On Nov. 17 Mercer’s Office of Housing and Residence Life sponsored a visit from Invisible Children, an organization aiming to end the practice of enslaving children to be soldiers in the Lord’s Resistance Army in Africa.
Two representatives from Invisible Children came to share about the cause. The first, Joshua Wolny, is an American volunteer. The second is a woman from Uganda named Agnes, whose life was directly affected by the problem of child slavery for military purposes. They showed a documentary entitled “The Rescue,” and afterwards the two invited attendees to ask them questions about the film and their lives.
The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is a rebel militant group which kidnaps children from their homes in the middle of the night and forces them to become child soldiers. The LRA was formed in 1987 and until 2007 it engaged in violent rebellion against the Ugandan government. Though it is no longer actively in rebellion against the government, the LRA continues its practice of kidnapping children and forcing them to commit murder and other acts of terrorism. The leader of the LRA is a man named Joseph Kony. He claims to be a spirit medium who receives direct commands from the Holy Spirit. The group’s philosophy combines local religious tradition with the Christian religion. The Lord’s Resistance Army has committed numerous war crimes, including several massacres. The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Kony and several other Lord’s Resistance Army commanders in 2005. They are wanted for crimes against humanity and war crimes, including rape, murder, sexual slavery, and enlisting children as combatants. Kony has yet to be apprehended, because the LRA hides deep in the jungle. Attempts at peace talks with Kony have been unsuccessful.
Agnes, the Ugandan representative, provided firsthand knowledge about the LRA. When she was a child, her parents would send her and her siblings to sleep in the jungle so that they would not be kidnapped. She spoke about being terrified of the dark and the wild animals she heard in the jungle. Though neither Agnes nor her siblings were kidnapped, at least one child in every other home in her village was kidnapped and forced to become a child soldier.
Luckily Agnes learned about Invisible Children, who awarded her with a scholarship to attend Gulu University in Uganda. There she earned a Bachelor of Business Administration degree. After touring the United States telling her story for a few more months, Agnes hopes to return to Uganda to pursue an accounting degree. With the money she earns she hopes to send her siblings to college and to provide for those who live in her village.
The future of the Invisible Children movement looks bright. There has been bi-partisan support for this movement in the United States government. In October President Obama sent a team of one hundred Special Forces troops to Africa to help armies there remove the leaders of the LRA. This team will continue working toward the destruction of the LRA and to allow the child soldiers to return to their homes. Through the support of donations Invisible Children will continue to provide support and raise awareness of the conflict, with the goal of having all child soldiers returned to their homes by next year.