My last piece in the Huffington Post has resulted in a flurry of calls from concerned people from numerous continents wondering how they can help child soldiers in real and concrete terms. That's often the good and bad that accrues from such things as the Kony 2012 video.
Many have been turned off international assistance altogether after learning that some of the donated funds to Invisible Children go to Ugandan military units. Yet others have persevered, understanding that the viral video, while thankfully bringing attention to a wanted war criminal, left few choices for people who actually wanted to see their donations, prayers and emotional support go directly to the rehabilitation of those boys and girls, now mostly men and women, who suffered so terribly under Kony years ago.
In a personal blog post last week, I mentioned three Canadian organizations that do solid work in this area. You can link to the post here. For those interested into this subject further, just consider what it means to learn love, acceptance, and peace again. Most groups agree that the average time for focused rehabilitation efforts to work effectively is roughly three years. That's a lot of effort, compassion, and funding. They learned war; now they have to learn peace. Many had to kill their parents on sight; now they must deal with their guilt. Some were taken directly from their parents; now they must seek to find them. They wreaked havoc on their home communities; now they must make amends and rediscover themselves in a communal setting.
The easiest and most direct way to assist is through the provision of things like water, medicines, and food. That's the simplest part -- if anything in such a journey can be classified as "simple." Next comes the arduous and detailed process of drawing out their emotions -- guilt, relief, fear, regret, insecurity, and need for family. Intervening in such situations requires a high level of training, ingenuity, and patience. There's only one problem: These aren't sexy or easily appealing tasks. Such skills represent the absolute best of international development, however, and are worthy of our dedicated investments.
Stopping Kony is no longer as important as properly dealing with his tragic legacy. And if that is to be done, we have to develop the ability to stay focused and see things through to a successful conclusion. Ultimately what we would hope for was beautifully described by former child soldier Ishmael Beah:
"I have learned to live with the past. I could never forget; but I have learned to live with the memories and I've learned to transform them."
This is the ultimate way we deal with Joseph Kony -- by transforming the tortured souls he left behind. Capturing him won't do that. Making the world aware of him likely won't either. In the end, it's up to you. If you think your humanity has the depth to help groups that wean former child soldiers off drug dependency, alcoholism, post-traumatic stress disorder, flashbacks, and mind-numbing guilt, then you perhaps represent the greatest of hopes for these damaged people.
If you feel, like me, that you want to learn and commit yourself to the level of compassion that you believe you possess, then here are groups that can effectually unleash your compassion and intellect in a way that could give these former child soldiers reason to hope and live in freedom. My friend, Hayley MacKinnon, who works with CARE-Canada, sent along some ideas for how to invest in a former child soldier's future. Add these to the links in my last post and you're off to a good start:
Canadian journalist Marc Ellison's intriguing work provides former child soldiers with cameras to go back and interview their former peers.
GUSCO is an indigenous NGO helping war-affected children - Ugandans helping Ugandans - http://www.gusco.org/index.php
Alex de Waal of the World Peace Foundation provides needed perspective on why KONY isn't the issue, even from a Central African Republic's point of view - http://allafrica.com/stories/201203110356.html
The Concerned Parents Association of Uganda is comprised of a group of parents whose children were abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army - http://www.cpa-uganda.org/
If you were energized by the KONY 2012 video, great. Now it's time to listen to effectively deal with the child soldiers themselves.