As the sun settles over the desert horizon of northern Uganda, a pitter-patter of small feet stirs the dust that trails their paths into urban center havens to escape the attack and abduction of rebel groups.
Children 8 to 18 years old take to the streets every night to trek miles into these hiding places, carrying only tattered blankets, torn clothes and younger siblings. They settle on concrete floors, packed like produce, only to rise the next morning and make the same walk back.
Nearly 140 cities and 55,000 people nationwide mocked this ritual, calling it Global Night Commute, to bring to light what so many have considered to be a dark age for children in Uganda.
Almost 400 advocates from the Fort Collins area took to the streets of Fort Collins on Saturday and flocked into the busy walkways of Old Town Square.
Kevin Collins, sophomore business marketing major from the University of Northern Colorado, drove from Greeley to participate.
“These kids have nothing,” Collins said. “As I was packing, I was thinking ‘I shouldn’t even bring anything.'”
Although Uganda is thousands of miles across land and ocean, the cemented ground, slightly above freezing temperatures and the long treks in Fort Collins, brought the protesters closer to the true experiences of the children’s nightly trek.
Collins decided to take part after learning about the protest from the documentary “Invisible Children.”
“I saw the video and I was moved by the video,” Collins said. “It is a moving piece of work. I signed up all my friends for Global Night Commute.”
Three California college students in search of a story in Africa started “Invisible Children.” Their discovery of these “night commuters” led to the documentary and now a worldwide revolution.
College students, church groups and grade school students were among protestors.
Jeff Borchert and his wife Kate Borchert, both Fort Collins residents, hosted a screening at Everyday Joe’s coffee shop after hearing of the film following their three- month trip to Uganda.
“Everybody wants to make a difference,” Kate Borchert said. “Each of us has a calling. If those three guys (who filmed the movie) didn’t do anything, none of this would have happened.”
Jeff Borchert hopes this event will direct attention to a place the media has largely ignored.
“This is bringing visibility to a 20-year war that has been overlooked by the international community,” Jeff Borchert said. “America likes to look back at these tragedies like Rwanda, but they don’t like to see it in front of their face.”
Office paper was handed out for participants to write letters to President Bush and compose artwork to be formulated in a scrapbook and used in the motion picture of “Invisible Children,” coming to theaters this summer.
Participants requested two things in their letters. They asked that the U.S. government press the United Nations and Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni to take every necessary step within their ability to, firstly, end the conflict and protect the civilians in northern Uganda and secondly, ensure adequate humanitarian assistance to the Ugandan children.
Skeptics consider the hope of ending this war a long, sought-after ideal that, in reality, can never be achieved.
Cori Svenson, senior human development and family studies major, coordinated the Global Night Commute in Fort Collins. Svenson said Global Night Commute is an applicable step toward progress the whole community can participate in.
“People are drawn to help and it gives the youth a way to sacrifice comfort for one night,” Svenson said. “This is not necessarily going to end the war. This is educating people.”
Svenson applied for employment with Invisible Children Inc., an organization that spawned from the documentary, and got an inside look at the inner workings of the organization.
“(The employees of Invisible Children Inc.) dream big, they have huge goals and visions,” Svenson said. “They know obstacles will come but they want to take passionate people to help the children.”
Invisible Children Inc. is developing an education program to help war-torn areas reach a competitive Ugandan education standard. The organization also implemented a micro-economic program, which civilians craft a recycled wire bracelet and ship them to sell in the United States.
After hearing the stories of the invisible children, Kelly More, a sophomore health and exercise science major, bought an airline ticket to fly to Uganda in the summer.
“It has been amazing that in less than one year when I heard about “Invisible Children” in September, it came from no one knowing, to this,” More said, looking out at the close-knit sleeping bags aligned along the railways of Old Town Square.
Old town shoppers, roamers and partiers entered the square with puzzled looks, having never seen this approach to protest.
“The only thing I have seen people sleeping outside for is an X-box,” said Brandon Stewart, a first year student at Front Range Community College (FRCC).
Blake Conrad, also a student at FRCC, agreed.
“I have never seen anything like this. You guys are crazy,” Conrad said. “I think it will get the word out.”
Emily Lance can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org