Wednesday April 23, 2014





The power of convictions

What can a teenager in a Canadian city of 85,000 do about children in Uganda being kidnapped, raped and forced to kill their parents? She can join a global movement that has motivated more than a million people and caused controversy at the same time
Keith Anderson

Sisters Leah, 13, and Sophia , 16, de Zeeuw are working to arrange a rally April 20 to be part of a global effort to have Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony brought to justice.

The movement shouldn't have been a surprise.

After the world has watched protest after protest sweep through the Middle East in the last couple of years, at the same time social media like Twitter and Facebook were becoming entrenched, everyday communications tools, there was bound to be a focus on some of the world's bad guys.

Guys like Joseph Kony, who has abducted children into lives as sex slaves and soldiers forced to protect the Ugandan rebel leader of the Lord's Resistance Army.

The outcry to Stop Kony 2012 has spread around the globe; millions have watched the half-hour video made by Jason Russell for the Invisible Children charity that's leading the anti-Kony charge.

Facebook and Twitter have connected hundreds, thousands, millions of people who aren't just talking about Kony's atrocious crimes against human rights. They're organizing protests for April 20, they're pushing politicians to take action, they're supporting related causes, they're demanding something be done.

And in Kamloops, in an Upper Sahali townhouse, teenage sisters Leah and Sophia de Zeeuw watched the video and wanted to do whatever 13 and 16 year old girls in Kamloops could do.

They went on Facebook.

They got a page started called COVER THE NIGHT — Stop Joseph Kony. They networked with all their Facebook friends. Those friends told their few hundred friends, and so on and so on.

Within a few days, they had 1,200 people who said they'd attend a protest event on April 20. The numbers are still growing.

It helped that the two girls are involved with Me to We, a global awareness group created by Canadian child rights activist Craig Kielburger, who at age 12 travelled to third world countries to meet children younger than him who had been forced into labour. When he returned home, Kielburger lobbied politicians to do something.

Me to We has grown into a national organization that draws thousands of kids to events every year and urges them to do what they can to make the world a better place.

Sophia and Leah belong to Me to We. So do many of their friends.

"I knew that I wanted to help. I didn't know how," Sophia said.

"I said let's start a Facebook event," younger sister Leah replied.

And so they did. Between them, the duo have 700 Facebook friends, so it didn't take long for word to spread.

They were originally going to hold the April 20 gathering in front of city hall. But the numbers mushroomed so quickly, they're now thinking they'll have to relocate, perhaps to Riverside Park or some other spacious venue.

"We're working on it," said Sophia.

This isn't her first effort at organizing an event, but it's a far cry from the candygram fundraiser she does every year for the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Leah's previous experience was organizing a cookbook through school to raise money for charity for homeless people.

Beyond working out the logistics of holding a rally that could draw as many as 1,500 people, the two are trying to sort through the controversy that has hit the Kony 2012 movement.

Theirs isn't the only Kamloops Facebook group getting involved in Kony 2012. Thompson Rivers University student Emma Whanstall has a similar number of supporters and is going to City council later this month to ask permission to put posters up around town.

Critics have come forward questioning Invisible Children, the charity that started the effort and backed the video. Others have questioned whether the pressure from the awareness campaign could push Kony into doing further atrocities. One young woman made a YouTube video claiming there's rumour Kony died several years ago and the charity is just reaping a mountain of donations from Kony 2012.

Sophia and Leah are aware of the alarms that have been raised and they want to be cautious about naively jumping on a questionable bandwagon.

"I've had people tell me it's stupid, it's not worth it. They say it's not changing anything," Sophia said.

But they also want to do something about children in Africa being torn from their families to be made into soldiers or sex slaves.

"It's not all about Kony. There are other child soldiers out there," she said.

And so they're trying to shift the focus of the April 20 event to be about not just Kony, but the bigger-picture issues.

Cover The Night is supposed to involve papering the community with Kony 2012 posters to raise awareness. Sophia said a poster-making gathering is being organized — probably through Facebook.

The rally itself is still taking shape. Leah said the goal is to make the issues stick in people's minds.

"We're looking at a short rally, a couple of speakers talking about child soldiers, put up posters. We just want to bring awareness," she said.

"It would be good if people wrote letters and stuff. This is just to plant the seed."

On the web:

COVER THE NIGHT — Stop Joseph Kony, the Kamloops campaign by Sophie and Leah de Zeeuw is on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/events/186916938085443/declines/

Emma Whanstall's Cover The Night Kamloops #KONY2012 Facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/events/388058687889846/

Whanstall's related blog is at http://ra2emma-kony2012kamloops.blogspot.com/

The Invisible Children video that started the whole thing is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4MnpzG5Sqc

Kony 2012 in Kamloops

The de Zeeuw sisters aren't the only people in town organizing an event around Kony 2012 on April 20.

Thompson Rivers University student Emma Whanstall is also creating an event through Facebook.

The de Zeeuws are setting up a rally with a few speakers to talk about child soldiers. The time and location are still not determined.

Whanstall is looking at a postering campaign (with responsible cleanup) as well as an event in the TRU Grand Hall, starting at 8 p.m., with speakers, music and some surprises.

As the events are a month away and still being organized, the best way to keep up is to check their Facebook pages.


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