While standing next to Jacob, a former child soldier and the founding member of Invisible Children, Andrew Avallone’s mind flashed back to January 2009, when he and a fellow UC Santa Cruz Invisible Children Club member began brainstorming ways to help end the atrocities plaguing Uganda.
“It was such a unique and rewarding experience to meet a person like Jacob face-to-face,” Avallone said in an e-mail to City on a Hill Press. “He was featured in the original Invisible Children documentary and left an impression on all who saw the film.”
The event was part of The Legacy Tour, which travels worldwide to tell Jacob’s story. Jacob was abducted and forced to kill others until he was able to escape and return to his family.
Northern Uganda is currently immersed in a civil war that began in the 1980s after an attempted government coup.
Invisible Children, a national nonprofit organization based in San Diego, focuses on helping children and young adults who have been captured and forced to fight in the war in Uganda. By improving infrastructure and providing employment and scholarships with money raised by Invisible Children chapters, the nonprofit aims to combat the negative effects of the conflict.
Avallone and second-year Jessica Lindquist from College Nine established a UCSC chapter of the group in 2009.
In Uganda, a rebel group called the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has resorted to abducting children to fill its ranks. In order to escape being abducted by the LRA, children in rural villages migrate to cities every night to sleep in the streets where law enforcement officials can watch over them. In the morning they walk back to their villages to attend school.
The Invisible Children Club at UCSC hopes to raise awareness of this crisis through events like the film screening at College Nine last Thursday. According to Avallone, the tour is just one way the group is taking action.
“The tour was organized by Invisible Children to bring those involved in the crisis firsthand to the United States in an effort to inspire people at a whole new level and to promote their new Legacy scholarship program,” Avallone said.
The Legacy scholarship program donors can pay $35 a month to help fund a child’s education in Uganda.
By showing a documentary chronicling the events that led to Jacob’s capture and his return, the organization hopes to convey the magnitude of the situation as well as the urgent need for worldwide support.
“We’re trying to bring kids back to their families,” said Bethany Bylsma, a roadie on the West coast leg of the tour. “Jacob was very lucky to find his way home — if we can inform more people about this than we can prevent more children from being abducted.”
Lorna Peace, an education assistant in the Uganda office of the Invisible Children organization, said, “We train students and teachers to help them prepare to aid children. Mostly we teach them how to rebuild Uganda and educate the children we protect.”
Invisible Children’s mission is to locate the thousands of abducted children and help them get back to their homes, while also building schools and petitioning world leaders to intervene on Uganda’s behalf. In touring the world, the Invisible Children organization focuses on educating the masses and getting more volunteers to aid the people of Uganda.
The 2010 tour is currently going to several parts of the U.S. and some parts of Canada to spread the word.
“There has been a lot of willingness on the part of newly informed Americans to get involved and help Uganda,” said participant Saren Oliver. “The amount of willingness has been surprising.”
Additional reporting contributed by Ryan-Mark Griffin.