A year ago last week, we sat talking to Jolly Okot, the Ugandan country director of Invisible Children and the woman who convinced Invisible Children’s founders to make their original film about the war and suffering of northern Uganda.
The three of us were settled around a table in a restaurant-bar in Gulu, Uganda. Jolly bought a round of pineapple Fanta and updated us on Invisible Children’s current programs in Gulu and other nearby districts, which were ravaged by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) from 1989 to 2007. Jolly is warm, brusque, and full of energy, but you probably already know that: you’ve seen her in Invisible Children’s most recent video, which has 76,000,000 hits and rising: KONY2012.
You’ve probably also heard about the controversy surrounding Invisible Children: the low percentage of its budget that is actually spent on direct services, the high percentage spent on staff salaries and film production, its support of the Ugandan military. We’re not going to take a stance on these issues. What we can tell you is this: Invisible Children’s programs in northern Uganda primarily consist of educational support and scholarships for individual students. It’s important work! But Invisible Children is very well funded in comparison to local, Ugandan non-profit organizations working in the region.
Northern Uganda’s road to recovery is extraordinarily complex. But these local organizations are successfully rehabilitating former LRA child soldiers and sex slaves, providing academic and vocational education, and rebuilding communities fragmented by murder and disease.
Watch KONY2012, if you’re one of the few who hasn’t yet. Let us know if you want to talk about it. Realize how much northern Uganda has been through. If, like other friends and family who have spoken to us, you want to help but aren’t sure what you think of Invisible Children, consider supporting one of these local Ugandan programs.
PADER GIRLS ACADEMY
The Issue: Young girls captured by the LRA served as sex slaves and war trophies, given by Kony to his boy soldiers as prizes for successful raids and killings. After years of slavery and rape, girls returned from rebel captivity with young children conceived in rape. Many are HIV-positive. Without education, vocational skills, or the support of their communities, they cannot earn a living for themselves or their children.
Pader Girls’ Academy provides a high school education or vocational training to child mothers and other formerly abducted young women. They have a daycare system for students’ children and holistic programming that addresses the challenges that many of these students face (stigma as former LRA “wives,” HIV/AIDS, trauma from violence and slavery). We like Pader Girls’ smart attitude about their vocational programs (researching the job market and teaching desired trades, arranging apprenticeships, and networking for their graduates). Graduates from their secondary school have done astonishingly well, and Pader Girls’ pays for post-secondary schooling (such as teacher’s college or nursing school) if the students commit to working in the needy Pader area for two years after they finish college. The Ugandan men and women who work and teach at Pader Girls’ are wonderful, dedicated individuals who could accomplish even more if they had more financial support and decent facilities (classes are often limited simply by the shortage of chairs, for example). Read more here or donate here.
The Issue: Over a decade of war and mass displacement broke down the family and social structure of northern Uganda’s villages. Violence became the norm, and gender-based violence and abuse are pervasive problems today. Villages must re-build their economies from scratch; for years, much of the population lived in internally displaced persons camps and survived off food aid.
WORUDET (Women and Rural Development Network) has an excellent grassroots reach that allows them foster economic development and fight against violence and abuse in “off the grid” villages. They are so, so committed to their programs; WORUDET is getting absolutely incredible mileage out of its staff and program structures. They also have a strong system for identifying beneficiaries and areas of greatest need. Some examples of their programming: gender equality advocacy and educational campaigns; community dialogues, couples’ trainings, and school debates to fight against gender-based violence; and, a sophisticated system of lending circles and sustainable group income-generating projects. We cannot speak highly enough of the Ugandan men and women of WORUDET and the difference they are making with the limited funds they have. If you want to know more about WORUDET or support them financially, email firstname.lastname@example.org. (They’re a small, local organization with no online presence.)
The Issue: Conflict and mass displacement kept northern Uganda isolated from a rapidly globalizing world for twenty years. A generation of northern Ugandans were deprived by war of a basic education and of an opportunity to prepare for a future in the twenty-first century.
BOSCO (Battery Operated Systems for Community Outreach) Uganda takes a brave, innovative approach. BOSCO provides education and job training and fosters sustainable economic progress through a network of weatherproof, community-shared computer stations. A diversity of educational programs are available to community members through BOSCO stations, including math games that the kids absolutely love and a full grade level curricula for those who lost their schooling years to war. We love their clear and thorough ICT curriculum. BOSCO has had great success providing ICT training to youth, who help staff the stations and train others but also gain an invaluable, marketable skill set. BOSCO Uganda has a great, motivated staff, most comprised of bright young people. Learn more here or donate (online or by check) here.
Credentials: Why do we have these opinions, and should you trust us? Good question. The two of us work with a non-governmental organization called Global Grassroots, which supports social entrepreneurship in Rwanda. Our organization is currently expanding its work into northern Uganda, and a year ago we took an extensive trip to the region. We met with dozens of Ugandan groups and individuals, talked with the staff of dozens of organizations, and visited project sites. We wanted to fully comprehend the economic and social situation of post-conflict northern Uganda, to search for a potential partner organization, and to understand the programs and successes of other organizations working to foster recovery and participatory development. In other words – we learned a whole lot.
Global Grassroots will soon launch its own programs in Pader District, northern Uganda. We will partner with WORUDET to offer mind-body trauma healing, social venture development skills, leadership training, personal transformation practices, seed grants and high-engagement support to help disadvantaged women initiate their own civil society organizations – their own non-profits to serve vulnerable women and girls. If you’re interested in learning more about Global Grassroots’ expansion, email email@example.com. You can also donate to Global Grassroots here.