Ever since the “Kony 2012” video went viral, appearing in numerous Facebook statuses, emails, and all over the Internet, many people have become aware of the situation in Uganda and Central Africa, and the region’s practice of kidnapping young children and forcing them to become child soldiers.
On Wednesday, March 28, speakers representing the Invisible Children organization, which released the video to the Internet via YouTube, visited Stuyvesant to spread awareness about their movement, Kony 2012.
Invisible Children, founded in 2004 to benefit Ugandans and Central Africans, created the thirty-minute video “Kony 2012.” The video attempts to shed light on the wrongdoings of the head of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) Joseph Kony, who is also the number one target of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Among his crimes are the practice of forcing children to become soldiers, instituting sexual slavery, and rape.
The Kony 2012 campaign aims to help arrest Kony through spreading awareness of his wrongdoings. The organization’s goals also include helping the Central African regions, originally Northern Uganda, recover from the trauma of living in fear of the LRA.
“Our intention for the past [seven] years in touring around to different schools was always to bring awareness to the situation and to allow people to get further involved,” regional representative of Invisible Children Madeline MacDonald said in an e-mail interview. “Since our latest campaign went viral, we came expecting to answer the hard questions and I believe we did that.”
The event was arranged by Assistant Principal Social Studies Jennifer Suri and junior James Wallace-Lee, who was interested in the movement. Wallace-Lee contacted the organization and listed Suri as the contact person on an application to Invisible Children, requesting them to come and speak at Stuyvesant. “A student had emailed the organization about holding this event. The student is part of a club within this organization, and the organization contacted me in the fall to plan the event,” Suri said.
The event was held from periods four through seven in Lecture Hall A. Social studies teachers Lisa Shuman, Linda Weissman and Michael Waxman took their classes. Furthermore, any students who had free periods or lunch periods were also welcome.
Numerous classes in attendance, specifically Suri’s Global History 2 classes, had recently finished a unit about child soldiers and the event served as a supplement to their learning.
“My students, for example, had just done a research paper on child soldiers. They picked different regions such as Mayanmar. Interestingly enough, some even picked the United States, claiming that seventeen-year olds serving in the army with parental consent could be considered as a form of child soldiery,” Suri said.
As students filed into Lecture Hall A, they were all given pledge cards, small cards with the purpose of making congressmen aware of their support behind the organization. The discussions began each period with Suri introducing the representatives from Invisible Children.
Afterward, during fourth and fifth periods, students were able to hear from a Ugandan roadie – a travelling volunteer and speaker from the organization – named Bony, who escaped from the LRA and is now using his time to spread awareness. During later periods, however, clips were shown instead and roadies held question and answer sessions about Invisible Children and the movement.
“The north Ugandan student who came with them was too traumatized to speak [to the later periods] after retelling his experience. It’s very difficult to tell your story and think about what happened over and over again, and unfortunately he broke down and felt uncomfortable,” Suri said.
Sixth-period students were shown the “Kony 2012” video, which was released online on Monday, March 5, while seventh-period students were shown two different clips instead. Afterwards, 10-minute question-and-answer sessions were held.
Students asked questions that focused primarily on the controversy surrounding Invisible Children. One such controversy involves the co-founder of Invisible Children Jason Russell, who on Thursday, March 15, had a public outburst, in which he ran around in his underwear yelling at traffic. Russell was subsequently detained and hospitalized to rejuvenate his personal health. Other questions addressed the destination of funds received by Invisible Children despite being a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, as well as the desire to drill for recently discovered oil in the Ugandan region.
The roadies were aware that controversy would be a major part of their presentation.
“Just like any other human rights movement, there will be adversity,” MacDonald said. “Our director of ideology said it perfectly: ‘Controversy is the growing pains of a changing world.’ We love the criticism because it allows us to have in-depth conversations and educate the world about who Kony is. Students brought up very interesting points and I hope that we addressed them clearly.”
Students had opposing views about the event.
“I thought that the event was really interesting, though not much of it seem surprising,” sophomore Janet Lam said.
Some students, however, think the presentation was not successful in addressing the controversy and bringing positive youth attention to the movement. “It was a failed attempt at clearing up misconceptions and confusions that students had about KONY 2012. I was looking forward to hearing a verbal presentation about the war, Joseph Kony’s role in it, and how the organization has been working to stop him. Instead, two young bubbly volunteers showed us three videos that seemed to appeal to our emotions rather than giving us facts,” sophomore Stephanie Kwan said.
Though the roadies realize that their presentations may not appeal to everyone, MacDonald believes that youth play an important role in spreading awareness. “Our movement is entirely youth-oriented. I found out about Invisible Children when I was a senior in high school and through the past three years I have seen students voices and fundraising result in a bill being passed, 24 radio towers built in Congolese communities, as well as a fully functioning rehabilitation center taking in returned LRA,” MacDonald said. “I never thought I was important or that I was powerful but when I see the development of this campaign, I see how important the youth is to this world and the ability they have to create change. Being a part of Invisible Children and seeing young people receive the same empowerment I did when I was in high school is absolutely incredible.”