Child Slaves, Child Soldiers, World Problem… Beyond Kony

Child From Uganda

A Few Facts On Human Rights No One Should Dispute

  1. An individual who rapes, murders, tortures, terrorizes, and abducts children to use as slaves or soldiers should always be brought to justice whenever possible.
  2. A government that rapes, murders, tortures, terrorizes, and abducts children to use as slaves or soldiers should always be brought to justice whenever possible.
  3. An individual is always easier to target, particularly when governments hold something of value – whether that be resources, personal connections that allow for ICC indictments to be dropped[1. Friends for Peace in Africa], or a political agenda to use as it suits.

I remain confused just how millions of potentially misdirected people will be able to solve any of the above crises or how purchasing products and stapling posters, particularly with the added problem of creating an enormous amount of waste, will either. If you know the answer, please let me know.

Awareness is important, but it doesn’t solve much without real action based on best practices. I am not sure Invisible Children, the U.S. government, or Ugandan government know how to do that when it comes to the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

A Call to Social Justice

I have written, and will always be passionate, about social justice. I don’t believe we should ever turn a blind eye from the types of atrocities that Kony and the LRA have committed. Yet, I also stand by my opinion that the Kony 2012 campaign is rife with inconsistencies, problematic for the children that are missing and will certainly be in harm’s way if a military attack is waged[2. A War Victim’s Opinion on Invisible Children’s KONY 2012], and at the end of the day does little to aid the survivors, except small peace of mind.

I think there are some incredibly unfair accusations against Invisible Children, but there are also some very real ones. The one thing I think we can all agree on is that the discussion about good development practices is at least as important as, if not more than, raising awareness. I hate to think the youth of America are being taught that going into another country guns a blazin'[1. Invisible Children founders posing with guns: an interview with the photographer] is going to solve anything. Is this awareness campaign looking to incite sustainable peace or war?

I believe that any legitimate non-profit would be thrilled for such a successful campaign, however their concerns over direct military action is not one of sour grapes, but knowledge of the region. I would hope that when a problematic situation presents itself, we shouldn’t have to remain silent, but invite educated, respectful discussion. I for one am happy for the opportunity to engage in dialogue to make the world better, and call people to action.

Every one of the non-profits I have ever been involved with ALWAYS has a call to action.

The Complex Issues in Central and Eastern Africa

It is well past time to stop Kony and his beyond brutal tactics with the LRA, unfortunately this recent campaign from Invisible Children comes with its own set of issues, but I am grateful for the awareness that it has raised. I do want more and hope that all who have just learned about Joseph Kony and the LRA will continue to be cognizant of world issues, continue to seek out the truth.

I have my own issues with this organization – you may not – but I really want people to think critically before pushing a particular agenda.

“Bad development work is based on the idea that poor people have nothing. Something is better than nothing, right? So anything you give these poor people will be better than what they had before.” [3. Wronging Rights]

The complexities of the culture, the politics, the danger in many parts of Africa – including, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Congo, Sudan, Southern Sudan, Central African Republic (CAR) – is a big web of mess. Have you seen those trees covered in webs from millions of spiders? It looks like that. You can pull one thread, but that won’t eliminate the entire web.

What I see is, eliminating Kony by using military forces and governments who have committed (and still are) similar atrocities (and first)[2. Uganda News] smacks of hypocrisy. I see a government who stood and looked Kony in the eye, but decided to prolong the fighting to suit their own interests. I see a government, or its military, who bombed a building full of children where scheduled peace talks with the LRA were to have been.[4. The War That Isn’t What it Seems (2010)] I am not sure that I would have shown up for them either… I see a government who refused to take part in any peaceful apprehension of this monster.

And now, for the second time, we sent military advisors with technology, weapons, and resources to help them when we have provided financial and logistical resources toward his arrest since 2008 to no avail?

Why should we support a military that have been reported raping and looting their way through the DRC while supposedly hunting for Kony? Because Uganda is fighting a proxy war for us in Somalia, because it might give AFRICOM a larger foothold, or is it really because only now do we care to bring Kony to justice? It didn’t work the last time we tried to aid a direct military intervention[5. AFRICOM’s Ugandan Blunder and Obama Takes on the LRA].

In this case does the end justify the means? Perhaps, but only if the end is an end to the LRA without causing more harm than good. And only if those we are purporting to save have a voice[6. ‘Kony 2012’ Is Not a Revolution] (beyond employees of Invisible Children). Colonialism left a taste in the West’s mouth that we must always be the ones to “save” Africa from itself. How patronizing.

