Tuesday, April 5, 2011

My 'Full Circle' Story

When I was 16 or 17 I watched the Invisible Children Rough Cut documentary in my living room. Three times. The people in the film, the disheartening stats and the call for help rode my train of thought off its tracks for days. This issue seemed SO BIG and I felt so small. What did I know about civil war in Africa or the ICC or when and how is the appropriate way for Americans to intervene?
This documentary was my 'aha!' moment. My identity as an activist grew from there, and now I don't feel so small at all. Now I can confidently discuss the issues I got tangled in as a high-schooler and I can voice my opinion on how to solve these problems.
The atrocities of the LRA and our responsibility to stop them has remained a cause that is near and dear to my heart, though now it sits among (and admittedly sometimes takes the back seat to) many other worthwhile investments including my feminist lifestyle and my work to improve third-world living conditions in a more efficient manner through UNICEF.
When I wanted to volunteer abroad I chose Uganda because the terrorism there is the source of my identity as a person with purpose, a person with something to contribute. The LRA had fled Uganda long before I visited, but I had promised myself that I would see this place in the films and I made it happen. My experience in Uganda has changed my life forever, especially considering the amazing, resilient, courageous people I lived and worked with.
Tonight Invisible Children Columbus held a documentary screening and hosted "the Roadies," a group of interns who give up months of their lives to advocate for LRA victims. I knew that in previous tours the roadies brought spokespeople who were straight out of the LRA-affected areas, but I didn't expect one this time around.
It was such a pleasant surprise to find that we did have a visitor from Northern Uganda, and her name was Fiona. If you remember from earlier in my blog, Fiona was also the name of a girl I met in Uganda. She lived at the house where I learned to cook traditionally (outside) and fetch water. Today's Fiona was just as vibrant and beautiful and intelligent, but she had a different story. Growing up in Northern Uganda instead of Kampala (where I stayed) put her in the middle of the Ugandan civil war. She lost her parents so her uncle took her in. Her uncle was then adbucted by the LRA and Invisible Children is putting her through university where she studies public policy.
I knew I wanted to try my (very rusty) Luganda on her and when I told her "webale" (thank you) her eyes lit up. They lit up the way people's eyes get because they're surprised, but then the shape of their eyebrows kind of makes them look sad, if that makes sense. She said "Where did you learn that?!" and I told her briefly about my time in Uganda. We talked, took pictures and hugged goodbye. Our marketing efforts generated a much, much better turnout than I had anticipated, and everyone who came out was so generous at the merch booth as well.
When I step back and look at my initial reaction to the video and how motivated I was to do something about it, and seeing today's tangible results of that motivation (with the support of other like-minded peers, of course) I realize that things really came full circle. I never would have believed when I was 17 that 4 years later I'd be making a difference and making a connection with a Ugandan by speaking a tiny bit of Luganda with her.
I guess what i'm trying to say is that no matter how big or complicated your purpose or problem is, you can absolutely be a part of the solution. It won't be convenient or comfortable or given to you as a set of instructions, but it will be totally worthwhile once you step back and recognize how far you've come.