Wednesday, March 14, 2012

KONY 2012-A Response

If you are on Facebook (or if you are on any social media), you know there some buzz about KONY 2012.   Maybe you've taken the time to click on some links but you didn't really read the whole story.  Or maybe you just ignored it because you didn't have time and didn't really care what it was about.  I've actually kind of been ignoring it for the last few days.  I finally had a bit of time to sit down and listen.  

It's compelling in that the idea is simple:  use social media as a way to force change in places where justice is hard to come by.  It's saying that if we are assertive enough, aggressive enough, creative enough, we can create narratives that will cause people to demand social change specifically in the area of foreign affairs.  

The general jist is this:  Joseph Kony is a brutal guy, a guy who has turned Uganda's civil strife into an opportunity to grab power by raping, murdering, and kidnapping tens of thousands of people.  The video specifically focuses on the children in Uganda who are turned into soldiers to do Kony's bidding.   Kids exist in a crazy survival mode where killing is normal and where there seems to be little hope.  By documenting these "invisible children", the campaign hopes to raise awareness of Kony's atrocities and to demand that he be stopped.

Let me be clear when I say I am generally all for anything that gets people to live outside of their own little worlds.   I really can't say that the Kony campaign is right or wrong.   And I certainly can't speak to the concerns that have been raised about the financial transparency and accountability of the campaign.  

What I can speak to is this:  the filmmaker is right that where you live should not determine whether you live or die.  And Kony is just the tip of the iceberg.   From Liberia to the Sudan to the sex trade in Asia to the drug cartels in Central America from the religious zealots declaring a holy war on all things Western, people all over the world exploit others and are very good at exploiting children.  And we as Americans are very good at ignoring it. We are very good at making people invisible.  At pretending we don't see.  At pretending we can't possibly affect change so why try.  At pretending that if we don't read or look or pay attention, that then we are perhaps not culpable in the tragedies that happen to others.

I really liked the words from the Give Well blog.  "Joseph Kony has committed atrocities that make me furious. But malaria makes me angrier. Why? Because malaria deaths really do happen just because Americans don’t care enough."    Malaria is just one of many killers like this.  HIV.  Cholera.  TB.  All preventable, able to be essentially eradicated or managed, yet still here.

A few facts:

20% of all childhood deaths in Africa are from malaria.  

Every 30 seconds, a child dies from malaria.

1 million people die each year because of malaria.

4, 700 people die each day from TB.

The incidents of TB are essentially isolated with 80% of all TB cases worldwide occurring in just 22 countries.

1.8 million people die each year from HIV/AIDS.

HIV is very treatable but only 47% of people worldwide who are eligible for treatment are actually receiving treatment.

Over 100, 000 people die each year from cholera which is basically an issue of clean water and sanitation.

(All stats from the World Heath Organization -

And that does not even take into account the number of children each year who are abused or neglected, who were born into countries where no child welfare safety net exists and the vast majority of cases are never even investigated.  Just this week, a group we support in Haiti shared that they are treating a little boy who has cerebral palsy who was eaten by a pig.  The boy had been left alone in his home.  A pig came into the home, the boy is unable to move well (or at all), and the pig bit him.  And my heart will probably forever be sad when I think about Alyssa, a little girl from Conleigh's orphanage who was abandoned in the dirt by her mother and died.  A little girl who had come back from the brink of death  only to be left to die alone with the ants.

I guess I just have a heart that wishes people would care more.  That it would not take a viral video for people to choose to care.  We as Americans have to be careful not to think we can save the world or fix the world or to buy into the idea that we have all the answers.  And we have to be careful not to paint people so broadly that it leaves the perspective that all people in Africa (or whatever country/continent) are too dumb to solve their own problems, are too corrupt to be of any help, are too hopeless and paralyzed by this despair to make progress. In regards to the Kony project, there are Africans who have voiced their concerns over these very issues.  '“It simplifies the story of millions of people in northern Uganda and makes out a narrative that is often hard about Africa, about how hopeless people are in times of conflict,” Kagumire said of the Kony 2012 video. “If you are showing me as voiceless, as hopeless, you have no space telling my story, you shouldn’t be telling my story.” '  (from

That said, I choose to end by believing that we can use our resources (time, talent, and treasures) to improve the lives of others...step out, take a risk, choose to see the invisible.

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