This movement might be better served if it were designed to empower the people most affected by the violence to be a part of the solution. This story has been about Invisible Children. That is not what is needed and will only disenfranchise the very people this campaign is purporting to “save.”

A Campaign of Awareness (Only?)

If we are confused about supporting a military effort, we may also be about the organization behind it. There are a few things that I look for when thinking about charitable organizations: one is a 4 star Charity Navigator rating with low administrative expenses (below 12%) and another is believing in the mission and principles of the organization.

“The BBB Wise Giving Alliance has tried for six years to get Invisible Children to cooperate in a charity review. Since 2006, BBB has sent 18 letters (12 via Certified Mail) to the non-profit behind the Internet phenomenon Kony 2012 video, but has received no response.”

“I don’t understand their reluctance to provide basic information. The whole point of the effort is to shine the light of truth on a terrible atrocity, and yet they seem to be reluctant to turn that light on themselves. It’s really unfortunate, because their campaign has the potential to inspire and galvanize millions of young activists and future philanthropists.”[7. H. Art Taylor, President and CEO of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance]

This is where things get interesting… because there are no easy answers here. We may be able to quip, “of course there is an easy answer, arrest Joseph Kony and justice will be served.” I truly wish it were so simple.

“The question should not be whether there is a downside to the attention social media campaigns bring to terrible problems, but rather: a downside for whom? Learning something new is always valuable for the learner. But campaigns like “Kony 2012” don’t claim to operate for the edification of the Americans they target for “awareness.” They promise that awareness is a path to solving the problems being publicized.”[8. Who Is the Hero?]

I do not believe in sitting idly by. I absolutely and passionately do not. If this film is what it takes to engage young people, then I applaud that aspect. I can’t even tell you how exciting it is that there is a real dialogue happening because of the film.

However, no matter how you slice it, and Invisible Children is fully aware of this and has said as much, a 30-minute video will not teach you all the nuances that you should know before dictating solutions for the problems in Northern Uganda and throughout Central Africa. That is when people need to start educating themselves, no matter their age.

The IC’s Director of Ideology said in a recent interview:

“But aside from that, the truth about Invisible Children is that we are not an aid organization, and we don’t intend to be. I think people think we’re over there delivering shoes or food. But we are an advocacy and awareness organization.”

“Of the 37 percent of funds that go to central Africa, I’d say about 30 percent goes toward energizing Uganda.”[9. Interview With Jedidiah Jenkins, director of ideology for Invisible Children]

I recently watched a video interview with Jason Russell at Liberty University (which, for me, is an issue in and of itself)[10.] where he proclaimed that they don’t think of themselves as a charity or a non-profit, but as a business, as a company. I have to admit that both of these are surprising, coming from an organization that solicits charitable donations.

I support raising awareness. I support giving people information they didn’t have before and encouraging them to learn more. What I don’t support is people being led to believe that their donations will go directly to stopping Joseph Kony.

I must admit that it concerns me greatly that the reasons many parents and teachers are so impressed by a mobilization of youth are (1) youth previously lacked social justice awareness, (2) they were not compelled to take action on important issues, and (3) they had either never heard of Uganda and/or could not place it on a map. I am not sure which is more disappointing.

“This film attempts to purportedly “change the conversation of our culture,” however it remains a highly sophisticated refurbishment of pro-military interventionist foreign policy propaganda, dependent on dangerous subliminal messaging.”[11.]

What I ask is that you consider what you are being told to believe, what is likely to be true, and then at the end of the day make a decision based on the best information available. If you decide that based on all the evidence, that a militarized campaign in Central and Eastern Africa is the right thing to do, then spread the word. If not, there are still plenty of ways to spread awareness and support effective change. Some won’t even cost you a dime (see below).

The problem with global politics is that nothing comes easy, if it were then there would be no need for a campaign such as this. Keep fighting the good fight, people. As was said in the film, it is an experiment in harnessing the power of social media. So do something good with your newfound knowledge!

Other Ways You Can Help

The abuse of men, women, and children across the globe has been well documented, yet when it is somewhere like Africa or a lifestyle change that causes an inconvenience, then people do not raise much protest. If one amazing thing could come from this campaign, it would be to shine a light on despicable practices by warlords, governments, and corporations.

Child Soldiers[12.] have been used all over the world, in all manners and purposes. The United States has even held children as young as 13-14 at Guantanamo Bay as “enemy combatants.” The governments which used child soldiers in armed conflict between 2004 and 2007 were Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Israel, Myanmar, Somalia, Sudan & Southern Sudan, Uganda and the Yemen. Many of these children are forced to fight, all should not be involved in armed conflicts.

