Silent vigil gives a voice to child soldiers |

Silent vigil gives a voice to child soldiers

Heather McGregor
Post Independent Editor
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent

At least 50 students at Glenwood Springs High School will join in a 25-hour vigil of silence to raise awareness for Invisible Children, an international organization working to help African children who have been conscripted into the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army.

The vigil will run from 7 p.m. Sunday to 8 p.m. Monday.

“The idea is to speak up without speaking,” said Casey Hynes, a junior who is leading a local chapter of Invisible Children. “We are staying silent for these other children who have no voice. We want to show people at our school what has happened.”

More than 30,000 people worldwide have already signed up for the vigil of silence. Students who want to participate can sign up in the school cafeteria at lunchtime today or Friday.

“We’re going to wear big red duct tape X’s on our shirts,” said Connor McRaith, a junior.

Participating students will carry a card explaining their silence and the cause behind it that they can hand to anyone who wants to talk with them.

They will be protesting the action of African rebel leader Joseph Kony, who has been abducting children from villages in Uganda, and now Congo, for the past 25 years. Kony brainwashes the youngsters and forces them to fight and kill as part of his Lord’s Resistance Army.

The Invisible Children protest started in 2003, when three young filmmakers from California visited Uganda and discovered the story of the child soldiers conscripted into the rebel army. Their documentary, “Invisible Children: Rough Cut,” exposes the tragic realities of northern Uganda’s child soldiers and the “night commuters,” the children who walk from their villages into larger towns and cities to sleep each night to avoid being abducted.

In recent years, Invisible Children has been sending teams of American and African youth out to show the film to students and community groups across the United States. A team of “roadies,” as they call themselves, visited Glenwood Springs High School in February, and a group of students decided to form a local chapter.

The local students are participating in the 25 hours of silence event, and are raising money to send to the international organization by hosting a special valley-wide fundraising event in Carbondale on May 7. They will present the documentary film and hold a silent auction of donated goods and services.

Hynes said the fundraising will help pay for three key projects: building radio towers in remote Ugandan and Congolese villages, developing search and rescue teams that will look for child soldiers who escape from the rebel army and are lost in the bush, and building and operating rehabilitation centers for escaped child soldiers.

Each project is tied to a clear need, the students said.

Congolese villages being preyed upon by the Lord’s Resistance Army have no communication with larger cities. In at least one case, an entire village was massacred, Hynes said, and the outside world did not discover it for three months. Building radio towers and installing communication systems will help villagers know what is happening nearby and, if necessary, call for help.

Erica Arensman, a sophomore working on the project, said the other projects are aimed at helping the youth who manage to escape from the rebel army. The search teams will be out looking for escaped child soldiers, who will be far from home in unfamiliar, wild territory.

When teams find a youth, they will get word back to his village that he has been found, but first take him to a rehabilitation center before returning him home.

“They’ve been brainwashed, and they’re not ready to go back to their community. The rehab centers will help them make that transition,” Arensman said.

Invisible Children is also working to build schools, and the Glenwood Springs students hope to take on a larger fundraising project in the fall to make a substantial contribution to that effort.

Meanwhile, the students are still collecting items to place in the silent auction on May 7. To donate something, contact Casey Hynes at (913) 575-1594.

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