Rescued Child Soldiers
At the age of seven, Judith became an accomplice to a murder. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) raided her village and forced Judith to participate in the killing of her mother. The LRA then kidnapped Judith and her siblings and forced them to serve Joseph Kony. Thousands of children share Judith’s story. Today, the rescued child soldiers in Africa are finding healing and restoration through art.

The Rise of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army

The World Economic Forum found that poverty, social marginalization and political disenfranchisement were fertilizers for extremist groups to take root and grow. In the 1980s, poverty, social marginalization and political disenfranchisement hit Uganda hard. Estimates determined that one-third of the population lives below the poverty line.

Uganda government officials did little to improve the dire situation. As a result, rebel groups and organizations began to pop up throughout the country. The Holy Spirit Movement, a militaristic and spiritual rebel group, formed to fight against the oppression of the people in northern Uganda. Joseph Kony joined the movement in the mid-1980s. After the Holy Spirit Movement’s defeat in 1988, Kony kept the organization. He renamed the group the Lord’s Resistance Army. Kony used religion and traditional beliefs to continue the support of the people living in northern Uganda. His operation expanded to the nearby countries of South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic. The tactics Kony and the LRA used became more violent over time.

Kony and the LRA caused the displacement of more than 1.9 million people. Authorities issued a number of arrest warrants for Kony and leaders of the LRA on counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The LRA raided villages, burned down homes and murdered or mutilated thousands of people.

Child Soldiers in Africa

Kony lacked support for his cause and army. As a result, he abducted children and forced them into his service. Estimates state that the LRA kidnapped between 30,000 and 60,000 children. The LRA trained males to be child soldiers and females to be sex slaves. Fear was a major driver for children to remain in the LRA. Many children, like Judith, had to kill their parents and other loved ones for survival.

Art Is Restoring Peace to Rescued Child Soldiers

The U.N. called the LRA crisis the “most forgotten, neglected humanitarian emergency in the world.” A 29-minute film became the most effective tool in mobilizing the world into taking action against Kony and the LRA.

Art and social media were the key components of the success of the film “KONY 2012.” The U.S. advocacy group, Invisible Children, launched a digital campaign with the release of the film. The campaign’s goal was to make the infamous warlord famous in order to mobilize world leaders to stop him. The film garnered over 100 million views in six days. Public outcry and celebrity support increased the pressure for global leaders to take action against Kony. Eventually, authorities sanctioned a universal manhunt to capture Kony and put an end to the LRA. People have rescued many of the child soldiers in Africa but Kony still remains at-large. Today, the LRA has reduced to a group of fewer than 300 members.

Art has also been an effective tool for healing and restoration for the child victims of the LRA crisis. For many of the rescued child soldiers in Africa, there were some elements in their story that were too painful to put into words. Art became an avenue for those children to confront the past and face the future. Exile International, a nonprofit organization, has been providing healing to war-affected children through art-focused trauma care since 2008.

Recently, Exile International partnered with award-winning photographer and artist Jeremy Cowart to share the faces and powerful stories of child survivors. The Poza Project utilized the children’s art and Cowart’s talent to create a healing opportunity for the children to tell their own story of survival. Unique photographs and mixed art media created by the children were available for purchase. All the proceeds helped provide art therapy and holistic rehabilitation to children survivors of war. The Poza Project showcased a dozen children including Judith.

Judith spent nearly two years in captivity before being rescued. Today, she is back in school and working to become a psychiatric doctor. With the help of The Poza Project, Judith is one step closer to her dream of helping the other victims of Kony and the LRA.

– Paola Nuñez
Photo: Flickr

LRA Released 46 Women and Children - The Borgen Project
The United States Army reports that 46 Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) captives were rescued by Ugandan troops in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). This marks the largest group return of LRA abductees since 2008. The women and children returned between August 9 and August 10.

The returning captives, all women and children, came bearing a message from a group of male soldiers. According to reports from on the ground nonprofit organization, Invisible Children, male soldiers are willing to surrender provided guaranteed safety of their children. The month of August proved to be a pivotal one in LRA releases, as the rebel army continues to weaken.

The LRA’s scope has declined to an estimated 150-200 soldiers, according to the U.S. Department of State (USDS.) It has abducted an estimated 66,000 people, mostly women and children, since its formation in 1986, according to UNICEF. The DRC has borne the brunt of recent LRA violence since its complete migration out of northern Uganda in 2006. This activity has further destabilized the country already engulfed in governmental unrest.

In 2011, the African Union officially acknowledged the LRA as a terrorist organization, thus increasing regional initiatives at eliminating it. The U.S. has supported anti-LRA efforts to the tune of $560 million in aid to regions affected by the terrorist group, USDS reports.

