The tribal people call them "night commuters." As the sun sets over the plains in northern Uganda, scores of boys and girls set out on foot to walk several miles into the cities, seeking overnight refuge in hospitals and orphanages.
The night commuters leave behind parents and other loved ones to avoid a nightmare come true.
During the last two decades, human rights activists estimate that more than 20,000 children between the ages of eight and 16 have been abducted from the thatched huts they call home.
The predators are soldiers in the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a violent rebel group whose mission is to overthrow an equally cruel government. The LRA essentially brainwashes the youngsters into abandoning their families and going to war.
Those who defy the LRA are killed. Even more people, activists say, meet their deaths in the government-run camps that were allegedly formed to protect the Ugandans from the LRA. More than 130 people die at the camps daily as a result of violence and poor conditions. What is occurring in Uganda is genocide, activists say.
"Not a single explanation on Earth can justify the sickening human catastrophe…the degradation, desolation and the horrors of killing off generation after generation," wrote Ugandan journalist Elias Biryabarema in an article published in the Uganda Monitor.
With the ongoing war in Iraq and the renewed nuclear threat in Iran, the horrors occurring in Uganda, a developing country in the heartland of Africa, do not consistently make the front pages of American newspapers. Regardless, activists – some from right here at CSU and Fort Collins – say it's time for people to get educated about a situation that has been likened to the Holocaust.
"Awareness is the first step," said Joyce Acen, a CSU graduate student and native of Gulu, Uganda. "Use the government to influence and end this apathy and silence this conspiracy."
Keith Porter, director of communication for the Stanley Foundation and winner of the National Headliner Award for his radio broadcast "Security Check: Confronting Today's National Global Threat," understands that the situation taking place in Uganda is hard to follow. The civil war in Uganda and its neighboring countries seem to blend together.
|For more information visit www.invisiblechildren.com or www.radio.stanleyfoundation.com and click on the listen link to 'Security Check: Confronting Today's Global Threats.'|
"There is no easy answer," he said. "(The press) is not necessarily cold-hearted, it is just hard to tell the pieces apart from each other."
Why Uganda? Why Now?
On the CSU campus last week, students, faculty and others convened at sessions throughout the Lory Student Center to hear detailed stories from survivors of the Nazi concentration camps and pray for the fallen. Some day soon, Acen and other Africans interviewed for this series, hope the crises unfolding in Uganda will be a distant memory discussed at universities.
"As I review recent developments I cannot help but wonder if we have learned any lessons from the earlier dark episodes of our history," said Olara A. Otunnu, the United Nations special representative for children in armed conflict, in a Ugandan Monitor story. "When millions of Jews were exterminated during the Holocaust in Europe we said 'never again,' but (it was said) after the fact. The genocide unfolding in northern Uganda today is happening on our watch and with our full knowledge."
Awareness of the war and killings in Uganda were raised at CSU by three California filmmakers who went to Africa three years ago to document activity in Sudan but instead wound up in Uganda, where they made the documentary "Invisible Children."
The hour-long film was screened in late February at the LSC. In the movie, filmmakers Jason Russell, Bobby Bailey and Lauren Poole ask viewers for money donations for Ugandans and for volunteers to spread the word about the killings.
Invisible Children, Inc. is an organization that sprang from a documentary filmed in Uganda, which established a program to send children to school, provide jobs for families and send financial aid to poverty-stricken peoples.
The organization has also marked a day of silent protest and recognition of the night commuters in Uganda. On April 29 they are asking people to walk to a predetermined destination, which is yet to be decided, and sleep there for one night in an attempt to get media attention.
Acen encourages students to make change.
"Awareness is the first step," Acen said. "Use the government to influence and end this apathy and conspiracy theory."
Citizens of the United States can lobby elected government officials via e-mails or letters; it is a way of setting the agenda. The more outcry that reaches the government, the more potential that government officials will be willing to listen.
Moffat Ngugi, a graduate student studying ecology, came to CSU from Nairobi, Kenya.
"They need people to learn and everyone at CSU needs to promote it," Ngugi said. "It's a university; it's universal."
James Owiny, a Fort Collins resident, is from Uganda and said that journalists are prevented from witnessing what is happening there.
"Sharing information with as many people as possible is important," Owiny said. "Knowledge is the most important thing."
Spreading the knowledge may include: setting up informational meetings, inviting expert speakers, holding candlelight services, and making shirts and bracelets.
Organizations like the Peace Corps, humanitarian relief and numerous church groups that send people to help are a realistic and active way to get involved.
'We are all humans'
While you are in a deep slumber tonight, the children of northern Uganda will be packing up their tattered blankets, torn clothes and younger siblings to take their nightly trek to local town havens.
Emily Lance can be contacted at email@example.com.