The governments of Chad, Colombia, DRC, Iran, Sri Lanka and Uganda also make use of paramilitary groups that actively recruit child soldiers. Others torture children to extract information such as, Israel and the DRC. Then there are the armed militias that are often fighting against a central government or ethnic group, such as the LRA.

How to help: Urge your government to sign and ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child regarding the involvement of children in armed conflict, specifying at least 18 as the minimum age for all forms of military recruitment. Contact political leaders and ask what they are doing to stop the use of children in armed conflict whether at home or abroad. Right now, the US and Somalia are the only members of the UN to have not ratified this treaty.

Give support to organizations that provide education and support to child soldiers.

Nestlé, Cargill, and Archer Daniels Midland source cocoa from plantations that are guilty of human trafficking and slavery, primarily of children. Why are these three corporations singled out? There is proven evidence against them, although other major chocolate producers are suspected and ought not be left off the hook.

Nearly 2 million children are forced to work on cocoa farms, mostly in the Ivory Coast and Ghana, which are the source of almost 70% the world’s cocoa.[13. Tulane University Project PDF] The International Labour Organization (ILO) says, “These are either involved in hazardous work, unprotected or unfree, or have been trafficked.”

This video doesn’t even show the most egregious abuses, but this shows how ingrained the problem has become in West Africa.

The International Labour Organization estimates between 56 and 72 million African children work in agriculture in general. Some of these are the children of the farmers, but what many discover after traveling to the region is that it becomes incredibly difficult to tell, particularly because of language barriers when the children do not speak French or the local language. This means that they have no access to an education. They are not paid for their work. They have no rights at all.[14. Key Documents on Abusive Child Labor and Slavery in Cocoa]

That alone should cause uproar worldwide. Are consumers angry?

One way that large corporations get around culpability is because they use wholesalers, exporters, importers before it ever gets to the manufacturers, meaning that by the time it becomes a chocolate bar, the source has almost entirely been lost.

How to help: All it takes to change things it to vote with your purchasing power. Buy ethically produced chocolate! Do not buy from the above listed corporations and push for greater transparency from all those that do not source their chocolate from fair trade or direct trade sources. It truly is as simple as making a decision when buying chocolate.

Buy[15. Slave-Free Chocolate Sources] :


So, yes, please keep the pressure on your government to condemn all who would use children as slaves, soldiers, or laborers. This is unconscionable to anyone with a brain. Why has our political leadership not pushed for better? Why do corporations, governments, and militaries believe they are above the law? Both good questions and both I am glad I can ask and have people actually listen. For that I can certainly give credit where it is due.

So share, discuss, act with an open mind and open heart, read, learn, act on behalf of the world’s children, just do it with all the facts before you.

Links To Consider

Many IC supporters have asked in comments on critical articles, just what those writers might be doing themselves that was better than the Kony 2012 campaign because at least IC was out there trying to make a difference. I certainly can’t answer for anyone, but I know a lot of people that work hard to do something good in this world. every. single. day.

What will you do today to change the world?

Please try to follow the rule that I have so much trouble following myself, don’t read the comments. (Except here!)

A War Victim’s Opinion on Invisible Children’s KONY 2012

Joseph Kony: Brutal warlord who shocked world

Guest post: Joseph Kony is not in Uganda (and other complicated things)

Kony 2012: A View from Northern Uganda

How Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 Will Hurt – And How You Can Help – Central Africa

My thoughts on KONY 2012 (and a defense of Invisible Children?)

UNICEF Pressing to End Recruitment of Child Soldiers in Central Africa

UNICEF in emergencies: Children and armed conflict

Invisible Children, the next chapter

photo credit: Robin via flickr

And, please check out the footnotes and leave a comment.

Top Ten: children’s books for social justice

Inspiration to Help Others.

Yesterday our nation celebrated a man who’s most pertinent question while fighting oppression was, “What are you doing to help others?” I think that was directed to himself and to each of us. The refrain still lingers in the air when I see his photo and when I look at the children suffering here and abroad… It makes me wonder, just what are you doing?

I write, I speak, I persuade (sometimes), I give, I hope, I teach. Is that enough? For now it must be. I think the most important gifts we can give this up-and-coming generation is knowledge, courage, and a willingness to do the right thing in the face of adversity.

Books to Realize Their Social and Environmental Potential.

