Finding the right path to support Uganda’s ‘invisible children’

    The Germantown Friends School’s student-run Human Rights Group planned a fundraiser for Invisible Children. After “KONY 2012” went viral, the students decided their goals were no longer aligned. Now they are supporting another Uganda organization, Friends of Orphans.

    “Inhumane.” That was the word used by members of the Human Rights Group at Germantown Friends School after learning more about the atrocities committed by Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). “Incomprehensible and inhumane.”

    This year, we knew we wanted to take a more activist role as a club. We wanted to promote change, hope and inspiration in some way. Our Human Rights Group launched its work in Africa in 2006. We have supported child victims of the violence of the Darfur region, funded an HIV/AIDS clinic and orphanage in South Africa and supported medical treatment for shunned women in need of fistula repair. We have raised and donated nearly $34,000 to these causes.

    We have always researched the issues carefully and deliberated together about the best places to direct our support. This year we decided to put on a fundraiser for Invisible Children, an organization that has come to the forefront of social media for its efforts to publicize the name of Joseph Kony.

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    “We were excited and motivated by their volunteer programs and their student-led activism,” noted Michaela Krauser, co-head of Human Rights Group.

    However, we, along with most of Invisible Children’s staff, had never expected their viral video, “KONY 2012,” to be so powerful, so widespread and so intensely scrutinized. We found ourselves in a very uncomfortable position as their causes and methods became the subject of both harsh criticism and high praise. The organization’s support of military means to find and capture Kony, and the representatives’ insistence on saving face during a scheduled informational school assembly, presented a conflict of interest for us.

    “We’ve found that our goals are too different to allow us to work together,” said Bob Rhoades, faculty advisor to the group. We asked the representatives not to come to our school to speak the day before the assembly was supposed to occur.

    But we never once considered abandoning the cause. The war with the Lord’s Resistance Army in Northern Uganda may be over, but young girls who were repeatedly raped and used as sex slaves are now young mothers, with no form of livelihood, and young boys are injured, or unable to find work. Dramatics and showbiz aside, the young victims of the LRA are still recovering.

    For this reason, we decided to further educate ourselves about the plight of the children left behind. We encouraged our community to do the same, and we began to research other groups involved in the area.

    In true GFS spirit, we have faced adversity, harsh comments and questions from our peers and teachers, and have found a middle ground. We have fought for and earned the respect and support of our community.

    That is why Michaela and I, the Human Rights co-heads, alongside Bob, were overjoyed to find the story of Richard “Ricky” Anywar. This is what we’ve been looking for, Michaela’s face seemed to say to me during our 40-minute phone conversation with him. It was 10 p.m. in Uganda when we called him, and he was driving home. He stopped on the side of the road to tell us about Friends of Orphans, his NGO, and about his life story.

    Anywar was abducted from his home in Northern Uganda as a teenager, and forced to watch his parents and sisters burned alive. His brother, after escaping from the LRA, took his own life. Anywar found himself alone, without an education or a job. “I have escaped death twice,” he said.

    With the help of many others, he managed to turn his life around. He founded Friends of Orphans in an attempt to do the same for other LRA victims, now orphans, who otherwise face bleak futures. “Boys, girls, we do not discriminate,” said Anywar.

    The GFS Human Rights Group has decided to support Friends of Orphans in its goal to build four more classrooms in their vocational training and rehabilitation school in the Pader District of Northern Uganda. This school was built and designed specifically for these boys and girls, these “invisible children,” to give them each a chance to survive on their own in society.

    Global media may be shaping our future, but we are choosing which path it will take.

    Sonali Singh, a junior at Germantown Friends School (class of 2013), is a co-head of the school’s Human Rights Group.

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