Students camp out to raise concern for Ugandan civil wars

Thousands rallied behind Soldier Field in Chicago, sleeping in replicated refugee-camp conditions.

Justin Horwath

;CHICAGO – Half a world away, and after 12 years of conflict, the turmoils of armed conflicts across Uganda still rage on.

And until recently in the United States, the disparaging effects of the crisis have remained out of the public eye.

But the repercussions of Uganda’s internal wars were what drew an estimated 3,500 people, including University students, to camp out behind Soldier Field in Chicago Saturday night with a plan to get more people concerned with the African nation’s situation.

Chicago’s event was one of 14 throughout the nation to support Uganda.

The attendees created what looked like a small city on the bank of Lake Michigan, bringing only reams of cardboard boxes and sleeping bags to replicate life in an Internally Displaced Persons’ Camp, where up to 1.5 million people reside under harsh conditions in Uganda, waiting for their leaders to instill order.

Jack Hirsh, a volunteer for the event’s sponsor, Invisible Children, a nonprofit organization established in 2005 that raises money for and documents children in IDP camps, said it “was really amazing that we could mobilize this many people.

“What is really incredible is that we here have more power to change their policy than they can there,” he said of Ugandans.

He said for last year’s event, 80,000 people across the nation camped out to voice concern for the “invisible children” displaced in IDP camps.

Two months later, the United States spearheaded peace talks between adversaries within the nation, he added.

Despite an Aug. 26, 2006 peace agreement, negotiations between the Ugandan government and the rebel army known as the Lord’s Resistance Army are hitting rocky points, as LRA leaders are claiming their fighters are being attacked by government troops.

Still, students want to participate in creating change.

Entrepreneurship and management first-year student Emily Lasley, along with many other participants, walked through the encampment of cardboard boxes after a number of activities, such as separating men and women and asking them to carry water and food, which were aimed at mimicking life in an IDP camp.

Lasley said she heard about the event online and through word of mouth, and came because she “wanted to raise awareness” about the issue.

“It’s important to go out of your comfort zone,” she said.

Lasley said she made the trek with the Christian Student Fellowship with nine other University students, along with students from different colleges and universities.

Georgia State University senior and Invisible Children volunteer Matt Wood also attended the event.

“Ultimately, it’s a story of hope,” he said of the program’s efforts. “The people of northern Uganda are just really hopeful, and I think that people can commit to that. That’s why it’s so comforting to see so many people out here.”