[Note: this story has been modified since its original posting.]
Working toward an end to child abduction and war in northern Uganda, Columbia students and residents will join people from 142 cities across the nation Saturday to participate in Global Night Commute. The students will march downtown to sleep at Courthouse Square.
The journey is meant to imitate the nightly commute of about 30,000 Ugandan children as they seek the safety of the city and haven from the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel group that terrorizes children and forces them to become soldiers or sex slaves.
In Columbia, people are becoming more aware of the situation because of the documentary “Invisible Children.” The film shows the lives Ugandan children are forced to lead as they struggle for survival, hiding from captors, fighting disease and avoiding death. The filmmakers — Jason Russell, Bobby Bailey and Laren Poole — said the world is blind to what has been occurring, making these children “invisible.”
The film follows the children as they travel each evening from their rural homes to the cities. They sleep in crowded bus stations, hospitals, schools — any place that seems to offer shelter. Before dawn, they rise and pack up their few possessions to make the long trip home. They repeat this every day because of a war that has ravaged the country and its people for 20 years.
The Lord’s Resistance Army was formed in 1986 as a religious rebellion against the Ugandan government and army. According to the Global Security Organization and UNICEF, the LRA, led by Joseph Kony, has targeted government officials, civilians and international humanitarian groups in an effort to destabilize the country and set up a new government based on the biblical Ten Commandments.
MU graduate student Andrew Muriuki, who is studying children’s rights, said the war in Uganda is unique in that the LRA specifically targets its own women and children. “If you’re fighting the army, you don’t target women and children,” said Muriuki, who is from Kenya. “People don’t go to school, because school has become a place to collect children.”
Abdullahi Ibrahim, a professor of African and Islamic history at MU, said that despite condemnation from the Ugandan government and countries around the world, the LRA continues to thrive. Furthermore, the communities in which the LRA terrorizes people are the same communities where they receive support and resources.
“This is a very strong movement,” said Ibrahim, who is from Sudan. “It doesn’t want to go away.”
A collaborative effort from the Ugandan government, the LRA and humanitarian groups could lead to a resolution, Ibrahim said. He said there is a need to go beyond condemning the LRA and to get at the reasons behind its actions.
Forcing children to become soldiers extends beyond Uganda’s borders, Ibrahim said. “We have seen this all over Africa,” he said, adding that “Invisible Children” is significant but highlights only one aspect of the problem.
“Invisible Children” became the starting point and inspiration for students at MU, as well as Rock Bridge and Hickman high schools, to become active in the relief and humanitarian efforts in Uganda.
“I saw the film about two months ago,” said MU senior Aaron Williams. “It lead me to the cause.”
Hickman senior Zora Serfozo was stunned by what she saw in the film and thinks everyone should know about it. “It’s just absolutely terrible,” Serfozo said. “It’s not fair that these kids have to live like this.”
To help others in Columbia learn more about the situation and how to become part of a solution, MU students will participate for the first time in the Global Night Commute. “If we do for one night what they do every night, we might get a better perspective of the tragedy that is occurring in Uganda,” Williams said.
Thus far, organizations such as Christian Fellowship Church, The Crossing, the Legion of Black Collegians, MU’s Multicultural Center and students from Rock Bridge and Hickman are participating in Saturday’s event. “This is really a great event to raise awareness,” said MU student Jonathan Horn. “I’m hoping that this is just the beginning.”
In addition, they want to push people to show “Invisible Children” anywhere that anyone will let them and get the public engaged on this and other humanitarian issues.
“Keep spreading the message of what’s happening,” MU senior Alessandra Del Forno said. “Try to be as updated as possible on what’s changing, not only in Uganda but also other parts of the world where atrocities are happening.”