In 2006, I had the opportunity to go to war-torn northern Uganda with International Medical Corps, joining a field team working with malnourished children and their mothers in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camps. Before I left, I did a tremendous amount of research. I felt prepared. But nothing could have prepared me for what I saw when I arrived in the camps. They were overcrowded, unsanitary and dangerous, with little access to clean water, food, or electricity. I am sure many of the people I met and worked with that summer are no longer living.
Just as nothing could have prepared me for the horrors I saw in the camps, nothing could have prepared me for the beauty of the people: kind, generous, resilient, strong and quick to share what little they had with me. These are people who have suffered horrors I can't even imagine. Everyone I met that summer lost at least one family member to the war. And yet, in spite of all they had lost and all the horrors they have had to endure, they still have hope; hope for themselves, hope for their families, hope for their people. Their ability to experience joy in the face of so much devastation was humbling.
The mostly Ugandan field team welcomed me with open arms, especially a wonderful woman, Josephine.
She was kind and patient despite what fate has dealt her. Her father died of malaria; her sister and brother-in-law were killed by the Lords Resistance Army (LRA), leaving three sons whom Josephine cared for. Her brother was abducted twice by the LRA. Both times they captured him for over a year before he was able to escape. The second time he escaped he was so abused and malnourished when he got home he almost died. He is unable to work or do really anything, so in to addition for caring for her sister's three sons, she also cared for her brother.
Josephine and I worked side by side everyday for several weeks. We were the same age and although the circumstances of our lives were completely different, the things we hoped for in life were the same. The difference between us was that I had the good fortune to have been born in the United States and Josephine was born in northern Uganda, her life torn apart by war.
As we were leaving one of the camps, a man said to us, "Please don't let us die in this horrible place. Please tell the people in America what is happening here." I promised myself I would.
When I returned from my trip his voice and the voices of the others I left behind did not leave me. I shared my experience with my friends, family and anyone who would listen, without exception. Everyone expressed a desire to do something to help. We wanted the world to know what was going on and became determined to find a way to make this happen.
So in 2007, I went back to northern Uganda; this time with my friend and producing partner, Katy Fox and a small group of actors, writers, and filmmakers to work with 14 teenagers living in an IDP Camp on a theater program and documentary. The teens had all experienced war firsthand, each one had lost at least one immediate family member, and all had been forced from their homes and rounded up to live in an IDP camp for many years. Almost half of them had been abducted by the rebel army and forced to be soldiers and sex slaves. They escaped and survived.
We collaborated with the teens to turn their personal stories into dramatic plays about peace building, reconciliation and HIV/AIDS. Through these plays, they were able to educate their community about their experiences and show that reconciliation and forgiveness are possible. These are truly stories of hope that gave the teens the opportunity to share their voices and stories with over a thousand of their friends and neighbors in their IDP camp. And their voices were heard!
We returned home with documentary film footage from the program, dramatic monologues based on interviews with war-affected northern Ugandans, and a strong commitment to help resolve the desperate situation facing its people.
While working to complete the feature length documentary, we have participated in advocacy events, rallies, civic presentations, walk-a-thons, lobbying activities on Capitol Hill and meetings with Senators and members of Congress to help bring their attention to this crisis. We use a combination of public speaking, film screenings of the documentary footage, live dramatic performances, and opportunities for audiences to take action.
In order to continue our work and complete the film, we need your support. From the start Voices of Uganda has been a community project. In addition to our work in the United States, the teens we worked with in Uganda expressed a desire to teach other children what they had learned during our theater program and to tour their plays to other camps. We have been providing the funding for them to do that. We have raised the money by having numerous fundraisers, big and small, and from individual contributions, big and small. We are so close to completing the documentary, please give what you can to help us get there. We welcome donations of any amount.
United Nations Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland called the conflict in northern Uganda "the biggest forgotten neglected humanitarian crisis in the world today." Please help us ensure that it is no longer forgotten and neglected.