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Washington, D.C.: Advocates for Uganda's children flood Capitol Hill

Some 800 citizens speak out for sustained peace in a region ravaged by decades of war. (SLIDESHOW)

March 2008

The West Virginia team flashes peace signs after lobbying for northern Uganda.
The West Virginia team flashes peace signs after lobbying for northern Uganda.
© 2008 Laura Reinhardt/World Vision
A wave of neon-green shirts descended on Capitol Hill when some 800 concerned advocates came together to seek congressional support for peace in Uganda. On Feb. 26, the Northern Uganda Lobby Day and Symposium participants approached the Capitol with one goal in mind: Press Congress to do what it can to end the 22-year war that has turned thousands of children into soldiers and sex slaves in northern Uganda.

Learn, prepare, advocate

The event brought together participants from about 40 states. The ages of activists spanned the decades — from pre-teens to those nearing retirement age — but the majority of participants were of college age and in their 20s.

The three-day event, sponsored and coordinated by World Vision and several other organizations, provided attendees with an opportunity to learn more about the crisis through panel discussions, speakers, film, and advocacy training. On the third day, participants took to the Hill to meet with congressional staff.

'Do something'

Jessy Turnell and Jenny Smith, two young mothers from Colorado, attended the event.

Turnell first became aware of the northern Uganda crisis through a social work class. Realizing that the situation required action, she decided to attend the event when she read about it in an e-mail from World Vision.

"I just think that if I was a mother over there or a father, I would be praying for somebody to come and save me," she says. "[Attending the event] was a way to educate myself, to be an advocate, and also to get involved in the political arena."

For Smith, attending the Lobby Day was a way to learn more about the political process and how to motivate others to become advocates.

"Maybe we can't go there, but we have to do something," says Smith, a mother of two. "What they make children do to each other and other people just breaks my heart. I mean, I can't imagine my children going through that."

Slideshow: A conversation about the Uganda Lobby Day

Slideshow: A conversation about the Uganda Lobby Day View a presentation of images from this landmark event, including a commentary by World Vision's Amy Parodi, who was among the participants advocating for long-term peace in northern Uganda.

Create a movement

But some might ask whether an event like this really makes a difference.

Rory E. Anderson, World Vision's deputy director of advocacy and government relations, believes that it does. "In the midst of many competing foreign policy priorities, our collective action over the past few years has made peace in northern Uganda an issue that demands attention," explains Anderson. "Public outcry from all corners of the country compelled policymakers to mount a response."

The Colorado delegation of (left to right) Kayla Horner, Jenny Smith, Jessy Turnell and pose with Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo.
The Colorado delegation of (left to right) Kayla Horner, Jenny Smith, Jessy Turnell and pose with Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo.
© 2008 Laura Reinhardt/World Vision

For instance, Anderson notes that the 2006 Uganda Lobby Day yielded significant pressure on congressional members to call on the State Department for increased diplomatic action. The result: The State Department created a new special adviser position to focus U.S. diplomatic efforts on prospects for northern Uganda peace, which includes support for the Juba Peace Talks — the negotiations being held in Southern Sudan to broker a peace agreement between the warring factions.

"Increased U.S. involvement has helped bring about changes on the ground," says Anderson. "[Now there are] no more night commuters, security in the region and humanitarian access has increased, and we could be close to a comprehensive peace agreement."

This year, participants again met with their members of Congress or congressional staff. The advocates made three requests of their lawmakers during their visits:

  • Call on the U.S. State Department to provide more diplomatic support to the Juba Peace Talks.
  • Call on the United Nations to step up its diplomatic engagement in the Juba Peace Talks and help implement any final agreement.
  • Dedicate U.S. funds to kick-start reconstruction in northern Uganda — targeting basic health, education, and infrastructure needs — so that displaced children and families can return home.

Anderson is optimistic that this year's effort created momentum similar to that of the 2006 event.

"In the past, the result of our collective action has garnished increased funding for humanitarian development assistance and diplomatic action. This year's Lobby Day was just as successful, so I am hopeful [that we will see] continued progress by the U.S. in support of peace and development," says Anderson. "In a profound way, we have become a piece of the peace."

Still work to do

But the work toward peace is far from done, she cautions. "We have to stay focused. There are still up to 2,000 children being held captive by the LRA [Lord's Resistance Army]," she says.

"We must stay committed to a vision of peace … As we stay focused, our policymakers will stay more focused on achieving a sustainable peace."

Learn more

>> Read more about the Uganda Lobby Day event on World Vision's blog.

Three ways you can help

>> Thank God for a successful Uganda Lobby Day event. Pray that our government leaders would increase their presence as peacemakers and that a truly sustained peace in the region would be realized.
>> Send a message to Congress and the president. Leadership from the United States can help bring peace to this troubled region.
>> Make a monthly financial pledge to help provide for the needs of children affected by war.

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