Rotaractors camp out for 'invisible children'
Rotaractor Alyssa Herter stands in front of Harpo Studios in Chicago with Invisible Children founders Laren Poole (left), Bobby Bailey, and Jason Russell. Photo courtesy of Alyssa Herter
Rotaractor Alyssa Herter and a fellow member of her Michigan, USA, club joined hundreds of demonstrators camping out on the streets of Chicago in May to call attention to the abduction of children in northern Uganda.
The Rescue, as the event was dubbed, was part of an international demonstration organized by Invisible Children, a nonprofit media-based group that raises awareness of children forced to become soldiers in Uganda's civil war. Demonstrators set up an encampment for six days, which culminated in an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show on 1 May.
"It was an incredible experience," says Herter, a member of the Rotaract Club of Kalamazoo and cochair of the club's international service committee. "Everyone was so passionate about this cause. We really want people to become aware of the atrocities going on with these children."
Chicago was the last stop in a 100-city, 10-country awareness campaign. In each city, participants marched by foot to a local site, set up tents and wrote letters for a political or cultural figure to come and "rescue" them by making a public statement on behalf of the child soldiers.
The Kalamazoo club, certified in March, designated Invisible Children its primary project, says Herter, who got involved in the movement three years ago after viewing the group's documentary, Invisible Children: Rough Cut , released in 2003 and widely viewed on the Internet.
Club members plan to raise awareness by holding fundraisers on the campus of Western Michigan University and in Kalamazoo and by hosting free screenings of the documentary.
"So many people are in the dark about the issues in Uganda," says Herter. "Hopefully the initiatives we take will make a difference. Anyone who sees this heartbreaking documentary will be moved to do something."
Herter hopes that her Rotaract club can help counter some of the negative stereotypes of younger generations by showing the community that young people do care about being socially responsible, she says.
"I'm so proud of how quickly our club became involved with Invisible Children," she says. "Now, being involved in Rotary's incredible network, I can imagine our club accomplishing so much more."