Camping out in Market Square one evening will be nothing compared to what kids in Uganda experience every night.
So say local participants in the April 29 Global Night Commute, who will gather in the center of Pittsburgh and 130 other cities around the world ... part of an effort to publicize the plight of Ugandan children who travel from villages to urban centers every night to avoid being kidnapped into the rebel Lord's Resistance Army. Invisible Children, the group sponsoring the event, is named after the Invisible Children documentary chronicling the Uganda situation.
University of Pittsburgh senior Alison West, of Mount Lebanon, is helping to organize many student groups to spend the night Downtown. She says 200 people are already signed up from such groups as Amnesty International, STAND (Students Taking Action Now Darfur), FORGE (Facilitating Opportunities for Refugee Growth and Empowerment) and Ambassadors for Christ, which has many African members. Some in the participating groups will journey the next morning to Washington, D.C., where they will join a national march urging the U.S. to take stronger action against the Sudanese engaged in genocide in that country's Darfur region (see News Briefs, April 19, "Darfur: Think Globally, Act Federally").
"It's not a pure protest movement" but inspires people to work for change in the African countries experiencing troubles, says Commute participant Eric Hartman. Hartman is a Pitt doctoral student in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and lectures in the College of General Studies' Public Service program. He's headed this summer to Uganda and Zambia, which contain camps housing refugees from war in Congo: There, he'll interview what he sees as a growing number of American volunteers concerned about, and actually helping in, African countries.
Lisa Dougan, a Grove City College senior who will join the Market Square encampment, is part of that movement. After seeing a campus screening of Invisible Children in February, she and about 40 other students have been meeting informally to see where they can help. Dougan plans to work in Africa after graduation. In the meantime, the group has been raising funds for an educational and mentoring program for Ugandan children. Their largest fund-raising move is a concert at nearby Slippery Rock University on April 28.
While Hartman says it's too early to conclude whether the Uganda and Darfur movements represent a surge in activism centered around Africa, any lack of national attention to these issues, he believes, can be chalked up to "the classic American problem ... total disinterest in things going on outside your backyard."