By: Anthony Yauch
As we all know, Invisible Children (IC) is a charity that is supposedly dedicated to the mission of allowing children abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to return home. We were told in several school assemblies, by representatives of Invisible Children, that the children were mainly abducted from northern Uganda. What they did not tell us is that the LRA has not been active there for 7 years. What Invisible Children is doing is they are promoting their charity, describing an end to this civil conflict, by telling us that the LRA is still there abducting children. Their video documentaries and descriptions of the horrors of the children abducted in Africa were very moving. The productions were well done, captivated us and made us all want to help. What I have found is that even though the LRA is still around, it is highly unorganized and the leader, Joseph Kony, is on his last legs. I contend that ‘Invisible Children’ charity is misrepresenting their mission.
Another way to explain this is to imagine if you turned on the news today and the main story was about hurricane Katrina. As you witnessed the damage and destruction you would feel that you had to do something, to help the victims. So you get in your car and drive south. But when you got there most of the damage was repaired and all of the people were okay. This is similar to northern Uganda today, because the LRA has been less and less of a threat since 2004 and is now no longer considered active in Uganda. Today, in 2011, the focus that is in Uganda is peace and rebuilding. Just so there is no misunderstanding, there is still civil conflict and terrorists at work in Central Africa, but not the way it was described to us.
A reason why the LRA has become disorganized and a non-threat is because of LRA leader Joseph Kony. He is so hated in Africa that he can no longer gain support and finds it impossible to gain power. That is why he started abducting children, in the first place. But an army of children cannot go far. For this reason, the question of “are we getting the whole story,” comes to mind. To find this answer you must ask many different parties including IC, the LRA, the Ugandan government, and the United States government.
Recently, the U.S. passed a bill that allows U.S. troops to go in to central Africa and hunt down and kill or arrest Joseph Kony. Why would the U.S. do this if this one man has no effect on our daily life here in America? I would suggest that it is because of lobbying and political pressure brought to bear by the Invisible Children Charity itself. The thing this group has been extraordinary at, is not fund raising, and not ending global conflict, but in mobilizing young people to protest here in the United States. More than one source I found in my research is challenging ‘Invisible Children’s’ status as a charity, because they contend their funds are used primarily for lobbying in Washington, not directed to aid in Uganda or anywhere in Central Africa.
Unfortunately, the truth is not out there. We cannot get the full story from IC themselves because they did not summit the requested paper work to the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Because of this, the BBB has not been able to give a rating on their website about Invisible Children. Fortunately, Invisible Children did send in a required annual profit report to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) so that they could maintain their tax exempt status as a non-profit organization. They reported that they made around 8.5 million dollars in 2010 and spent around 8.4 million dollars. This is surprising because IC claims on their website that they only need 2.5 million dollars to fund all of their intended aid to the people of Africa. This then brings up the question of what happens to the almost 6 million dollars in excess cash?
IC does not release any of their documents for public scrutiny, unlike the majority of reputable charities. This raises suspicion because this means that IC can cover up anything that they do wrong. This does not mean that they do anything wrong, but we really don’t know. They can get away with using the funds that they raise any way they want and this lack of transparency means we’ll never know. IC also does not adhere to standard charity ‘whistleblower’ policies, which protect employees, if they have a comment or complaint, from firing and retaliation. For all of these reasons, and low or no ratings as a charity on other websites that rate them, it would be wise for the Seton-La Salle Community to consider another charity to support.
One charity I suggest, that is close to here in Pennsylvania, is called Beyond Borders. They do the same thing as Invisible Children, but in other parts of the world, not just in Central Africa. They also send what the people need, not what they want. This means that they send doctors and farming equipment to the people in need, so that the people can learn to fend for themselves. This charity also shows that you do not need a series of overpriced and well-filmed documentaries to become a huge charity.
Another really reputable charity that donates to the world is Catholic Relief Services. This group is highly ranked by independent agencies. Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. According to the website “We alleviate suffering and provide assistance to people in need in nearly 100 countries, without regard to race, religion or nationality.”
More locally, the church supports Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh. According to their website, “Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, rooted in the Gospel and social teachings of the Church, is the primary social service agency of the Diocese.” This is another very reputable and local charity that provides assistance to those who live within the six counties of the Diocese—Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Greene, Lawrence and Washington.