Saturday, March 10, 2012

Making more than Kony “visible”

Emotion. It is what has driven millions of social media consumers to care about evil people and unjust situations. It is the force that has prodded me to unravel my own knot of oscillating sentiments towards the campaign.

On one hand, I am awestruck by the momentum of the movement. The KONY2012 video uses every single propaganda/persuasion technique one of my classes has ever examined and uses them effectively, seemingly effortlessly, to address a social justice issue (well, maybe not effortlessly… they have poured thousands of dollars and dozens of minds into the infomercial’s success). From a media literacy perspective, this has been an incredible “experiment” (to use I.C’s words), and I have been genuinely amazed to see how quickly friends on nearly every continent are posting about Uganda. When I announced to people I was moving here two years ago, most people knew next to nothing of my new home. An American customer service rep, just last month, asked me to spell the country’s name… obviously hearing of it for the first time. Now, Invisible Children has succeeded at putting Uganda on the international radar. That cannot be understated.

In the Invisible Children video, Kony is portrayed as a horrific figure with evil plots and a menacing presence. I wholeheartedly support aims to capture him. I could not agree more that families should not have to live in fear. That children should not be forced to be soldiers, to kill their own families. That people should not be displaced by fighting. That international attention has been far too limited and hundreds have suffered in (media) silence. That people geographically far from justice abuses can, and should, make a difference. That social media and the unity of many voices both hold substantial power.

And yet… I have been hesitant about a full-fledged support of Kony2012 and I think I have finally figured out why: on a small level, I am hesitant about Invisible Children’s approach for many of the same reasons other critics have voice (props to Invisible Children for directly addressing many of these concerns at least). But to a greater degree, I am baffled why Kony is such a huge international villain while other, albeit less dramatic/sensational tyrants, ravage this region. Kony has not been in Uganda since 2003. His forces have been diminished to about 200.  Does he still do bad things? Of course.  Should he be stopped? YES. But there are dozens of other issues that, in my mind, need more of an immediate response:

*Malaria and AIDs claim the lives of thousands in this region each year (lives that could be saved with more affordable health care, larger-scale education campaigns, access to/education about mosquito nets, etc).
*Millions in this region face an immediate threat of starvation due to the large-scale famine in East Africa. Similarly, thousands of Somali refugees flee to Kenya to escape political instability and droughts.
*Here in Uganda, food and gas prices are wildly inflated. People regularly protest and the government has taken often excessive and violent measures to quell protesters’ anger at their inability to afford basic amenities.  Many who can afford to eat still suffer malnutrition because it is too expensive to eat balanced meals.
*Public education is limited and many cannot afford school fees (and did you know that Uganda has the 2nd highest birth rate in the world? The average woman here births 6-7 children!). That's a lot of kids to educate!
*Child Sacrifice continues in Uganda and the government has not yet taken a strong proactive stance against it (note: this is a practice where virgin children are abducted and slain by witch-doctors, their body parts sold because they are thought to bring prosperity to the buyers). 
*Each year, thousands of women in the region are subjected to female circumcision (part of numerous tribal traditions; technically outlawed but still prevalent).  
*The government is considering, yet again, a national law that would subject people who are homosexual in Uganda to the death penalty.  The death penalty!

After several days of reflection and seemingly constant mental churning of the issue, I revisit an idea I posted on facebook early on: I desperately hope that this campaign drives people to learn more about this region. If the Invisible Children film succeeds in doing that AND somehow aiding the process of catching Kony in the process, than it is a victory for the Ugandan people.

Please take the time to learn more about this part of the world. There are many people and causes that need support. Consider splitting your support between these causes! Below you can find links to some groups I respect that are doing things to help a few of these causes:

Hunger/famine: Oxfam:

World Food Programme:

Child Sacrfiice: Gideon Foundation (note: this was started by one of my students)

Disease control: UNICEF

Some interesting facts about Uganda (ex: literacy rates, HIV prevalence, etc):

A friend runs this group that uses sports to educate/reach Ugandan youth (including those in the region the I.C. movie focuses on):

Monday, March 5, 2012

My Favorite Things

*Written in honor of my decision to take my offer at UCLA*

Sushi and smoothies and berries that glisten
Walking at dusk with no fear of being bitten
Passing a cop... what no bribes have to sling?
These are a few of my favorite things

Strolling on beaches and artists that doodle
Target and malls... the whole kit and caboodle 
 Blossoms that come with the start of the spring [seasons?]
These are a few of my favorite things

Downloads in seconds and uploads in flashes
Rubbish in bins in lieu of burning stashes
Family close by and the hugs that they bring
These are a few of my favorite things

When the power cuts
When the choir sings [at 2 am?] 
When no water’s had
I simply remember LA’s offerings
And then I don't feel so bad

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Vulnerable (adj.)

Without more education, she is constrained to low-paying jobs. Without a stable job, she cannot afford the classes (which, in  turn, require time off work). Without a full-time job, she cannot pay her daughter’s school fees. She has no means to eat, to pay rent.
Her desires for a different life persist; she dreams of work as a secretary or caterer (both require certificates here). Yet the means to achieve her ambitions are limited. An impossible situation.
I am already flooded with guilt for leaving Harriet when I leave Uganda. The country, the system, me: we all leave her vulnerable. I am thrilled that I am going to be starting a PhD program that I am excited about (95% sure I’m going to accept my offer at UCLA). I am ecstatic about being closer to family and the ocean. And yet, I feel utterly helpless to aid a woman who has meant so much to me here!  

February in Pictures

At the start of February, I accompanied the grade 11 students to Fort Portal and Kibale Forest for ISU's Week Without Walls. Students conducted science experiments in the forest, participated in local service projects, learned about the Toro Kingdom, toured fair trade tea estates, etc. It was a great bonding time with students! As an added bonus, my group saw a family of chimps in the forest! 

My student leaders for the Global Issues Network organized the first (of hopefully several) fair trade coffee house at ISU. They sold fair trade products, orchestrated an evening of musical performances, displayed green artwork, shared information about causes, etc. I was VERY proud of their efforts!

Last week I toured Ethiopia during my half term break. It was a beautiful and fascinating country! It was so different than Uganda (everything from landscape to religion to language was unique). A fantastic trip!