“I understand it personally,” said Ajak, who has been in the U.S. for four years.
“I saw a lot of bad things,”
Some, however, felt that more could have been done to enhance the film.
“They should have done more interviews,” said Tegan French, a sophomore majoring in meteorology at SJSU. “It did impact me, though, and encouraged me to get more involved.”
As for some, the plight of the Ugandan children in the film was an eye-opening experience.
“It was really powerful,” said Thomas Sutherlin, a freshman majoring in film and media at Cabrillo College in Santa Cruz. “Here I am with boxes of bottled water next to me, I’m not even thirsty, boxes of pizza next to me, I’m not even hungry, an entire building full of books and they don’t have anything. It’s a bad habit to get into this American Lifestyle.”
Sutherlin said he is giving $3 a week to the Invisible Children non-profit organization and will also travel to San Francisco in April for the Invisible Children’s “Displace Me” event.
The “Displace Me” event, scheduled for April 28 and 29 in San Francisco, will simulate what a day in the life of a displaced person living in a Ugandan refugee camp would be like, Barnard said.
The particulars of the event, as of yet, are not finalized, Barnard said.
Some things that might occur there, according to Barnard, are that attendees will sleep in tents and live on $1 for 24 hours.
Also suggested, is that, upon arrival, everyone will be given an individual character with a scenario, such as, “Mary is dying of AIDS and must locate a doctor in the camp,” Barnard said. The person must then attempt to carry this situation out, ultimately realizing how difficult it is.
The event will be similar to the Global Night Commute last year in which nearly 80,000 people slept in the streets of major U.S. cities, simulating what the children of Northern Uganda go through every night, Barnard said.
According to Barnard, two days after that event took place, peace talks began between leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Ugandan government, something that Kansas Republican Senator Sam Brownback believed was partly due to the vast participation in the Global Night Commute, Barnard said.
Invisible Children also runs other programs to aid the people of Uganda.
One such example is the Schools for Schools program in which a school in the U.S. sponsors one in Uganda, funding teachers, books, technology, water, etc. Any student can begin this action by following the steps on www.invisiblechildren.com to get their school on board, Barnard said.
“Our goal is to rebuild Uganda again,” said Barnard, who after the overall number of night commuters decreased in Uganda – partly due to the success of Invisible Children, according to Barnard – asked the Ugandans what they wanted Invisible Children to do next.
“They said ‘educate our children’. So this is what we are trying to do,” Barnard said.
But even if the children of Uganda are saved, Barnard said the fight will not be over.
“We’ll never have a finite victory. There will always be invisible children all over the world to help.”
The words I was quoted on still ring true. College-aged people, the Millenial generation, there’s something about they way they think and see the world that if there’s a need that’s shown to them of a person who’s just like they are, they’ll take the shirt off their back and give it to that person.
That same year we also participated in their large scale event called “Displace Me.” Back in 2007, many Ugandans were forced to move into Displacement camps due to their ongoing civil war conflict. In San Francisco, we were one of 6 spots around the nation to host a “Displacement Camp” where we stayed on a cold, empty parking lot with self-made cardboard shelters, all to raise awareness to our Government and legislators what was going on in Uganda and to stir them to help. It was cold, windy, and miserable. Our cardboard shack didn’t hold up that well during the night, so we worked on it again with just flashlights. We wrote letters to our state officials. It was amazing being united with not just our group there, but that this was a “city of displaced people” raising the awareness.
It’s been a long 7 years now that I’ve been involved. Much has changed in Uganda, but Joseph Kony and the LRA are still in Central Africa starting insurgencies and conflicts. Joseph Kony has been doing this for 27 years. Abducting children, raping women, pillaging villages. The time for justice is now.
[On a side note, I'm going to do another blog entry about the whole Social Media side of Invisible Children, how it has made such a new and refreshing way to share travesties like this in a quick way.]