Story of Ugandan child soldiers makes impression on Portland students

Dawit Alemayehu, who is originally from Ethiopia, talks to eighth graders at Portland's Lyman Moore Middle School Friday about atrocities inflicted upon African families and their children by rebel warlord Joseph Kony. Alemayehu was visiting with the organization "Invisible Children," which works to improve conditions in the countries affected by Kony's attacks.
Dawit Alemayehu, who is originally from Ethiopia, talks to eighth graders at Portland's Lyman Moore Middle School Friday about atrocities inflicted upon African families and their children by rebel warlord Joseph Kony. Alemayehu was visiting with the organization "Invisible Children," which works to improve conditions in the countries affected by Kony's attacks.
Posted Sept. 23, 2011, at 8:03 p.m.
Grace Nimaro, from northern Uganda, stands by a display table at Portland's Lyman Moore Middle School where pictures, maps and other information is set out about the path of rebel warlord Joseph Kony, who has been kidnapping African children and forcing them to fight in his army for more than two decades. Nimaro visited the school with the organization "Invisible Children" Friday to help rally support for the group's mission of improving conditions in the countries affected by Kony's attacks.
Grace Nimaro, from northern Uganda, stands by a display table at Portland's Lyman Moore Middle School where pictures, maps and other information is set out about the path of rebel warlord Joseph Kony, who has been kidnapping African children and forcing them to fight in his army for more than two decades. Nimaro visited the school with the organization "Invisible Children" Friday to help rally support for the group's mission of improving conditions in the countries affected by Kony's attacks.

PORTLAND, Maine — Students at Lyman Moore Middle School in Portland on Friday heard stories about atrocities being committed in Africa that, for many of them, hit close to home, school leaders said.

A traveling team from the organization “ Invisible Children” visited the school to show the students a documentary about conditions in Uganda and neighboring countries, where guerrilla warlord Joseph Kony has been on a nearly three-decade rampage, kidnapping children and forcing them to join his rebel army.

The “ Invisible Children” team told the Portland middle-schoolers how they could join the organization’s fundraising efforts and work toward improving conditions in the countries affected by Kony’s attacks, by funding new radio towers to keep rural villagers alert to Kony’s movements, or by sponsoring educational programs to keep the vulnerable African children in schools and resistant to the warlord’s influences.

“As we speak, children your age are being forced to do unspeakable things,” Dawit Alemayehu, a native Ethiopian traveling with the “Invisible Children” team told an auditorium full of eighth-graders Friday.

The presentation team was invited by sixth-grade teacher David Hilton, whose local “Invisible Children” Club first was addressed by representatives of the larger organization five years ago and has kept up cultural awareness and fundraising activities ever since. The traveling organization “roadies,” as they call themselves, offered presentations to groups from all grades during the day Friday and made themselves further available to meet with interested students during schedule breaks and after school.

Hilton said the “Invisible Children” team was slated to follow up its Portland visit with a Friday evening presentation to students in Kennebunk.

For the Lyman Moore students Friday, presenters said, the message hits home in part because of the similarities in age between the Portland kids in the audience and the children being kidnapped overseas.

Kony “targets kids who are between the ages of 8 and 13, so they’re young enough to brainwash, but old enough to carry guns,” Cassidy Myers, a roadie traveling with the “Invisible Children” team, told the Bangor Daily News. “The kids become both victims and weapons. They’re forced to kill their parents and mutilate family members.”

In the documentary shown to students Friday, “Invisible Children” co-founder Laren Poole called Kony’s reign of terror in the region the “most neglected humanitarian crisis of the 21st century.”

“The media doesn’t cover everything and there are bad things happening out there [that don’t receive much publicity],” Lyman Moore Principal Stephen Rogers said Friday. “We need to be aware and respectful, because we have some kids who have been through situations like this. This isn’t that far away.”

Hilton said the school has a strong population of students who have come to America from the Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Sudan, where Kony or similarly violent instigators have been running rampant for years.

Grace Nimaro is from northern Uganda and is traveling with the “Invisible Children” team in the northeast United States. Nimaro said members of Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army came into her town late one night and took her cousin, presumably to force him to join their ranks.

“I have no knowledge of what became of him,” she told the students Friday. “I and my family lived in fear.”

Nimaro said ultimately her family sent her to live in the nearest city center, where many children from outlying areas were clustered in unsanitary living conditions to keep them away from the reach of Kony’s militias, which strike from hideouts in the region’s jungles.

The story of Nimaro, and others being helped by “Invisible Children” is a powerful call to action for middle school-aged students, Hilton said.

“Middle-schoolers want to be inspired,” Hilton said. “They have that fire in them, and they’re looking for ways to express that.”

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