Talks of a collaboration between the LRA and the predominantly Muslim Seleka group in the Central African Republic have further stirred tensions in Uganda. The Ugandan army has cited Seleka as a major reason for the LRA’s continued existence.

Invisible Children’s “Come Home” campaign broadcasts radio messages aimed at abducted LRA members encouraging surrender and a return home. The recently freed women say they had access to these messages during their time with the Army.

— Ellie Sennett

Sources: Al jazeera, LRA Crisis Tracker, U.S. State Department, Invisible Children, New Vision, Reuters
Photo: Internet Monk

Global Poverty NGOs
When it comes to what makes an aid organization truly successful, we usually think first about the numbers and the flashy website. How many children in rural areas get an education thanks to this organization? How many mosquito nets are being handed out to curb malaria? And how fancy is that all-important website?

All this is important, at least to a degree. But we often neglect to consider what is behind the scenes. We forget about the fundamental structure that makes global poverty NGOs effective or not. In order to be successful, NGOs must…

1. Work together
Collaboration is key. No organization can be entirely efficient on its own. While working together sometimes proves difficult because so many voices spout so many different opinions, cooperation allows for greater expansion of ideas and more creative solutions.

Additionally, organizations gain more influence and issues are given more weight when there is a large rallying force of NGOs and aid organizations behind the cause. This increased importance can get the public more involved, as well as proving to governments and policy makers that these topics need to be discussed. For example, the United Kingdom Food Group is the largest network in the U.K. that helps organizations working on food issues to share ideas and expertise by working together, thus creating maximum change.

2. Be narrow enough to do good work
In order to put the most into a cause, organizations must be narrowly focused. This allows them to put the maximum resources into one issue and thus enables them to make a difference that is more than a drop in the bucket. For instance, the Fistula Foundation focuses specifically on healing women who suffer unnecessarily from an injury sustained in childbirth. True, the organization could tackle prostitution and sexual health in other capacities, but because it focuses on fistula treatment, it is able to make a substantial difference for the cause.

3. But not too narrow as to only solve one narrow slice of the problem
All things related to global poverty are interconnected. Food security goes hand in hand with the local economy. Water sanitation plays a huge role in global health. Organizations need to understand that no matter what topic they choose to address, it is attached to all other aspects of global poverty. ONE combines its efforts to address reducing global poverty on top of reducing the incidence of preventable disease. In doing so, ONE accepts that disease perpetuates poverty, and remedying one helps alleviate the other.

4. Be easy to get involved with
The harsh reality is that while most of our society sympathizes with the plague of global poverty, it has no time to go out of their way all the time to do something about it. Organizations must realize that if they are to be successful, they must be easy to reach, easy to get involved with and easy to share. NGOs must have key small ways to get involved like buying a T-shirt, sharing a video or donating a few dollars. But on top of this, they must have larger scale methods that are just as easy.

Many organizations like Charity: Water and Nothing But Nets, ask people to donate their birthdays by essentially asking for donations to the cause rather than gifts. It is a simple, brag worthy and effective way to get people involved and raise money for the organization.

5. Be transparent
People want to know where their hard earned money goes when they donate, and they are more likely to be resistant when the paths their cash takes within an organization are unclear. Therefore, organizations must work twice as hard to show that the donations they receive go directly to the projects they advertise. Charity: Water has found a way to be utterly transparent.

The organization relies on private donors and sponsors to support its offices’ operations, thus allowing it to ensure with absolute certainty that the donations it receives from the general public go straight to water projects building pumps in rural villages. Charity: Water even shows you exactly what well was built by your donations and their annual reports are easily found on their website. Basically, it is key that people know directly where their money goes when they donate to encourage confidence in the NGO.

6. Work with the local population
The only way to create stable, lasting change is for NGOs to work directly with the local population in the target region. Without it, practices put in place and infrastructure built can fall victim to tradition and cultural practice, and thus become ineffective. However, by working with the local population, organizations can change the local perspective and approach to the problem. They can employ local workers to run the operations, thus helping the economy in more ways than one.

Rape prevention organizations tend to be particularly effective when they go straight to the local people. For example, Apne Aap is an organization in India that aims to change the perspective of rape in the culture and protect women through sustainable development of a new, empowered mindset. By going to local women, organizations like this are able to find the root of the problem and work toward a solution that will cause lasting change.

7.  Be memorable
Finally, an organization must be memorable in order to be successful. People need to feel that itch to share the video, to tell their friends, to spread the story in order to ensure that the organization gets the publicity it needs to do effective work and the cause gets the vocalization it deserves. For all the flaws the Kony 2012 and Invisible Children campaigns had internally, they were undeniably memorable. Everyone who went to high school in 2012 had the group’s logo as their profile pictures and now knows a bit more about child soldiers in the LRA. This is knowledge that can be spread in order to get more and more people involved.

