By Celine Klosterman
While watching a film on Ugandan children who live in fear of abduction and forced enlistment in a rebel army, Jessica Crawford was blindsided.
“I had no idea this was going on. It blew my mind that these kids had to live like that,” said Crawford, whose home parish is St. Mary’s in Grinnell.
Now, five years after seeing the film “Invisible Children: Rough Cut,” she’s working to open other people’s eyes to the children’s plight as well.
A December 2010 graduate of Iowa State University, she’s spending about four months touring the Midwest to screen the latest film created by Invisible Children. The eight-year-old organization makes documentaries about war-affected youngsters in Africa and implements programs to benefit victims.
Crawford and her three teammates are among “roadies” screening the film “Tony” at high schools, universities and churches, including St. Mary’s. The documentary highlights the story of a man who grew up in northern Uganda, his journey with Invisible Children and his friendship with an employee of the non-profit who was killed in a bombing in Uganda.
Crawford, who is helping screen the documentary at 100 sites, hopes it enlightens viewers about the effects of the ongoing, 24-year war in Africa.
According to Invisible Children, the conflict stems from a woman who claimed the Holy Spirit ordered her to overthrow the Ugandan government for being unjust to the Acholi people. In 1987 Joseph Kony transformed her rebel army into the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which has reportedly committed widespread human rights violations including abducting children and forcing them to fight as soldiers.
In recent years, the LRA also has been active in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic and southern Sudan.
But Crawford said Invisible Children believes it can help end the violence. The organization is working with Catholics in the Congo to set up radio towers so villagers can warn each other in remote, jungle areas where the LRA is operating. The non-profit’s newest efforts also include setting up a rehabilitation center to help former soldiers return to community life.
Invisible Children’s work in Africa inspired Crawford to get involved with the organization as an international studies and child and family services major at Iowa State. She invited roadies to the campus to screen films and started a club in affiliation with Invisible Children’s Schools for Schools program, which raises funds to rebuild schools in Uganda.
“The thing that truly amazes me about Invisible Children is the young adults helping the children of Africa,” said Sherry Osborne, a member of St. Mary’s Social Action Committee. People in their 20s started the organization, spread the word through film screenings and make up much of the audience at those screenings, she said. “The difference that these 20-somethings have made in the past eight years is truly amazing.”
Osborne, who coordinated Invisible Children’s visit to Grinnell, said the Social Action Committee has always felt the need to help at the parish, community, state and international level. The tragedy in Africa “is happening here and now and we can do something about it.”
Invisible Children’s 45-minute documentary “Tony” will be shown Sunday, April 3, at 6:30 p.m. at the Harris Center at Grinnell College, 1114 10th Ave., Grinnell. St. Mary Parish and the Grinnell College Social Justice Group are co-sponsoring the free screening, which is open to the public. A question-and-answer period will follow, and Ugandan-made merchandise will be for sale. To view a trailer for the film, visit www.invisiblechildren.com/videos.