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Invisible Children

The cracked, dust-coated clock mounted atop the hospital doors reads 3:59 in the afternoon. As time ticks away and the seconds inch ever closer to the much-anticipated hour, you use your tattered, two-sizes-too-small Mickey Mouse shirt to wipe the sweat from your brow as you utter muffled prayers and quips of optimism under the shrill cries of the crowd. When the clock strikes four, a blur of actions happens in perfect synchronization: the doors of the run-down hospital suddenly swing open and you find yourself competing with a sea of children for a coveted resting place on the dusty floor yet again. Within a matter of minutes, nearly every square inch of the unpaved ground is completely covered in squirming bodies seeking nothing but refuge for the night. This is certainly no slumber party: it is the daily survival technique for the youth of northern Uganda.
Rush. Resist. Repeat. Although this routine is both monotonous and grueling, it is also the key to lessen chances of abduction and increase those of survival. A guerilla war that has displaced over 1.5 million people and killed hundreds of thousands has ravaged northern Uganda for more than 23 years, making it Africa’s longest running war in history. The rebel group, called the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), has abducted about 30,000 children – some as young as 5 years old– to add to their ranks as soldiers, sex slaves, spies, and even human shields because they are impressionable enough to brainwash, big enough to carry a gun and plentiful enough to create a sizeable army. However, what initially began as a quick solution to fill ranks has become the LRA's main method of "recruitment:” an appalling 90 percent of troops are now children. Once abducted, the ruthless soldiers of the LRA train their new juvenile recruits by means of fear tactics and attempts to desensitize them completely by choosing a few children to mutilate and kill in front of the others: 77 percent of child abductees have seen someone murdered and 39 percent have been forced to murder.
Despite knowledge of these brutal conditions, no dramatic steps have been taken to solve the problem in Uganda because this humanitarian disaster is in many ways still unseen. These innocent children are invisible; they roam distant battlefields away from public scrutiny, no records are kept of their numbers or age, and even their own armies deny they exist. Let’s make them visible.



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