Overall, no matter what process NGOs take, their work is beneficial. However, there are certain criteria that will make their efforts more effective and provide for longer-lasting, sustainable change. Simple changes to the structure of the organization can increase the general interest in the topic as well as improving the overall success of the organization.

– Caitlin Thompson

Sources: Overseas Development Institute, The Guardian, UK Food Group, ONE, Charity Water, Apne Aap, Edna Hospital, Fistula Foundation, Nothing But Nets
Photo: Flickr

A recent UNICEF report revealed a shocking 229 million children under the age of five worldwide are currently “invisible,” living without any official record of their birth. The report found that in 2012 alone, four out of 10 babies born worldwide were not registered. An even larger number may have been registered, but have not been issued documentation necessary to prove that this took place.

Without formal documentation, these children remain effectively nameless and stateless. They can be excluded from healthcare, education systems, social security and be denied other rights afforded by citizenship.  Because they have no formal proof of age, they may experience military service, marriage, and employment years before it is appropriate or safe. Children who are undocumented are at higher risk for exploitation, displacement and human trafficking.

When they grow up, many find it impossible to apply for jobs, vote, get a passport or even open a bank account without documentation. The government may not recognize their marriages.

Worldwide trends indicate that marginalized populations, including certain ethnic groups, indigenous peoples and migrant communities are disproportionately documented at lower rates. Poor and uneducated households, and those who live in rural regions that lack access to proper infrastructure and transportation services, face significant barriers to registration. Access to registration centers can be difficult and expensive. Many people do not understand the process, or its importance, a problem compounded by low literacy rates.

There are also “invisible” children growing up in relief and refugee camps, where they are denied access to birth certificates or other means of official identification, as citizenship of camp residents is often contested. These camps, seen as temporary homes for those fleeing conflict and natural disaster, often become more permanent settlements where children grow up without being claimed by any government.

Unfortunately, undocumented children separated from their parents in conflict, natural disasters, or by trafficking are very unlikely to be reunited with their families, as there is no proof of familial links available. Children who are orphaned or abandoned are rarely registered.

UNICEF has recommended several courses of action to reduce the number of unregistered children. The following immediate and long-term solutions must be implemented:
– Registration should be free, and penalties for late registration must be waived.
– The public must improve birth registration services, and increase access to services in rural and marginalized communities.
– The late registration process must be simplified and streamlined so that any government official can perform it.
– Awareness of the importance of registration must be raised.
– More in-depth assessments must be conducted of children living without birth registration.

Lack of documentation can have devastating consequences for children now and in their futures, but that is not a must. Visit to donate and fund efforts to ensure every child is afforded the protections and rights that birth records afford.

Sarah Morrison

Sources: The Atlantic, The Hindustan Times, The Star Online

1. National Geographic Explorer: Inside North Korea (2007)

“Inside North Korea” by Peter Yost investigates the human rights violations by the North Korean regime. National Geographic photographers and journalists travel undercover with Dr. Sanduk Ruit’s medical aid team to document the humanitarian emergency in North Korea. The film explains the cult-like devotion to Kim Jong Il, as well as the methods used to keep him in power. Lisa Ling and her team examine the juche ideology that demands absolute devotion to the regime.

2. Girl Rising (2013)

“Girl Rising” by Holly Gordon and the Girl Rising Foundation is an inspirational film about girls’ education around the world. Countries in focus include India, Cambodia, Haiti, Nepal, Egypt, Ethiopia, Peru, Afghanistan, and Sierra Leone. A girl from each country shares a story about the treatment of women and the state of education in her region. Some stories are light-hearted and hopeful, like the story of a girl in Sierra Leone hosting a youth-led radio show. Some stories are heartbreaking, like Yasmin of Egypt, who survives an attack by a would-be rapist. At the end of the film there is a feeling of hope, even though there is a long way to go for women’s rights across the world.

3. The Act of Killing (2012)

In “The Act of Killing” Joshua Oppenheimer examines the injustices of war. When the winners define “war crimes,” often times no justice is served. The film focuses on Indonesia and the post-1965 coup fall-out. Oppenheimer invites Anwar Congo, a leader of the North Sumatran death squad, to re-enact his war crimes for his movie. Congo and his friends create elaborate sets and portray themselves as the heroes, but Oppenheimer’s documentary tells another story. “The Act of Killing” forces these criminals to face their wrongdoing, but not all of them recognize their actions as crimes.

