Saturday, September 20, 2014

Invisible Children raises the bar

Organization’s co-founder to speak at Liberty convocation

The November winds replace green leaves with shades of gold, orange, and red, reminding everyone that sometimes, change can be a good thing. That could not be truer for members of the Invisible Children chapter at Liberty University, who have been busy welcoming a few changes of their own. For starters, club members are excited to see Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell speak in Convocation for the first time ever on Monday, Nov. 7.

That same day, Russell will attend a screening of the organization’s film, “The Rescue,” at 7:45 p.m. in Towns-Alumni Auditorium.

Russell was among the original three film-makers who began the Invisible Children Organization in 2003.

These men first decided to visit Africa on a “film-making adventure,” according to their bio on the Invisible Children website. It was there that they discovered African children wandering far from home beneath a shield of darkness, praying they would not be found and forced to exchange their childhood for soldier-hood.

The Invisible Children organization remains dedicated to aiding Ugandan children who were kidnapped and transformed into soldier by force. For Liberty sophomore Mathias Bekele, the mission of Invisible Children hits particularly close to home. Born in Africa, Bekele lived there until the age of nine, when he came to the United States.

“My best friend’s name was Yared,” Bekele said. “His family didn’t have Ethiopian citizenship so the rebels came and took them away. I remember them crying and me and my friend embracing each other’s wet shoulder from all the crying. I never saw Yared again. But to this day I still remember the promise that we made to each other: one day me and Yared would do something for those who were suffering from the injustices that they received.”

Bekele, a current member of Liberty’s Invisible Children chapter, discovered the organization in high school, and has been an active participant ever since. This year, the group has set an especially high goal as they are trying to raise $32,000 by Dec. 14 to help build a rehabilitation center in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“This is new for us,” said club president Gabriella Peguero. “We’ve never had to raise this much money before.”

In the past, the group has raised money on campus to help the child soldiers in Africa, selling bracelets and T-shirts and holding screenings on campus since the chapter was brought to Liberty in 2009. But with the bar set higher than ever, they have planned several changes.

“I hope to see people come and see what we do and how it can change lives,” club member Cesia Alvarenga said. Alvarenga has been involved with Invisible Children at Liberty since February, and said she is excited about raising money for the center.

The club is also employing a variety of new strategies to reach their goal in time, both on and off-campus. “We want to go on to different halls and give a short presentation, to see if people feel led to give,” Peguero said.

Additionally, Liberty’s Invisible Children chapter hopes to reach beyond the University and into the community. This will involve reaching out to local high schools, churches and businesses. The group feels particularly passionate about reaching local schools.

“Our primary goal is education and community building. We really want to instill a better mindset in our youth, and in our community, and help raise an empathetic generation,” Peguero said.

According to the Invisible Children’s website, the Lord’s Resistance Army has battled the Ugandan Government for 23 years. This war has altered the lives of the 2 million civilians who have been unwillingly caught in the middle.

“The Government of Uganda’s attempt to protect its citizens from this rebel militia has largely failed, resulting in an entire generation of youth that has never known peace,” the website states.

Today, many of these children have managed to escape the LRA. The organization’s website states that over 70 percent of these children now suffer from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Upon completion, the center will “provide psychosocial counseling, vocational skills and reunification services in partnership with Invisible Children’s Search and Rescue Teams,” according to the website.

“We want to integrate these people back into society,” Peguero said. “These kids can’t even go to school because they aren’t able to interact on a normal social level. They need this rehabilitation to get them on the path toward normalcy.”

Peguero added that students who would like to contribute to, or simply learn more about, the Invisible Children are encouraged to attend the group’s film screening on Monday, Nov. 7 at 7:45 p.m. in Towns-Alumni Auditorium.

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