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In 2003, three friends -- Jason Russell, Bobby Bailey and Laren Poole -- traveled to Africa in search of “untold stories.” What they found would inspire a movement and alter the course of their lives.
Each of the boys was a recent college grad with film, structural engineering and mathematics degrees respectively. But it was Russell who spearheaded their initial journey. The young filmmaker had traveled to Kenya in 2000 and, as he recalls in an interview with the 700 Club, had his "American bubble" popped.
"I suddenly realized we are the privileged percentage of the world,” Russell said. “I knew I had to go back to Africa." He reached out to several friends to make the trip with him but it was only Bailey and Poole who responded with equal passion.
The boys traveled from the Sudan to Kenya and eventually landed in Uganda where they discovered a conflict that had already raged for 20 years by the time of their arrival, one that had destroyed the lives of countless children. The three Americans came into contact with the traumatized survivors of the rebel faction the Lord's Resistance Army, or LRA, lead by Joseph Kony, a man who has proclaimed himself to be a "spokesperson" for God.
Kony and his forces have been kidnapping children as young as 5-years-old since 1987 and forcing them to fight, kill and mutilate, sometimes their own parents. The girls are often forced into sexual slavery. Russell, Bailey and Poole became determined to shine a light on the children who fled from Kony and the LRA and, with that goal in mind, created the documentary “Invisible Children” to give voice to the horror that they had suffered, and that so many children continue to endure.
“Invisible Children” was subsequently screened at thousands of American high schools, college campuses, churches and special events with the sole purpose of spreading the word about what was happening in central Africa. The trio believed that if people knew, then something would be done to stop it.
The United States government was reluctant to intercede as the atrocities held no threat to U.S. national security or financial interests. The group officially formed a non-profit in 2006 in order to continue with their campaign of awareness as well as to raise money for health and educational programs designed to support the LRA survivors.
I remember “Invisible Children” coming to my own university campus. It was at a time when I was working on two social issues documentaries. I now understand documentary filmmaking (particularly social justice documentary filmmaking) to be a herculean effort that requires a level of commitment and patience that very few possess. I am awed by what Russell, Bailey and Poole have been able to accomplish in the ensuing years.
This year, they are taking on their greatest challenge: to make Joseph Kony famous. The intention is that awareness of both Kony and the LRA will reach a critical mass, ensuring that military aid will be provided to the Ugandan mission to find Kony and bring him to trial at The Hague by December 31, 2012. The Facebook and social networking communities will serve to support and promote additional grass roots methods in order to reach a saturation point.
This campaign, and the way the "Invisible Children" team has devised it, highlights all the possibilities that exist for a new way to exercise power and to engage with the world of technology we find ourselves in today. Perhaps that is all a bit idealistic. But so what? We’ve got to spend our time on something and speaking for myself, I am reminded of how often throughout the course of my life it has been spent on nothing.
For year-round entertainment news and commentary follow @JRothC on Twitter.
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