U.Va. Students and Staff Raise Awareness and Funds for 'Invisible Children' in Northern Uganda

June 24, 2009 — For 23 years, the Lord's Resistance Army has attacked civilians, abducted children and terrorized northern Uganda, displacing nearly 2 million people.

It's a situation that sticks with 23-year-old Lindsey Daniels, and not just because the war has been going on for her entire life. Daniels, the University of Virginia's sustainability outreach coordinator and a 2008 U.Va. graduate, along with several U.Va. students, are working to end the violence through an organization called Invisible Children.

Invisible Children is a non-profit organization that began in 2004, a year after its founders visited Uganda and filmed a documentary, titled "Invisible Children: Rough Cut," about the effects of the war on children there. The U.Va. chapter started after a screening of the film in spring 2008.

"Everything that we do comes with the message that we're doing this for the children," said third-year student Christina Gainey, president of the U.Va. chapter.

While the Lord's Resistance Army has largely been pushed out of Uganda and the recent Juba peace talks gave hope for the war's end, the army's self-anointed leader, Joseph Kony, failed to sign the final agreement and the Lord's Resistance Army is now present in Sudan and Congo. Millions of people remain in displacement camps.

Through "Schools for Schools," an Invisible Children initiative that seeks to raise money to rebuild schools for war-affected students, the U.Va. chapter partnered with St. Mary's Lacor High School in northern Uganda. The U.Va. chapter donated about $2,500 last year toward rebuilding the school.

"Education is what they have to look forward to and their ticket out of this situation," Gainey said.

In addition to raising funds, Invisible Children seeks to increase awareness about the situation in northern Uganda and the surrounding region through events like "How It Ends," which Daniels attended this week in Washington, D.C. Two thousand people, from more than 350 Congressional districts in 46 states, lobbied their senators and representatives to support the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act. If passed, the bipartisan bill would require the Obama administration to develop a regional strategy to protect civilians from the Lord's Resistance Army and eliminate the threat it poses . The bill would also authorize funding to assist with recovery in northern Uganda.

Daniels met with staff members of Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb, as well as Rep. Tom Perriello to discuss the bill. While none has declared support for the bill, Daniels said their staff members were receptive to their message.

"How It Ends" was a follow-up to an April event called "The Rescue," in which thousands of people symbolically abducted themselves and waited to be rescued in 100 cities around the world to symbolize the thousands of children abducted in Uganda. Abductees circled themselves in family photos, leaving the photos at the abduction site before marching together, linked by a rope, to an LRA camp.

Daniels and five U.Va. students attended the event in Richmond, where musician Gavin DeGraw "rescued" the group after three days by showing up and drawing media attention to the cause. Richmond was the second-to-last city to be rescued; Chicago was last and featured on "Oprah." Other "rescuers" included actress Kristen Bell, who also attended "How it Ends," and comedian Jeff Foxworthy.

"It was heartwarming to see people gathering for a cause halfway around the world," third-year student and "Rescue" attendee Miriam Kirubel said.

At "The Rescue," attendees wrote more than 60,000 letters, which were delivered to members of Congress during lobbying sessions.

"It's about taking action," said Gainey, who hopes to visit Uganda someday.

— By Laura Hoffman