DAVIE — Four Nova Southeastern University students were moved by images of guns cocking in the hands of five-year-olds, as thousands of children ran from their homes to escape brutal soldiers.
They will share these images with the entire school, followed by a discussion, on Oct. 8.
The images are captured in Invisible Children, a 2003 documentary that explores the intolerable living conditions of North Ugandan children involved in a 20-year-war against the Ugandan government.
The young Ugandans are led by Joseph Kony of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). When citizens grew weary of the war, Kony turned to abducting children from their homes and transforming them into child soldiers; big enough to carry guns but small enough to sneak into schools and homes to kidnap or kill others.
Philipp Krömer, an NSU senior majoring in finance, said he was aware of major issues affecting Uganda, and was even working toward a trip to the impoverished country. But, he said, he did not feel the true impact of the nation’s struggle until 21-year-old Anny Debooth, an NSU senior studying marketing, shared the film with him.
“The film is very emotional, and it makes you want to do something about it!” Debooth said.
Twenty-four year old Krömer, former president of the campus’ Rotaract Club, contacted the club faculty advisor, Terrel Manyak, who was on a sabbatical teaching at Uganda Christian University.
Krömer said Manyak gave the NSU students a connection to the Rotary club in Kampala, the capital of Uganda.
According to the U.S. Department of State, the Ugandan military pushed the LRA out of northern Uganda in 2005, and now it has relocated to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Southern Sudan.
Now that many of the 1.8 million displaced victims, mostly children, are coming back to areas of Uganda disheveled by the LRA, Krömer said that aside from addressing famine and sickness in the country, the Rotary organization in Uganda has made educational opportunity a priority.
“They said they would prefer improving the classrooms because they were non-cemented, there was no concrete, the children were getting diseases from the jiggers and the termites… they said they would like to level the floors and improve the classrooms so that the students have a solid base for education,” he said.
In an effort to raise money for his trip, Krömer applied for an NSU grant. Simultaneously, Maria Espinola, a doctoral student studying clinical psychology, applied for the same grant.
Espinola, 29, also saw the movie and said she knew she had to do something.
“I see children as the most innocent people on earth; they haven’t done anything wrong and they are put in situations were their life is basically ruined, because they are forced to become child soldiers, or they are forced to be without food sometimes, or care.” Espinola said. “Philipp and I didn’t know each other, we applied for the same grant, and we both won!”
From Aug. 2nd through 21, both Krömer and Debooth went on a three-week trip to Uganda to help rebuild schools.
Since the film’s creation, Invisible Children has morphed into a non-profit organization, spreading its message through young high school and college students who use multiple campaigns to get support in various ways, including helping build schools, giving college scholarships to Ugandan students, and even teaching lessons in money saving and business development.
Espinola contacted the group named Invisible Children, learned about Krömer and Debooth’s trip, and – after returning from her trip to Argentina – received a message the organization had left stating that Sabrina Smith, a fellow NSU student, had also contacted them about helping Uganda.
“Sabrina saw the same Invisible Children, and at the same time she comes to the same person I was trying to talk to, which was Philipp!” Espinola said.
Smith, a 19-year-old senior at NSU, saw the movie in 2008, and starting becoming an active part of the cause in 2009. She participated in something that Invisible Children calls “rescues” in April. In “rescues,’’ young Americans sleep on the street to mirror what droves of Ugandan children did during “night commuting,” when they ran away and hid from the LRA rebels.
While Smith participated in the “rescue” in Miami, other “rescue’’ participants in Chicago gathered outside Harpo Studios and caught the attention of Oprah Winfrey, getting a spot on her show.
Smith says she loved the unique angle Invisible Children took so much that she reached out to them.
“I directly asked Invisible Children to come to our school and do a screening [of their movie],” she said.
“Then I started getting contacts around campus and that’s how I met Phillip and Anny.” Smith said.
Once they all found out about each other, Krömer, Debooth, Smith and Espinola joined forces and approached the dean of Student Affairs, Dr. Brad Williams about a month ago, and asked if he’d be willing to help.
Williams, who had already seen the film a year ago, said “Absolutely.’’
“From an educator’s stand point, I look at that and say this is exactly what a university experience should be about, where instead of just training for careers, which is certainly an important thing, it’s really transforming lives,” Williams said.
Four representatives from Invisible Children will fly out from California on Oct. 8 for the 6 p.m. showing of the original movie, a brief update film on Uganda’s present state, and a panel discussion where Krömer and Debooth will speak about their trip to the country.
Marshall Bang, the Florida Region Movement representative at Invisible Children, said the group’s mission is to light a fire in America’s youth about the situation.
“We’re all about empowering students to take action in whatever the cause may be, whether it be rescuing child soldiers from Uganda or feeding the homeless,’’ Bang said. “We want you to be motivated to do something in changing the world for the better.’’
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Representatives from the Invisible Children organization will lead a discussion on Uganda following the film by the same name.
WHEN: 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8.
WHERE: The performing arts theatre in the Don Taft University Center on Nova Southeastern University’s main campus, 3301 College Ave. in Davie.
CONTACT: Call Nova Southeastern University at 954-262-5385 or log onto http://www.invisiblechildren.com. To read the students’ blog, log onto http://www.nsurotaract.blogspot.com/.