I love books and I often use them to learn and teach about something difficult as a means to begin the conversation with my children, my sweet little ones who someday must be strong, especially when others cannot. I hope that the more often we read about inspirational men, women, children, then they will know they are also inspirational. When we read about actions taken to protect and honor the world, then they too will take action. When we read about the wrongs that have been made right, they will spend their lives righting wrongs. One step at a time.

Top Ten (OK, Eleven) Children’s Books to Learn Social Justice.

  1. One Love – From the spirit of Bob Marley, this book adapted by his daughter, brings the love, joy, and movement of, ‘One love, one heart, let’s get together and feel all right!’ age: Preschool
  2. My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing Up with the REV. Dr. Martin Luther King JR – Such a moving story of a child who played childish games and told jokes. He also experienced segregation bitterly and became such an inspirational figure, but once he was just a child – like you. age: 4 & up
  3. Freedom Song: The Story of Henry “Box” Brown – The story of an ingenious escape from slavery using the music, family, and a dream of freedom that kept him going all his life. age: 4 & up
  4. Let Freedom Sing – Featuring Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., the Little Rock Nine, the Greensboro Four, and Ruby Bridges all to the tune of “This Little Light of Mine,” this book shines its light on some important figures and events in the Civil Rights Movement. age: 4 & up
  5. Blowin’ in the Wind [With CD (Audio)] – A wonderfully illustrated look at Bob Dylan’s classic song. There are many roads a person can take, but which one will he? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. age: 5 & up
  6. The Listeners (Tales of Young Americans) – Ella May gives us the story of what it might be like to live on a slave plantation. The children would listen at the master’s house, listen to see about their fates and those of their loved ones. The author has the perfect balance between giving enough information about slave life and the too harsh brutalities that kids wouldn’t be ready for. age: 6 & up
  7. Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez – Cesar Chavez is another important Civil Rights leader. He too started as just a child who saw injustice before him at seemingly every turn. But when he followed the path of a 340-mile peaceful protest march through California, he ignited a cause and improved the lives of thousands of migrant farmworkers. age: 6 & up
  8. Friend on Freedom River – A young boy left to tend the farm in his father’s absence had the courage to help a slave family on their travel on the Underground Railroad, ferrying them over the icy and dangerous Detroit River. age: 6 & up
  9. Let Them Play – The true story of The Cannon Street YMCA All-Stars, an all-black team, in 1955. All these boys wanted in the world was to be able to make it to the state’s annual Little League Tournament. No other team would play them, many withdrawing from the league because of the color of their skin. “Let Them Play” takes its name from the chant shouted by the spectators who attended the World Series final, where they were not allowed to participate. age: 7 & up
  10. The Kid’s Guide to Social Action: How to Solve the Social Problems You Choose-And Turn Creative Thinking Into Positive Action (Dream It! Do It!) – this award-winning guide includes everything kids need to make a difference in the world. This gives kids the ability to feel empowered to take action and changer their lives and the lives of others! age: 10&up
  11. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee’s classic story about the race and class issues of the time seen through the eyes of children, 8-year-old Scout Finch, her brother, Jem The children of  a lawyer, Atticus, that strived for justice for a black man on trial, but was pushed back by prejudice time and again. “Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” age: 12&up

These books are a gateway to conversation. Kids can draw their own conclusions, but it is so helpful to have a loving parent guide them along. Use them wisely!

All of these books link to a local, independent bookstore that I hope you will patronize (someday in person because Powell’s City of Books is truly something to get lost in). It has remained independent. It values used books and encourages selling your own used books online or in person. If you would prefer to use Amazon, please use my referral link.

Now tell me what else should be on this list?


**Come back for part 2 – “Top Ten Books to Connect Children to Nature.”

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Going Green for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Go Green For Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today is the day when we celebrate the life and legacy of an inspiration, a leader, a teacher, a human that makes mistakes like the rest of us, and a man that helped change the world. Some days I feel like we have so much further to go. And that’s true. Other days I can see how far we’ve come. And that’s true too.

I would love to say a belated happy birthday to Dr. King today. I would love to see his dream come completely true. I wish that we could have seen his potential through to where he wanted us all to go. (“If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” And there would be no reason to wish, just as there is nothing great that can really come from wishing except to put the fire within and pull us toward action by pen, foot, or realization.)


“In any situation, the best thing you can do is the right thing; the next best thing you can do is the wrong thing; the worst thing you can do is nothing.
  ~Theodore Roosevelt

Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others; it is the only means.
  ~Albert Einstein

All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem.
~Martin Luther King, Jr.

