My mind has been running circles around Uganda ever since watching Kony 2012 a few days ago. I've been reading blogs, & articles criticizing every aspect of the video and the organization. I've been talking with friends who are directly involved with the peace negotiations and rehabilitation of the abducted children. I've been thinking, talking, and reading about it so much that my brain feels a little melty. My goal was to synthesize the info a bit for all my friends & family who have been asking what I think of it all. But after everything I've heard & read & discussed, I feel even more muddled than before.
Here's my attempt to sort it out:
-I love that the whole world seems to be talking about the injustice of the LRA, and that millions of people have been moved to do something about it.
-I love the way that Invisible Children has raised awareness, and brought issues to light that so many had never heard of. I love that it was a bunch of college kids who didn't know what they were doing, but have held unwaveringly for almost 10yrs in their commitment to bring change. And I love the way that this video has captured the hearts of millions of people who just want to do something to help.
-I love the smell, and the songs, the way the sun feels like it comes through a magnifying glass, the feel of the red, red dirt, the way the hammock sways back and forth at night in the mud hut, and the sound of the children in the Internally Displaced People's Camp in the morning. I love the hospitality, the pace of life, and a million other things that I had forgotten about until I watched that video, and found myself crying like a baby in my kitchen, as my toddler stared at me in confusion. I love Uganda, and I love Ugandans.
But I'm scared, too.
Even in our best intentions, we can enter a situation as outsiders and misdiagnose a problem. In our eagerness to help, we forget to ask questions, we forget to listen. We see a gaping wound and rush in to fix it, without understanding the complexities, the history, and the resources available. It is a good, noble, and beautiful thing to want to help, but sometimes helping hurts.
That has been the major criticism of the film Kony 2012, and there have been so many great thoughts (although most of them have been extremely harsh) that I will not repeat them. If you're interested, here are a few of the best responses I have seen. To sum it up, the video takes an incredibly complex situation and simplifies it into the logic of a 4yr old (literally). It also doesn't give great current information, or the viewpoint of the Ugandan people. Having said all that, though, Invisible Children has done a great job responding to all the criticism.
As I have talked to our friends who are directly involved in the peace negotiations with the LRA, and our friends who have been working directly with the child abductees, there is frustration and mixed feelings about the video. The main problem is that Northern Ugandans do not support the initiative to bring in US troops to "stop" Kony. It's their children who are out there, who would be forced to defend Kony if troops came in to capture him (just like the failed Operation Lightning Thunder, a few years back). They are working, and have been working towards peace negotiations and amnesty programs, and have seen incredible improvement in their region (I have had the privilege of seeing it, and in the tiniest way, even being able to participate in it, myself). The simple solutions (military troops) proposed in the video are not at all what our friends, or most of Northern Uganda, want for their country.
Okay, sorry. I know I said I wasn't going to do all that. Couldn't help myself ;)
So here's the real dilemma: What do we do with all of this?
Kony 2012 raises questions, issues, and brings to light a real problem-- one that breaks our hearts & moves us to action. But now we're all hearing that it's the wrong action, told in the wrong way, by the wrong people. So what do we do? How do we respond to the need without knowing any of the people who are in need? All of the brilliant & pithy criticism still hasn't led to a solution, or even an action step.
Is it better to do something rash, idealistic & ignorant than to spew criticism and do nothing at all? Is there a third option?
I've been asking our friends out there what we can actually do to help, and this is what they've said. (Warning: It's not sexy, glamorous, exciting or edgy)
- Pray: As simple, and even silly as it sounds, that is the first thing that Ugandans ask for. Through the massacres, through the abductions, the mutilations, the rape, and other unspeakable injustices, I was humbled and amazed to see the unwavering faith of the Ugandan people. To be honest, I was ashamed of my own meager spirituality. They believe deeply in God, trust in Him, pray to Him, and want us to do the same.
- Give: Find an organization that is working to rehabilitate the victims of the conflict and give sacrificially to them. In Northern Uganda, there are very few NGO's ("non-profits", to the American) left who are still providing relief and long-term rehabilitation. After spending the summer there, here are some of my favorites:
- Child Voice International: providing in-depth rehabilitation, counseling, education, job training & a whole lot more to youth affected by the conflict. (The group we lived/worked with. I can't say enough wonderful things about this organization)
- Doctors Without Borders: giving medical assistance to people whose survival is threatened by violence, neglect, or catastrophe. (They were doing great things while we were there)
- International Justice Mission: working through legal systems (in Uganda, and around the world) to stop injustice. (One of the many complexities in this conflict is the corruption of the Ugandan government)
- Learn: Read up on the conflict, ask about the needs, and share with others. It takes more time, effort & commitment than hanging posters for a night, but it is so very important, if we want to help, to know who we are helping, why, what exactly we are helping them to do, and how we are going to do it. It is also key in this whole process to give help with dignity, collaboration & humility.
- Be an informed consumer: Give me a second on this one... Kony & the LRA have fled up to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where they have become one of many conflicts & genocides in the DRC, Central African Republic, Chad & Sudan. These genocides are being fueled by minerals like Coltan (used in computers & cell phones), silver, gold, diamonds, and copper that are mined (by these rebel groups) in these countries and sold to us. Ever seen Blood Diamond? It's like that. So one thing we can do to help stop Kony (and dozens like him) is to raise awareness for a need of conflict-free Coltan, diamonds, etc. There's a great little group called Call + Response that is a helpful resource to get started in raising awareness & asking companies to be responsible. We can also buy refurbished & second-hand products to reduce the demand for these minerals.
My hope is that some of this was helpful to someone out there. It is an issue so very close to my heart, and I am grateful to Invisible Children for reminding me and informing millions (millions!) of people that there is a pressing, compelling, heart-breaking need out there. I'm not sure that I will be sporting a "Kony 2012" poster in my front yard (if you've seen my front yard, you would know that's actually an act of respect to the campaign!) or wallpapering San Francisco on April 20th. But I promise not to judge you if you do... just promise me you'll look into some of the details. ;)
Thanks for hangin' in there through all this information. I will update Comments with anything new I hear from our friends in the thick of it.