BLOG: Making the invisible seen

Never heard of Invisible Children? President of the Invisible Children RSO at CMU, Caitlin Cheevers tells the story of the movement that's changing lives, and how to get involved with it here on campus.

There is a war going on in Central East Africa in which a rebel army is abducting children from their homes and forcing them to be child soldiers and sex slaves. It has been going on for 25 years now, and hardly anyone has heard of it.

It all began with a woman named Alice Lakwena.

Lakwena was a member of the Acholi tribe of northern Uganda. In the 1800s, the British colonized Uganda and forced the Acholi people to be laborers and soldiers, while giving jobs and education to the Bugandan tribe in the south.

The Acholi have been oppressed since then, even after Uganda achieved independence in 1962.

In 1986, Lakwena claimed to be possessed by spirits telling her to overthrow the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni. She started a movement, called the Holy Spirit Movement, with other Acholi people wishing to help her. However, this only lasted two years, ending when they were defeated by Museveni’s troops.

Then came a man named Joseph Kony.

Kony, another Acholi, did not want the fighting to end. He started another army, the Lord’s Resistance Army, to continue the battle to overthrow Museveni and put an Acholi in office. To lend his campaign some legitimacy, he claimed to be the cousin of Lakwena. When he first started, his people supported him. However, after several years without any progress, he lost the support of the Acholi.

To make up for his lost numbers, he started abducting children. He forced them to murder their parents, siblings and any other people who would tie them to their home village. This discouraged the children from escaping, because they would have nowhere to go. No place to call home.

The war started in 1986, and no one was trying to stop it. Until 2003. That’s when three young filmmakers from southern California traveled to east Africa in search of adventure. What they found was absolute horror.

They stayed with a woman named Jolly Okot, who taught them about the war. They made a documentary about the war and the “night commuters” affected by it.

Night commuters are children who are forced to walk several miles every night to the nearest town so they can avoid being abducted. Because of the lack of protection the rural areas provide, abductions are much more common in isolated areas, so the children pile into buildings and verandas to stay safe. Their only protection is one man with an AK-47.

When the filmmakers, Jason, Laren and Bobby, returned to the United States, they showed their documentary to friends and family, who wanted to help end the war. They spread the word by traveling to high schools and universities across the country, trying to help save these children. They started a nonprofit organization that shared the name of their original documentary: Invisible Children.

For the past eight years, Invisible Children has been working to bring awareness to this war, as well as fund the recovery of the war-torn region. While night commuting has ended since their first trip to Uganda, there is still much to be done to protect these children. Invisible Children works to raise funds to build schools, radio towers and rehabilitation centers as well as rescue missions to find escaped child soldiers.

Every fall, they host a 100-day competition called Schools for Schools to see which school in America can raise the most money for their sister school in northern Uganda.

The sister school for Central Michigan University is Layibi Secondary School, a boarding school educating 1,200 boys. Past fundraising has been able to refurbish and build perimeter fencing, dormitories, classrooms, a chapel and laboratories. However, latrines, more dormitories, the kitchen and dining hall still need to be refurbished, so more fundraising is extremely necessary.

Schools for Schools will continue in the fall of 2011, so contact the Central Michigan University chapter of Invisible Children at to find ways to get involved.