Which reminded me of a thought-provoking essay I read over the weekend, “Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist” by Paul Kingsnorth. It is long. I almost didn’t read it, yet it drew me in. Modern environmentalists have to fight the fires coming from all ends of the spectrum. I wouldn’t say the author is recovering from anything, he is only staying true to himself. That is admirable in this time. I only wish we had more people that realize that solutions to fossil fuels is not always simple and in fact, often causes more problems due to our consistent greed and consumerist lifestyle.

Kingsnorth offers up some beliefs I take issue with, even though I am perhaps a bit biased and a bit out of touch with the mainstream movement myself. He says, “If ‘sustainability’ is about anything, it is about carbon.” And he is saying that ultimately what is coming from the mainstream movement is this, which is eliminating the connection with nature, the realization that we are nature is lost.

“This reductive approach to the human-environmental challenge leads to an obvious conclusion: if carbon is the problem, then “zero-carbon” is the solution. Society needs to go about its business without spewing the stuff out. It needs to do this quickly, and by any means necessary.”

And then  to really throw a wrench in how I feel justice should be served, “To square the circle, for those who still realized there was a circle, we were told that “social justice and environmental justice go hand in hand”—a suggestion of such bizarre inaccuracy that it could surely only be wishful thinking.”

Oh, oh. Could it be true? Could fighting for social justice and environmental justice be an anomaly or even contradictory?

I believe that both carbon and the steadily rising population both contribute to social injustice and environmental degradation. Really, can’t we do both? I suspect Kingsnorth’s argument might say something about how the bourgeoisie are unwilling to give up anything to make that happen. We must be radical to win the fight.

Going Green for Dr. King.

Dr. King was an inspiring leader and teacher who worked to end prejudice and discrimination. He fought ignorance and irrational fears just as those working for civil rights and the environment do today. I believe he would fight for both social and environmental justice (no matter what others may decide is the history of such terms) were he still alive and that is just what I intend to do now. What about you?

Will you do something in honor of his memory today. this week, this month, this year?

Consider giving of yourselves to help nature. We are all a part of nature, we just need to remember that and stop trying to separate ourselves from it.

“During times of universal deceit telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”
~ George Orwell

 What truth will you tell?

Listen to Nina Simone tell her truth: I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free

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Clean out the fridge to save energy and money!

Refrigerators use an enormous amount of energy in a household. They never get turned off (on purpose) and use more electricity than any other single appliance consuming about a sixth of the electricity used in an average home and up to 60% of the total electricity bill. They are also not upgraded as often, or maintained as well, as other household appliances.

I wouldn’t want people to run out and buy a new refrigerator just because theirs isn’t the latest and greatest. However if you do need an upgrade, looking for the Energy Star label will not only reduce energy usage, but save you money.

I just did the Refrigerator Retirement Savings Calculator on the Energy Star website and was amazed to see that I could save half of my yearly cost of running the refrigerator by upgrading to a more energy efficient model. Not to mention the tax credits you receive when you file with TurboTax. That certainly makes me think about other ways to just maintain our refrigerator to ensure it is as efficient as can be.

My Refrigerator. Can you tell I have kids? ;)


It’s Change The World Wednesday where we explore what kind of positive impact we can make on the environment if a whole lot of people did the same “green” activity during the same time period. The challenge this week as given over at Change The World Wednesday is to minimize refrigerator’s impact by making sure they operate efficiently.

Here is what I am going to do to get my refrigerator in tip-top efficient shape!

  • Clean it. Keeping your refrigerator clean underneath, inside, the bottom front grill, and the coils can improve efficiency by as much as 30 percent.
  • Check the seal. There is some controversy whether you can test the seal by putting a piece of paper in the closed door and how easily it can be pulled out, however if the door’s seal is damaged or dirty or if the refrigerator itself isn’t level, the doors won’t seal properly.
  • Allow air to circulate. When the refrigerator gets put back into place after being cleaned from all sides, make sure that it is a few inches from the wall or cabinet so that air can circulate around the condenser coils.
  • Check the temperature. The ideal temperature for a refrigerator is between 37 and 40 degrees F and 0 to 5 degrees F for a freezer.
  • Check the contents. A full refrigerator stays cool better than an empty one. If it is too empty, you can keep water-filled containers inside. On the other side, you also don’t want it too full. Buying the right amount of food for your family will ensure food doesn’t go to waste or take up extra space in the refrigerator.
  • Keep it closed. Only opening the refrigerator when necessary and for only the time necessary to get what you need will prevent a lot of lost cold air and energy use. Those darn kids are the worst at this, so this will be a big goal for us this week!

When was the last time you did any cleaning or maintenance on your refrigerator? Who is willing to give it a try this week?