Editor’s Note: The three founders of Enough Project’s partner organization Invisible Children, an advocacy organization dedicated to ending the Lord’s Resistance Army, share their story and what inspired them to start a nationwide movement.
In 2003, nineteen-year-old engineering student Laren Poole and his good friend Bobby Bailey followed their friend Jason Russell, a recent University of Southern California film school graduate, to Africa. They found themselves in northern Uganda in 2003, and their lives were changed when they saw the car in front of them on the road near Gulu attacked by the LRA.
Ending up in Gulu town, the guys then met Jacob, a Ugandan student who had been abducted by the LRA. The friendship between Jacob, Laren, Bobby, and Jason grew, and the group stayed with Jacob for over a month. While with Jacob, the guys saw firsthand how children walked to towns nightly to escape the predations of the LRA.
Jacob and their experiences in Gulu inspired the friends to return to the United States in order to do whatever they could to end a conflict that very few people seemed to know about or were working to stop. The result of their interest and activism was the creation of the organization Invisible Children, which has helped develop a grassroots constituency of activists in the United States intent on ridding Central Africa of the LRA. Their movement has succeeded in dramatically raising the profile of an issue that had previously been swept under the rug.
From its humble beginnings as a rough documentary, Invisible Children quickly grew to a movement of hundreds of thousands of young people. Captivated by the compelling stories of night commuting and child soldiers, a generation has rallied behind Invisible Children, attending major events each year to highlight the LRA crisis. Volunteers tour across North America with the documentary and other films produced by the team, bringing the story to classrooms and churches with educated representatives.
The three founders of Invisible Children each came to the issue in different ways:
Bobby Bailey: He had no idea that their first trip would lead to the formation of their own nonprofit focused on children in northern Uganda. When they got back, they started small, with a bracelet campaign and their first film. Now, their programs employ hundreds of Ugandans, and their grassroots movement involves hundreds of thousands of American youth. As Bobby says, “Media shapes the way we view our lives.” He worked on the first fi lm because he saw the impact it could have on young people across the country. He is driven by a desire to give the children of northern Uganda the same opportunities he and his friends have had. The chance to inspire the youth of America to take a stand, Bobby says, has shown him that life is more meaningful when you’re giving your time and talent to something bigger than yourself.
Laren Poole: He was an engineering student at the University of California at San Diego when he first learned about Joseph Kony and the LRA. Since his trip to Uganda, Laren has used his interest in filmmaking and activism to highlight the LRA in documentary films that are seen by thousands of students and activists across the country. He also funnels his interest in new media into working on the Invisible Children’s website and other multimedia products.
Jason Russell: He credits a church group trip to Kenya in 2000 for transforming his mindset and fomenting his interest in Africa. His ultimate goal is “to raise enough money to build a refuge for the children of northern Uganda so they may grow up in peace.” Until he traveled to Uganda in 2003, Jason had planned to make Hollywood musicals once back in the United States. Instead, he has devoted himself to telling the stories of the children he met on that trip. The first step was producing the documentary Invisible Children: Rough Cut. Since his first trips to Africa, Jason has married and had a child. Fatherhood has only strengthened his resolve to do all that he can to help end the scourge of the LRA.
This is an abbreviated excerpt of Laren, Bobby, and Jason’s Enough Moment. The full version is published in The Enough Moment, a book by John Prendergast and Don Cheadle about engaged citizens – known and unknown, in the U.S. and abroad – who are mobilizing to help end genocide, rape, and the use of child soldiers in Africa. Visit the Enough Moment Wall to hear people describe their “Enough moment” and to upload a video, photo, or written testimonial of your own.
Update: Since its offical launch in 2006, Invisible Children has grown its movement across the United States and also operates offices in Uganda and Congo. Laren Poole and Jason Russell continue their work at Invisible Children, and Bobby is still pursuing his passion in filmmaking, but has moved on to tackle other issues. Checkout the Invisible Children’s latest campaign: Kony 2012.
Photo: Invisible Children founders Laren, Bobby, and Jason during trip to Africa (Invisible Children).