In May, Invisible Children supporters funded a Flash Alert that produced 20,000 “come home” fliers which were air-dropped over areas where Joseph Kony’s rebel army were known to be.
Opondo, a child soldier who had been held captive in the LRA for 15 years, surrendered holding one of those fliers.
IT’S WORKING. And they're doing it again. ->http://inv.fm/flashalert_1
T-minus a mere two days until Fourth Estate Leadership Summit. The whole office is abuzz, not one person is sitting idle. Since I landed stateside a little over two weeks ago, I’ve only found myself at home to sleep and do laundry at obscure hours (sorry, neighbors).
The lack of sleep and irregular home patterns are oddly romantic. These are times I cherish. Everyone is pushing as hard as humanely possible toward one goal. Not to mention, I’ve been fully immersed in the stories of two incredible people - Collines Angwech and Kunanbangate Belaha.
Collines is one hell of a woman; she’s an Invisible Children Legacy Scholarship beneficiary who recently finished University. She’s now working as the Director of Operations for an amazing NGO called Hope for Humans.
Kunanbangate is from a small community in the Bas Uele region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He has had to overcome insurmountable odds to get an education and learn English. When missionaries first came to his village, no one was able to communicate with them properly; Kun took it upon himself to learn English to relay the needs of his community.
I’ve only scratched the surface with what’s written above about their stories. If you’re at Fourth Estate, keep a look out for their videos. I hope their words and actions inspire you, like they did me.
Before I set out for my trip in June, I put together this video. All video projects assigned, cater toward Invisible Children’s goal - ending the LRA conflict and achieving lasting peace throughout central Africa. But sometimes projects feel more pertinent and tug at your heart; they feel raw and urgent. Michael’s story was one of those projects. When scrubbing through all of his footage, gathered by the talented Jay Salbert, I was brought to tears when watching Michael reunite with his family. In a world that’s inundated with stories of atrocities and hardships, Michael’s story is a reminder that love prevails over darkness, and peace is possible.
Michael: A Reintegration Story
Michael was abducted by the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) when he was 16-years-old. When he escaped, he was brought to Centre Elikya and went through the rehabilitation program. This is the story of Michael successfully completing the program and being reunited with his family.
Last weekend, I was able to spend quality time with my good friends Courtney and Laren — and that other hunk pictured, Ryan.
We took a spontaneous trip to Mabira Forest, a massive rainforest seated about an hour outside of Kampala. We sipped on cold drinks before we decided to hire a guide to take us on a tour. While on the walk, we soaked in all of the mystic the forest had to offer — rubber trees, birds, monkeys, and majestic lighting.
I’m thankful for a job that brings me to corners of the world I would normally never see. All the better to have these adventures intersect with people close to me.
While you’re on your internet stroll, make sure to take a look at the incredible business Court has up her sleeve, Rose and Fitzgerald. She works with local craftsmen in Uganda to design and curate one-of-a-kind pieces. Beautiful creations are in the mill. More to come on her ventures later.
(Children’s faces are hidden protect identity)
Yesterday was one of those smack-me-in-the-face-kind of days. A reminder of why I do my job. I visited one of Invisible Children’s program sites, the first rehabilitation center in DR Congo focused on LRA-affected youth, Center Elikya. Translated from Lingala, it means “Hope.”
Throughout my four and a half years of working for Invisible Children, I have met a lot of people who’ve been affected by the LRA. A lot of them, my dear friends. While all stories carry weight, some hit a bit harder than others.
I walked into Center Elikya and saw 138 bright faces. I stared at the future leaders of tomorrow, knowing each of them had been abducted, and in some fashion, forced against their will to partake in heinous acts. A classroom full of girls, all 10 years and under, made the conflict feel more real than ever. My stomach churned imagining where life had taken them in the past. But instead of regressing too far, I watched their vocational training courses with awe. Amazed at how far they had come, and what journeys lie ahead.
60 children will finish the rehabilitation program in the coming weeks, they will all be reintegrated with their families, and then 150 new children will enter the center. I’m beyond proud and devastatingly humbled to work alongside an organization, that with the help of local partners, is making a profound dent in ending the LRA conflict.
Greetings from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). While I’ve been saturated in footage and interviews pouring out of this country for the last few years, it’s my very first time to step foot into this seemingly wild land. When I received word I’d be traveling here for work, I was floored. Six days in-country, a perfect amount of time to get my feet wet. I’ll be posting about my job here in the coming days, but in the meantime, I have to start at ground zero. The in-country flights. In my mind, I can confidently say I’ve ridden in the smallest plane known to man. I logically know smaller planes have to exist, but I want to block that from the realm of possibility.
When traveling from one small community to another, one needs a small plane. I didn’t know how small, until what I like to call if a go-kart with wings, a Honda Civic of the sky, rolled up. My co-worker, Sean, and I crawled over one another to buckle ourselves into our seats. A single-prop, four-seater, airborne go-kart. Our pilot used a key to start the engine. Put, put, put, put. The prop was reluctant to start. Sean and I exchanged anxious looks and then laughed. There’s nothing we could do but sit and wait. The plane eventually started, we were in air. The plane flew below the clouds, which provided for incredible sights.
Though I enjoyed the view, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t amped to put my feet on the ground again. Sean later told me it was the sketchiest plane he’d ever ridden in; he’s been working here for three years. I’m glad he told me that after the fact. I hope you all enjoy the astounding beauty DRC has to offer.
June 26, 2012 is a day marked by a singular and definitive memory, it was the last day I spoke to one of my best friends. I was living in Gulu, Uganda. At the time, after almost one year of living there, I was mentally preparing myself for the transition stateside. Many of my nights in Gulu were simple; evenings marked by candlelight because of yet another power outage. This created space for open-ended conversations with my housemates, reading, and journaling.
To my luck, on June 26th, 2012, the power was on, and I received a Skype call from Dave. Neither of us knew at the time it would be the last time we talked, but in hindsight, it’s like our conversation had already been written. We talked about the fruition of our friendship nearly six years prior, about our hilarious memories, my lack of love life, and his blooming one. He was engaged to a wonderful woman named Karlyn, their wedding was set for December. I asked Dave large life questions, “Are you glad you joined the Navy? What do you want to do in your future?” We talked for over an hour.
"It was so good talk talk to you, Dave. I’m glad we were able to catch up for so long."
"Me too, Ash. Be safe out there. I’ll talk to you soon. I love you."
"You be safe too. I’ll see you soon. I love you."
That was the last time I ever talked to Dave. Pictured below is a screenshot from our Skype call. I actually blogged about it that night. He was killed in action August 16th, 2012, slated to be home in September. He almost made it.
I stopped blogging after Dave’s death. I lost inspiration. But, one year later - on June 26, 2013, I found myself back in Gulu, Uganda. I was in the same room, the same house, where I last talked to Dave. My mind spun in circles; it mulled over the breadth and width of a year. 365 days bringing utter pain and unrelenting joy. I became inspired again. Life is beautiful, and it’s worth sharing, even through hardships.
I look back at Dave and I’s conversation with overwhelming gratitude. I talked to him at length about many aspects of life and our friendship. He knew he was like a brother to me, and that I loved him. I couldn’t ask for anything more, except in moments of selfishness, I wish he was here.
Dave, here’s to you…forever and always.
Found this diddy as I was editing photos and videos the other day. I miss these goons. We were testing effects for the fall doc…