By Michael Ferraresi
GCU News Bureau
Photos courtesy of Invisible Children
Papito Francis volunteers to talk about the most hellish and distressing moments of his life, helping Americans to understand the impact of war crimes in Africa.
Primarily, he and other volunteers with the San Diego-based non-profit Invisible Children want the world to know Joseph Kony, a rebel leader from his native Uganda. They want to make Kony “famous” for his alleged conscription of child soldiers, sexual enslavement of young girls, murder, torture and other war crimes of the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Francis, 21, said his father was killed by LRA troops. Still, he goes from campus to campus and conscientiously answers the same questions at each stop.
On Wednesday night, Francis and other Invisible Children volunteers met a group of about 15 GCU students at North Gym to screen the latest videos and educate students about how to assist the movement triggered by the viral "Kony 2012" videos viewed more than 100 million times on YouTube and Vimeo.
“We want to make him famous, not in the way of a rapper or actor, but to emphasize what he’s done,” Francis said. “We believe he is the worst war criminal … terrorizing four countries.”
On Friday, Invisible Children will lead an international night of activism titled “Cover the Night.” GCU students will hold a prayer vigil at 7 p.m. on the Quad in front of the Arena before fanning out in groups to post fliers and introduce people to the issue.
GCU student Jesse Villegas, a Servant Scholar and sociology major, said Invisible Children “got the fire started” in him with its gripping online documentaries. He researched the issues in Uganda and found himself helping to organize students in Phoenix.
Villegas, 24, said he tried to envision himself in the position of a child soldier or the families of people victimized by rebel forces. Invisible Children says nearly 30,000 children have been abducted by the LRA.
While Invisible Children has helped raise money to rebuild war-ravaged central African communities and foster a spirit of activism in U.S. youth, the movement also has faced criticism for its reporting of atrocities in Africa.
Some claim the group has skewed the impact of the LRA, although activists stand by the organization’s reports. Others wonder why such an emphasis has been placed on northern Uganda today in light of comparable brutality in Syria, Mexico and other international communities.
“Even with these opposing views, it doesn’t change the fact that boys are being turned into child soldiers and girls are being forced into sexual slavery,” said Villegas, who helped organize Friday’s prayer vigil.
“If I put myself in the shoes of the soldiers or families who were displaced … I’d want to know there is something being done about it,” he said.
A story published earlier this week in USA Today highlighted the “very public psychotic breakdown” of Invisible Children founder and filmmaker Jason Russell, 33, whose “naked rant on a street corner” in his hometown of San Diego fetched headlines.
Invisible Children says it has partnered with 11 schools in the northern Uganda region, is focused on rebuilding communities and helps organize civilians to prevent future LRA attacks.
Kony is Ugandan, although his LRA movement has pushed north into a region where Uganda borders the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan.
The International Criminal Court in The Hague has called for Kony’s arrest on suspicion of 33 counts of war crimes that include crimes against humanity, sexual enslavement, torture, directing attacks on civilians and the enlistment of child soldiers. An international indictment was issued in 2005, but Kony has not yet been arrested.
Other news reports have painted Kony as a false prophet who claims to be a God-like spiritual medium. Kony’s forces also are accused of cutting off children’s noses, lips and ears as a control tactic.
Nate Pavone, 19, an Invisible Children volunteer representative organizing Cover the Night efforts in metro Phoenix, said activists will focus Friday’s Cover the Night effort on coffee shops, parks and public gathering places.
Pavone said volunteers are encouraged to move in groups of about five or fewer and to act within the law. More information is available at www.invisiblechildren.com.
Contact Michael Ferraresi at 639.7030 or [email protected].