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Cottonwood students help former Ugandan child soldiers


Volunteers from an international fundraising organization rallied Cottonwood Middle School students to raise more than $1,000 to relieve the plight of child soldiers kidnapped and impressed into military service by a ruthless Ugandan warlord.

Natalie Semotiule, a volunteer for Invisible Children, told a rowdy all-school assembly at CMS on Thursday, April 14, that the school was “by far the best we have ever visited.”

“We’ve only been in this town for eight weeks, but you guys put all other schools to shame,” Semotiule told the crowd.

Representatives from Invisible Children, from left, Mia Pokriefka, Alex Naser-Hall, Aahola Agnes and Natalie Semotievle, applaud the efforts of Cottonwood Middle School students to raise money for former Ugandan child soldiers. Students attended an assembly held to teach more about the conflict Thursday, April 14.Mountainview United Methodist Church and CMS each presented Invisible Children with a check for $500. Even more money was collected by CMS students who passed boxes among the more than 750 children and students who took part in the assembly.

“We showed them what a great place this is because we rock,” said CMS teacher Angie Hillman, who organized the fundraising effort as part of a learning experience for her students.

Hillman said she teaches about the Holocaust and genocide in all its forms. By teaching her students about human cruelty, Hillman said she hopes to help them become better people. The ongoing civil war in Uganda provides a contemporary case in point.

She hopes the lessons, which are taught according to state standards, will encourage her students to be advocates and leaders for those less fortunate.

“I’ve got students who donated their allowance, their babysitting money, birthday money, everything. They are really reaching out,” Hillman said.

“Mrs. Hillman brought this to us and I feel I should do something to stop it,” Cordell McKeever, 14, said.

“I think it would be horrible [to be kidnapped and forced to join the army],” Ethan Barnes, 13, said. “They make you kill your own family or people you know. It’s like, ‘kill people or you will killed.’”

Begun 23 years ago by a woman who claimed God spoke to her and instructed her to overthrow the Ugandan government, the Lord’s Resistance Army and the government of Uganda have been waging a war that has disenfranchised nearly 2 million people so far.

When the woman, Alice Lakwena, was exiled, her cousin, Joseph Kony, took control of the rebel forces and transformed them into the LRA.

With dwindling approval for their cause and increased government attacks, the LRA started kidnapping and forcing children into the ranks of the rebel army. More than 90 percent of the LRA’s troops were abducted as children, Semotiule said.

Since 2008, the LRA has been active in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and southern Sudan, rapidly spreading what has become a complex regional conflict.

In the last two years, an estimated 900,000 of the 1.8 million people displaced by the civil war have returned to their homes while another 1 million people currently live in internally displaced persons’ camps, Semotiule said.

Invisible Children rebuilds schools destroyed by war and helped 8,400 Ugandan youth gain access to water and sanitation, books and equipment, teacher support, and technology and power. The group provides nearly 700 scholarships for children to attend secondary school and 180 full-ride scholarships to university.

For more information, visit www2.invisiblechildren.com.

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