November 11, 2009

Student Aid

2009 1531 page28 caps Amanda Mitchell, a student at Collegedale Academy (CA), walked through the underground tunnels in Washington, D.C., that connect the various Senate buildings, she pictured Gloria’s face in her mind. The two girls had met several months earlier in Uganda, Africa, after Amanda and other students raised money for Invisible Children (IC), a nonprofit organization that helps Acholi children whose lives have been profoundly affected by a 20-year civil war.

Gloria is one of millions living in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps, and like many others, she suffers from HIV. Also, like many children, Gloria stopped taking her medications because they made her sick. Gloria’s face, and the faces of the people in the IDP camps, spurred Amanda to make the trip to Washington with students from all over the country whose lives were touched by stories of their counterparts in war-torn Uganda.
The students were motivated by Jesus’ words: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:40).
Student Voices
“You don’t have to have a Ph.D. to help others. Anyone can put up flyers, write letters, or make phone calls,” Amanda noted. “That’s what makes Invisible Children unique.”
“It’s like the expression ‘Give a person a fish, and they eat for a day. But teach them to fish, and they’ll eat for a lifetime.’ At the 2008 Lobby Days for Northern Uganda, we asked for $25 million to help the Acholi people get back into their homes,” said Amanda.
2009 1531 page28Other students from Collegedale also attended the Schools for Schools Summit, held in conjunction with the 2008 Lobby Days for Northern Uganda. The summit offered students various breakout sessions. During Lobby Days, students chose from among several panel sessions, and were then given training before visiting the offices of their senators and representatives. Amanda, who is not even old enough to vote, held the attention of various political officials, and had the opportunity to express her beliefs with respect to humanitarian relief for Uganda.
She recalled how she got involved with IC. “In April 2007 I was on a band trip to Orlando, Florida, and at a Friday night vespers service I watched a documentary called Invisible Children: Rough Cut. The movie showed Ugandan children who left home and went into ?hiding for fear of being abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). There are children as young as 5 years old who are being brainwashed by the rebels. They turn them into soldiers by desensitizing them. Often that is done by killing a family member in front of them, and they continue doing that until the children don’t cry anymore.”
Another student, Megan Dunbar, attended the same band trip. “I was involved with STAND for Darfur at Southern Adventist University, but after seeing the movie, I knew I had to do something to help.”
After the students got back from the band trip one of their teachers, Shelly Litchfield, arranged to show the documentary at Collegedale Academy, and invited staff from Invisible Children to speak with the students. Afterward, several students inquired about how they could get involved in IC’s Schools for Schools program, which raises money to improve Ugandan schools. The ultimate goal of this program is to educate and train Acholi children to become leaders—teaching them to fish so they can eat for a lifetime.
Organized to Serve
For the IC’s fund-raising purposes schools in the United States are divided into 10 clusters, with each cluster helping to support an educational facility in Uganda. The U.S. schools also compete to raise money. The schools with the most donations pick students to visit the African continent. Those students then have an opportunity to help make improvements at their sister school.
“We had barely three weeks left to raise money when we got started,” said Amanda. “The other schools had quite a bit more time, but we worked hard and kept watching the Web site to see where we stood.”
Katie Brown and Sarah Ruf got involved after they saw the stirring documentary. The students relied on each other’s strengths as they organized film screenings, a 24-hour walkathon, choral events, an auction, and a concert. Some made brochures while others posted them around town, finding strengths they didn’t know they possessed. Amanda, who characterized herself as shy, spoke at the film screenings, urging others to get involved.
Sarah Ruf’s efforts at identifying sponsors helped make the concert a success. These student leaders worked as a cohesive unit and called on other students whose skills were needed for particular tasks.
“The walkathon was organized by Travis Pyke, who was a senior that year. Of the $27,000 that was raised, $17,000 came from the walk,” said Amanda.
When the Schools for Schools competition ended, Collegedale Academy ranked first in their cluster and third nationwide. Travis Pyke, Amanda Mitchell, and Shelly Litchfield joined students and teachers from around the country for training in San Diego, California, and then headed for Uganda.
Cross-cultural Exchange
“When we arrived in Uganda, it was like the documentary, only it was real this time,” said Amanda. “I met children and heard their horror stories firsthand.

What Do You Think?

1. What social issue do you personally feel most drawn to support? Why that one?

2. What is the greatest barrier keeping you from greater involvement?

Is there a downside to helping others? What might it be?

True or False: "I am doing as much as the Lord requires to ease human suffering."

“My parents probably wouldn’t have let me go if they had known what we would be doing. We spent the night in an IDP camp, which was scary.”

Despite their troubles, the Acholi people were friendly. During her time in Uganda Amanda helped with the construction of Collegedale Academy’s sister school—Lacor Secondary School. That’s where Amanda and Gloria met. They connected almost instantly and continued to bond over the next two weeks. When it was time to return home, there were teary eyes all around.

The students raised money again last year for the Schools for Schools program, and chose Sarah Ruf to make the trip to Africa.
Of the Invisible Children campaign Sarah Ruf says: “What’s so unique about this is that, yeah, we’ve raised money and got fiscally united for this cause, but we got to do things such as go to D.C. and to Africa. It wasn’t just about raising money. We got to actually experience it.”
Amanda, Megan, Sarah, and Katie face issues not dealt with by previous generations. Technology has brought the world into their backyard. That creates new moral, political, social, and spiritual implications to the question: What is our responsibility to those in need?
Are the answers to these questions different if considered in light of Jesus’ statement: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matt. 25:45)? 
Brenda A. Kornblum is a freelance writer who lives in Ooltewah, Tennessee. This article appeared in the November 12, 2009 issue of the Adventist Review.