We were driving up to the front gate of the International Rescue Committee headquarters in Kitgum, northern Uganda when a girl I had never seen before ran up to our van. "Are you Melissa?" she asked. I nodded and she handed me a piece of paper with ragged edges that had been folded, very precisely in half.
I couldn't imagine who would have a note hand delivered to me in Kitgum, northern Uganda. "It's Alfred," the note began. Alfred, an intelligent, thoughtful fifteen-year-old boy, was one of the teenagers who had signed up to participate in our theater program, Voices of Uganda. I had met Alfred the day before outside of his hut in the overcrowded internally displaced persons camp where he lived with his family and approximately 14,000 others who have been displaced by the brutal then-21-year rebel war. The camp was unsanitary and dangerous. When I had been there to volunteer the year before, there had been a cholera outbreak. Alfred's father had been killed by the rebels several years earlier and when I asked him what I thought was a pretty innocuous question -- who he lived with in his hut -- he began to weep.
Through his tears, he explained that he used to live with two of his cousins but they had been captured by the rebels in the middle of the night while they all slept. He had escaped. They had not. He never saw them again and he feared they were dead. The day before, he'd told me his favorite hobby was reading and he was sad that because of the war, he was unable to go to school.
Alfred's note contained a request. In his letter, Alfred asked for a book on Mahatma Gandhi. He didn't ask for money. He didn't ask for food. He didn't ask for a plane ticket to the United States and out of his horrific living conditions. He asked for a book. Just one book so he too could learn to become "a great man of peace." Alfred closed his letter with the eloquence worthy of the man he wishes to become. "I hope my request meets with your high consideration," he wrote.
We were able to give Alfred that book on Gandhi and I have no doubt he is well on his way to being that great man of peace, I think he already was.
Back in the United States, I received another letter from Alfred informing me that his mother had died and he was now taking care of his younger siblings. He wrote, "The book on Gandhi continues to guide my life." He also wrote, "The USA is the signal for freedom and equality for all humanity and I can't imagine anything more noble than that."
I believe he is right. I also believe we are kind and good people and that when we see a wrong in the world, we try to make it right. I believe we are compassionate and generous and when we see others suffering we reach out and help. I believe that the Lord's Resistance Army's reign of terror in northern Uganda and central Africa has continued for 25 years with little help from the USA, not because we don't care, but because we didn't know. Now I know and so do you. Please help. Watch our documentary on the LRA, Staging Hope. Please call or send an email to your Senators and Congressperson and ask them to sign the LRA Strategy letter by going to: www.theresolve.org. Do it now. We can end this war. 25 years is far too long!
Melissa Fitzgerald is an actor and activist best known for playing the role of Carol on the television series, The West Wing. She has volunteered in northern Uganda twice, the second time to work with a group of teenagers on a theater program and produce the documentary, Staging Hope.