I spoke at an elementary school last week, and one of the topics that interested the kids most was what kind of life kids their age have in Africa. Somehow the discussion came around to the plight of tens of thousands of kids in northern Uganda that have lost their innocence at such tender ages. It's hard to imagine any tough situation until you experience it somehow.
In northern Uganda, a war has raged for a couple of decades. It started along tribal lines, but has since escalated into a rebel movement that has rendered the region unstable. Somehow the Ugandan government has not been able to completely weed them out - hard as they have tried. Whenever government solders are present, the region is quiet. With a limited military budget as most developing countries have, it's not feasible to keep soldiers deployed. So rebels have learned to only act when the military are withdrawn. Adding salt to injury, this particular rebel group has sanctuary and supply bases in southern Sudan, out of reach of Ugandan military. If you know what's going on in Darfur, you might understand why Khartoum hasn't been willing to help squash the uprising.
In this war, villagers are rounded up, kids abducted and introduced into rebel ranks, human trafficking, and other crimes against humanity. The strangest thing is that rebels are by and large attacking their own people - one of the reasons it's remained focused in the north. The story of ceasefires and reconciliation and amnesty and peace talks is as untrustworthy as a morning sunset.
But out of the misery comes a small film called "War Dance" (review) that chronicles the lives of 3 youngsters. The feature does a good job shedding some light on the personal lives of people affected by the conflict, hardly anything glamorous. You might see the scars of conflict all over their faces, but notice glimmers of hope in their human spirit. I like how music is the last thing about a populace to die when everything else crumbles; in it, the kids are hopeful. It's what kept the people's spirit aflame in South Africa during the days of apartheid, for example, or that energized slaves on cotton farms in the south. There's something about music that breeds resiliency - and you will see it in this film, along with deeply authentic moments of experience our comfortable lives in America can't afford us.
[It is produced by Shine Global. (If you have Netflix, it is available for viewing online already). Production note: some scenes are staged, so if you are a purist for documentaries, relax the rules. But it's nicely done] ...
Finally, you might have heard about efforts by organizations such as Invisible Children and World Vision - their hard work in the region to tend to the plight of these young children, most of whom have known life only as orphans, refugees, or child soldiers. Please support them much as you can - they are doing a great job in the region, helping restore a sense of nomalcy. In all my travels, the Acholi land of northern Uganda has been one my most desolate destinations - quite depressing and hopeless. I have no idea how life flourishes in such a place - with rumors of war and abduction plaguing villages. It's a desperate situation. It would be a shame for the world to ignore the situation any longer.