Invisible Children: Uganda’s child soldiers

A former child soldier - Northern Uganda (photo: Richard Wainwright)
A former child soldier - Northern Uganda (photo: Richard Wainwright)

Yesterday was the first day of hot weather for many of us in the Northeast United States. Like everyone else in the city, I headed outside to take advantage of the sun (though I was the only person in my group truly happy about the temperature soaring above eighty degrees!).

We stumbled upon a well-organized and peaceful demonstration. Youth in their late teens and early twenties were asking for help, rescue, protection, and representation as “victims” of abduction. As it turns out, they were not seeking any assistance themselves – rather, they were speaking out on behalf of Uganda’s child soldiers. Further, they were asking passersby if they knew  of “anybody” who could help spread the word about the plight of these children. The young man we spoke with had just begun his 21st hour of demonstrating for children on the other side of the planet.

So, if you’ve got a platform, use it – right?:

In Uganda, children are regularly abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (or LRA) and forced to fight in a bloody civil war that has been raging since the 1980s.

Children in Gulu, Northern Uganda (source: Dateline)
Children in Gulu, Northern Uganda (source: Dateline)

Africa and other parts of the world have complicated and disastrous histories involving the abduction and use of children in war. It is estimated that some 10,000 + children have been forced to fight in Uganda, often placed at the front lines of individual battles.

What can you do?

1 – Learn more about child soldiers and how to help them by visiting the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. There, you can learn about the plight of child soldiers in various regions of the world – including, of course, Uganda.

2 – Once you’re informed, click here for ways to take action.

3 – Learn about survivors like Grace Akallo  , the war in Uganda, and the Invisible Children Movement here.

4 – Host an awareness-raising event in your community, on your campus, or at your local civic center. Click here to learn more.

5 – Stay tuned to this newsfeed for the latest, including ways you can help.

6 – Check out Amnesty International’s comprehensive guide to human rights concerns in Uganda.

Albinos in Tanzania face extreme danger

“I’m on the run because if I’m walking along, someone might cut off my legs. I’m really scared.” – Yusuf, a young albino man in Tanzania

Watch this video to learn about the struggle of albinos in Tanzania. Then, learn more here.

I’ve looked for things to do to help – and am drawing a blank. For example, the video informs us that it’s hard to come up with even basic needs like sunscreen. If you have an idea for getting these kinds of items there – or should you find links to organizations doing political and social action work, post the resource here as a comment. Thanks!

Inspirational Muslim – Abdou Bala Marafa, the Emir of Gobir

“As the father of the community of Gobir, when I see a girl married too early, who became fistulous? Who can’t contain her urine, who cannot live in the society, who is really marginalized. I don’t have the right to stay seated and let things continue this way. We have been ignorant for a very long time. Instead of school we marry our daughters and put them in hell. Please women, be wise, send your daughters to school…”

Abdou Bala Marafa, the Emir of Gobir (Niger)

About a week ago, I stumbled upon the story of Abdou Mala Marafa, a tribal chieftan in the African nation of Niger. I learned about his work in the midst of doing some work on those who are working to end child marriage. Sometimes it’s easy to feel that the situation is nothing but grim – but men like this particular tribal leader really do give me hope.

In Niger, child marriage has been a common occurrence. In fact, more than three quarters of Niger’s female children are wed before the age of 18. Read the horrific story of Habiba, whose early pregnancy left her physically impaired and subsequently ostracized.

The West might assume that this is all the fault of the Muslim men in communities like Habiba’s. However, in the case of Niger (and elsehwere in Africa), Islamic leaders have done phenomenal things to protect women and end their suffering.

Abdou Bala Marafa – the Emir (tribal king) of Gobir, Niger – has lead the way in protecting girls from such a fate.  

Abdou Bala Marafa, one of Niger’s most prominent Islamic leaders, has lead the way in the effort to improve the lives of women in his country. He’s pioneered efforts to educate the population about HIV/AIDS, literacy, and more.

But one of his boldest initiatives has been to protect young girls from being married too early. He’s organized the Good Conduct Brigades – a group of trained men (and women!) who travel from village to village not just to educate and organize rallies on the issue of child marriage — but also intervene in cases where a girl is in danger.

They just might be the coolest Muslims on motorcycles I’ve ever heard of.

But, above all, they’re saving lives – in a context that would otherwise look bleak.

Non-Muslims in particular might want to click here to read a Al-Azhar University’s document on the rights and protection of children. It explains how the violation of a child is clearly forbidden in Islam; and how children must be protected.

If interested, click here to learn what you can do to help.