Last week, I joined the international masses demanding for Joseph Kony's arrest, sparked by a 30-minute documentary entitled Kony 2012. The online video produced by the nonprofit, Invisible Children, calls for the capture of the indicted Ugandan war criminal and starts a movement to "make him famous" in 2012. When the Invisible Children team uploaded the short film to YouTube and Vimeo, they dreamed for 500,000 views worldwide by 2013. Four days later, Kony 2012 broke records becoming the fastest viral internet video of all time, garnering 53 million views.
If you are one of the surprising few who hasn't seen it, you should take some time and view it here. The film is shot and narrated from the perspective of Jason Russell. He traveled to Uganda 10 years ago and learned about the unspeakable atrocities of Kony and his violent rebel regime, the LRA. There, he met Jacob, a young boy who had been victimized by the war criminal and witnessed his brother's violent death by LRA rebels.
Russell juxtaposes footage of Jacob with that of his own young son, allowing viewers see how Ugandan children's innocence is lost when they are kidnapped by the LRA. Nearly 30,000 children have been captured by the LRA, turning the girls into sex slaves and boys into child soldiers.
A poignant moment in the video is when the broken down Jacob tells Russell how he wished to "leave this earth" to escape the horrors of his life and reunite with his slain brother. Russell vows that he will "do everything [he] can to stop the Kony and his LRA regime." For the last nine years, Russell traveled the US, engaging young people through Jacob's story to advocate for Kony's capture. Kony continues to top the International Criminal Court's Most Wanted List for the "perversity of his crimes."
Russell's willingness to form Invisible Children and dedicate his life to raising social awareness of the Ugandan conflict reminds me of another inspiring individual we recently featured in our weekly DoGooder Spotlight at TheDoGooder.com.
Former Washington Congresswoman, Linda Smith, was serving her first term in the United States House of Representatives when she received a call that changed her life. It was from a man who worked with young children on the streets of Mumbai, India. He told her of horrible atrocities and revealed that the children's mothers were forced into prostitution as teenagers.
Smith made arrangements to visit India immediately. Around midnight on her first night, she witnessed rows of young girls, some as young as 11 years-old, held in prostitution. After witnessing such a monstrosity firsthand, Smith knew she had to organize an effort in Mumbai to fund a shelter for the girls to find refuge. In 1998, Smith founded Shared Hope International to rescue and restore women and children in crisis.
A year later, Smith spearheaded the opening of Shared Hope International's first Village of Hope, which included six safe houses. Since many of the girls forced into prostitution in India are from Nepal, the nonprofit soon built a 72-acre, village-style development. The development is comprised of several homes, an educational facility and a vocational school in the mountains of Nepal.
The rescued girls were sometimes sold into sex slavery by their parents or were convinced, under false pretenses, to escape their immense poverty with the lie of factory work or college study. Shared Hope International decided to open its Village of Hope in Nepal so girls trafficked to India could return home and start a new life.
The cause became so central to Smith that she left her career in politics to focus on the sex trafficking problem full time. She utilized her political clout to generate awareness and reached out to former campaign donors to gain their support for these young women. She eventually generated enough funds to open homes outside of Amsterdam, Jamaica, South Africa and The Dominican Republic. With the help the US State Department, Smith organized the first world summit on sex trafficking. The summit aimed to devise practical solutions to the problems of sex tourism and trafficking.
Both Russell and Smith's stories teach me the valuable real-life lesson: If you see injustice, don't ignore it. Russell could of easily returned to his comfortable life in the US after traveling, and Smith could of returned to her celebrated career as a United States Congresswoman. However, they both stumbled across a huge injustice and committed their lives to fixing it.
Although both examples are centered on incredulous and inhumane circumstances, the commitment both Russell and Smith share are valuable lessons to all of us in our daily lives. If you see a problem in the world or even in your personal life, it is important to address it head on. Too often, people choose to look the other way to live in denial about a problem with the hope it will magically disappear. However, what "one resists usually persists" and most often grows bigger the more you ignore it.
In life, there is no such thing as happenstance. If life reveals a problem to you, it is your duty to confront it head on. If you don't, the problem will expand beyond any barrier you have built to ignore it. If you do address it, you will be more empowered as an architect of change in your own life or, in Russell and Smith's case, the lives of thousands.