4. The End of Poverty? (2008)

“The End of Poverty,” directed by Philippe Diaz, deals with wealth disparity in the U.S. and across the world. Diaz poses the question “is poverty natural or by design?” The film looks at debt, free market economics, and exploitation of natural resources in the context of the global poor. “The End of Poverty?” deals with the lasting impact of colonialism and the modern day forms of economic imperialism. Guest commentators include Amartya Sen, Joseph Stiglitz, Susan George, and Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera.

5. Invisible Children (2006)

This film by Carol Mansour examines the human rights violations by the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army. The LRA abducts children to recruit child soldiers under Joseph Kony’s command. The film garnered widespread attention on social media and drew in funds for the non-profit, Invisible Children, INC.

– Stephanie Lamm

Sources: IMDB, SPR Word
Photo: CNN

2012 was a year with several attention-grabbing events: Whitney Houston passed away, Barack Obama was reelected President of the United States, and an American athlete publicly confessed his sexual preferences. However, despite all of these large-scale events, one eclipsed all of these. The crimes committed by Joseph Kony and his group, the Lord’s Resistance Army, were exposed to the entire world through the efforts of the Invisible Children program. The impact is still being felt today, even after the fervor exited the public spectrum.

The record setting video, found here, reached 100 million views in six days, making it the fastest growing viral video in history. As most people know, the Kony 2012 video is a call to arms, an informational lecture about the crimes Kony and the LRA have committed for over 25 years. The video urges people to join the cause by making Kony internationally known, and never letting the world forget his name until he is brought into justice.

While the primary cause behind the video–to bring Kony and the LRA to justice–has not been achieved, significant progress has been made. Whereas Kony himself has not been captured, two of his top military officials, Major General Caesar Acellam and Lieutenant Colonel Vincent Binansio (Binani) Okuma, have been removed from the battlefield.

Progress has been made in several areas outside of the removal of major military officials. LRA killings have decreased by 67 percent since the release of the 2012 video. Additionally, five LRA members have surrendered with an Invisible Children-made flier in hand. 690,000 of such fliers have been printed in hopes of others joining the surrender. The fliers have had a hand in 89 percent of the escapes from the LRA, citing the flier as the final beacon to disband from the group and seek safety elsewhere.

Invisible Children has also provided funds to employ 44 radio operators to work the Early Warning Radio Network, a radio system implanted to warn nearby villages of approaching LRA action. Three of these towers have been built, and they can deliver messages over a 37,000 sq/km range. Thirty seven different villages rely on the Early Warning Radio Network for news on the whereabouts of the LRA, and the Early Warning system has saved several lives by evacuating villages before danger can approach.

Additionally, Invisible Children established a safe haven for children who have escaped from the LRA. These children are brought to shelters in safe villages, where the friendly shelter workers can help assimilate the children back into a healthy environment. Many of the children had to withstand extreme, unimaginable scenarios; the shelters can provide a stable community for these children to rediscover themselves.

Invisible Children has accomplished much since the release of the video, but the primary goal remains: Kony must be brought to justice. While his reign of terror is now weaker than any time in the past 20 years, he is still at large and very capable of causing extraordinary pain. To join the fight to save the African children from Kony’s presence, visit the Invisible Children website to see how anyone can join the fight.

– Zachary Wright

Sources: Invisible Children, Kony 2012, LRA Crisis Tracker
Photo: Border7

At the age of 18, Natalie Warne became a symbol for young activists everywhere. Inspired by Invisible Children, the documentary about Joseph Kony and how he forced children to become soldiers for the Lord’s Resistance Army, Warne interned with the Invisible Children movement and eventually showed how being young is no obstacle to changing the world.

Warne, along with other interns with Invisible Children, was working to bring awareness to a bill that would make it American policy to go after Kony and the LRA. Her efforts brought her to the Oprah studio where the Invisible Children movement advocated for the bill. Ten days later, the bill was introduced into Congress. And a year later, the bill was signed into law.

People will remember most that moment she got to appear on Oprah. However, she points out that what made their movement a success was not what was shown on television but what happened behind the cameras. She talks about the people who showed up to support the cause of Invisible Children even when it rained, the other interns that planned other events, and even a family that bought a hundred boxes of pizza for the supporters. These are people that didn’t do it for the glory but for the goal. “The moment isn’t a movement,” she said. “What fuels a movement is the anonymous extraordinaries behind it.”

She leaves us with the message to chase after our dreams and not let youth stop us. “In the small anonymous monotonous every single day acts, I have to remind myself to be extraordinary.” she said.

“It is the acts that make us extraordinary. Not the Oprah moments.”

– Rafael Panlilio
Source:  TED