Three student groups converged Tuesday night to showcase a new documentary by Invisible Children at the 3M Auditorium in Owens Science Hall. Representatives from the non-profit organization, who came to St. Thomas as part of a national tour, presented videos that expose the appalling treatment of children in northern Uganda and document the work young adults across the world have put toward stopping it.
“Together We are Free,” which consists of footage from an international awareness campaign called “The Rescue,” highlights protests in 100 international cities that took place last spring. During one night in each city, thousands gathered together in solidarity with the Ugandan children who were unwillingly taken from their homes to fight in the rebel army.
“[Invisible Children] is so important because I think it’s unfair that these kids are so young and they’re being taken from their homes to fight a war that shouldn’t involve them,” freshman Channing James said. “It shouldn’t involve 10-year-olds and 8-year-olds.”
The showing was the first event put on by Students Taking Action Now in Darfur (STAND), St. Thomas’ Invisible Children chapter and Students for Justice and Peace (SJP). The three groups, who have worked separately in years past and on individual budgets, plan to combine forces this fall under one name – the Student Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ).
“It helps when you have a diversity of people,” said junior Erin O’Flaherty, the St. Thomas representative for Invisible Children. “Everyone’s own ideas and thoughts help so much.”
Last year, the Invisible Children group on campus hosted two events, neither of which brought in big crowds. O’Flaherty said on the group’s best day, 20 students at most came to check out the program. She hopes that SCSJ can help spread the word more effectively.
About 40 students came to Tuesday’s showing, and most stuck around to donate money, buy shirts and sign petitions.
Although some attendees were new to Invisible Children, others have been involved since they were in high school. One of those students, junior Maggie Meyer, was turned on to the organization by a friend who told their lacrosse team about it. Meyer later attended the St. Paul “Rescue” event last April.
“I’m not as involved as [some of the other volunteers] are, but it’s very cool to be around people that are that involved,” Meyer said. “It’s kind of an infectious energy around this organization.”
Invisible Children, which began in 2003 after three filmmakers saw the inhumanity in Uganda brought on by Africa’s longest war, has made many stops at college campuses over the years with the hope of building student awareness and support.
“Our goal is to really get kids involved and to affect life change,” said Paul Parent, an Invisible Children roadie who started volunteering after seeing a similar presentation. “I’m here today because kids came and showed up at my screening. My life changed because of that.”
After the film showing, Parent and another roadie held a question-and-answer forum, sold merchandise and encouraged students to sign a petition. The petition asks President Obama to lead an international effort to arrest rebel army leader Joseph Kony, end the violence in Uganda that has now spread to surrounding countries and help rebuild the war-torn area.
“I think it’s so important because … they’re children and younger people who would never be able to raise themselves from this situation on their own,” Meyer said. “The only ones that can stop them from having this continued terror in their lives are people like us that are able to take the time out of our own lives.”
More than two-thirds of the proceeds from DVD, clothing and book sales at the event went toward the Invisible Children’s mission. The rest of the money helps cover overhead costs of events like “The Rescue” and campus tours.
SCSJ plans to bring more events like the Invisible Children presentation to campus this fall, all of which are aimed at building students’ awareness of social injustice. According to O’Flaherty, once those students have the information, they can start to make a difference.
“Without the knowledge, nothing will change,” she said. “Once students get the knowledge, they can help change things.”
Undergraduate Student Government is currently reviewing SCSJ’s application to be an on-campus club. O’Flaherty expects the group to receive approval in October.
Grant Goerke can be reached at email@example.com