It has been five years since the premiere of the documentary that brought awareness to the horrific tragedies that have occurred in Northern Uganda. The new film from the creators of Invisible Children has been simply but aptly titled GO. Whereas the original film focused on the past and current suffering of the abused and neglected Ugandan children and urged people to react to the atrocities that were occurring, GO is specifically centered on what practical resources people can provide for Uganda, and how.
The documentary focuses on the newest program to have spawned out of the Invisible Children movement: Schools for Schools. This movement challenges students and schools around the world to spend 100 days collectively raising money to send to Uganda as aid for their war-torn educational system. After the first 100 days of the inaugural event, more than $1.6 million was raised for the Northern Ugandan education system. GO highlights this accomplishment and tells the story of several students who gave an immense amount of effort toward raising money within their school. In appreciation of their efforts, Invisible Children gave the top students the opportunity to travel to Northern Uganda and experience firsthand the lives of those they had been working so hard to help.
Communications director for Invisible Children, Carolyn Sams, describes the idea behind creating GO. “ I think in the last few years we’ve really seen that there is this growing movement of youth that really want to get involved,” she says. “That’s the focus of GO, that connection we’ve created between the two sides of the organization: the students raising awareness here in the United States or in the western world, and then the students in Northern Uganda who are affected by our program and the money we raise. So the original rough cut [of Invisible Children] was kind of from the perspective of people going to visit and first noticing what’s going on. Here in GO, these students are aware of what’s going on, but then, having the connection with the students there … it’s a role-reversal or an experience reversal, where people now know about the war and it’s a matter of continuing to keep people connected to it in a personal way.”
Regarding the school selection process in Africa, Sams says, “When we first created the idea, we decided that we wanted to evaluate all of the schools that are in the north and kind of have them apply almost, and again see if they have the need for (aid). Do they have horrible dormitories, or are they displaced, or is there really poor sanitation? Then also, we consider if the leadership within the school is competent enough to handle the changes that would be made. Some of the schools are kind of corrupt, so we thought, ‘we don’t really want to have all these kids investing in it and then lose that sort of trust with them.’ That would be devastating. So that’s how we came down to just ten schools. I think it was out of one hundred down to ten, so it was very competitive and there are still so many schools that we want to work on. We thought you know, let’s commit to these ten, and we’ll continue to grow it and develop it into the rest of the region. So there were a lot of criteria.”
The partnered schools in Africa have responded tremendously to the help from Schools for Schools. “When we had the opening of the girl’s dormitory at Gulu high about a year ago, one of the officials said, ‘This is proof that humanitarian aid actually can help us.’ They were just so inspired by how we did it and how we committed to what we said we were going to do. Some organizations say it and then they don’t follow through. It was really encouraging,” Sams says.
There have been continual accounts of students and their academic communities being completely transformed through Schools for Schools. Sams describes the specific story of Central High School, “I think what’s happened at that school over the last two years, which is still going on, is incredible. The teachers brought Schools for Schools on to the campus and everyone responded and got really excited (finishing as one of the top schools for fundraising in the country). Then last year, they didn’t participate in the competition. One of their students, one of their football players, got lupus. So they thought, hey we have the ability to come together as a community, why don’t we do this for someone within our own family here? So they chose to use that year to support him and his family, which I think was just really incredible.” This is Invisible Children’s main mission with GO, to bring schools together as communities that desire to bring about change. “ That’s what the program is about,” Sams explains. “Totally changing them. It’s not just a program that you mindlessly do, but it actually changes the way you look at the world.”
There is a definite shift between the the first Invisible Children film and GO. GO is extremely encouraging of students to push for action that is reasonable and possible. Since the first film was released in 2003, peace talks have increased between the Ugandan government and rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army. This has led to the longest period of peace in the past 23 years of Africa’s longest running war. Child abductions by the rebels have nearly come to a halt, and the need for night commuting (children leaving their villages at night to escape abduction) is fading away. The killings have decreased and there have been significant accomplishments within the Ugandan Government. But instead of focusing on past struggles and current successes, GO takes its audience a step further into the great need that still exists in the African country. The educational system must be rebuilt and students must have the opportunity to go back to their homes and back to school. 800,000 people who had been displaced by the war have returned to their homes, which is an incredible improvement and success. However, there are still more than one million people displaced in Northern Uganda. GO is a reminder that the work is not finished, and urges its audience not to forget about this tragedy.
Sams has advice for college students to bring the project to their campus. “A lot of people have a major screening, or will do a major fundraiser, and they start getting people to pay attention by having meetings,” she says. “It’s a good idea to check out what your universities’ guidelines are for starting a club, sometimes you can even get money for it, which is really helpful. Also, we have developed a new part of our schools for schools campaign this fall and continuing on into the spring, which is a book drive through a partnership with Better World Books. The really exciting thing is that college students, at the end of the semester can sell their textbooks through this partnership and the money from that will go to invisible children. The number of books they collect can help them as part of the schools for schools competition, potentially winning a ticket to Northern Uganda next semester.”
Check these links out to learn more about the organization, and how you can get involved:
–The official Invisible Children Facebook application
Invisible Children website
Schools for Schools