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Aid Workers Lisa Dougan and Matt Wood MAG
In Uganda, children face trials more traumatizing than most Americans ever encounter. Blood has drenched Uganda for the past 21 years, and during this war, 30,000 children have been captured.
But American youth and Invisible Children, a humanitarian organization assisting Uganda, are fighting for change. You may have heard of Invisible Children through the movie – which high schools and universities play nationwide – or through Fall Out Boy, which filmed a music video in Uganda with Invisible Children.
I had the opportunity to interview two regional managers for Invisible Children. Lisa Dougan visited Uganda with the organization for three months in 2007. Matt Wood first experienced the film in 2006 at Georgia State University and afterward became a roadie to bring the movie to others.
What did you learn from your time in Uganda?
Lisa Dougan: It made me understand how important it is to stay committed to these people and help them heal. There is potential for another war if these children don’t rebuild their lives. I also want to say how strong and beautiful the Ugandan people are. They have a lovely culture, and it’s sad that they haven’t had a chance to be who they are.
What stories have you heard about people who were impacted by Invisible Children?
Matt Wood: One family in Idaho – a mom and two kids – decided to sell everything they owned to help Invisible Children after they saw the movie. They moved into a small apartment, hoping to raise $8,000. I hear that and I think, that is why the war is going to end, because of people who see the film are moved to act.
What did you encounter in Uganda that left a powerful impression on you?
Dougan: I had a very wide range of experiences. I spent some time in the main government hospital that was in extremely poor shape. Many women give birth sitting on the floor of the hospital – the conditions are horrendous. Everyone has a story of someone being killed or abducted. There are massive numbers of children who are unattended – orphans or street kids – especially in the displacement camps. There is a whole generation of kids who have experienced nothing but war and have no one to care for them [especially because HIV/AIDS leaves so many orphaned].
Because of the war and the poverty in the camps, Uganda leads the world in alcoholism. You see a lot of men who, because of desperation, have resorted to drinking, which leads to more poverty, abuse of women, and AIDS.
Could you describe some of the Ugandan people you met?
Dougan: At the hospital where I stayed, there was a giant garbage pit. Every day I noticed a little girl going through the trash. She was seven years old. The more I interacted with her, the more I realized she was mentally ill. One night was pitch dark and she was sitting out in the grass singing. There are a lot of kids affected like this. Because she is mentally ill and so young, she doesn’t know how to protect herself. She represents thousands of kids in the north who are psychologically damaged because of the war and need someone to be an advocate for them. I stood there in the dark and hugged her for a while. I thought, This is what I need to commit to, helping children like this girl.
A very good friend of mine, Dennis, was abducted by the rebel group when he was 11 but escaped and was able to go through rehabilitation. Soccer was his greatest tool to heal. Now he’s a teacher and goes into the community and plays soccer with boys, many of whom are orphans. Dennis explained to me, “Right now the only thing these boys are thinking about is soccer. They’re not remembering the suffering in their lives – abduction, how they have no food at home, or AIDS.”
What would you like to tell high school students about Invisible Children?
Wood: You have the potential to make such a big difference. Just realize the incredible potential we have to end the war. Get involved in the Schools for Schools Program; it’s almost unparalleled. We have an education scholarship program in Uganda. This semester we have over 560 scholarship recipients.
After the filmmakers made the movie, their thought was to build a compound in Uganda. But once they talked to the families they resoundingly said no – what they needed was education for the children. We started a program to pay the school fees so kids can go to school. The way it works in Uganda is the kids are ranked nationally based on their grades. One of the girls who received an education through Invisible Children was ranked second in the nation, but wouldn’t have been if it weren’t for our program. And now she will go on to be one of the future leaders of Uganda.
How have teens made a difference to the Ugandan people?
Dougan: One of the greatest things is to visit the high schools where Invisible Children has implemented the Schools for Schools program and see the restoration of the buildings because of American high school students. The girls’ dorm was in horrible condition – cramped, crowded, without running water or electricity, its wood was rotting. It didn’t look like a place you could ever imagine a young person living. To even put a bathroom facility in the girls’ dorm is huge. The new dorm is beautiful: spacious, clean, with running water and electricity. To see the fruit of the American teens’ labor is really wonderful.
For more information, or to ask Invisible Children to visit your school, go to www.invisiblechildren.com.