Artwork by Linda Zacks
Artwork by Linda Zacks

It’s been busy few months in the studio editing this documentary… With plans for completion by the end of the year!

Soon we will have a new title for the film and website/facebook/twitter etc – But you’ll have to wait a few months for that special release!

Right now we are working every single day and night to complete this film and get the story out there!

We currently have an 87 minute edit that’s working well. We are close – but still there’s lots of post production work to be done including animating maps, securing archive material, sound design, narration, translating, subtitling and much more – But nevertheless we are getting there! 

Please stay with us… Your support is integral to getting the truth told and to give not only a voice but also justice to the voiceless victims of a most tragic war in Northern Uganda that warrants the attention of the world.

Please also follow us on Facebook at wwww.facebook.com/childtroopers  as that’s where we update regularly!

Many thanks for your support!

 

In 2009 I spent quite some time with the students and former child soldiers at Friends of Orphans Rehabilitation Centre in Pader, Northern Uganda. I was also lucky to re-unite with many of the youth when I returned to Northern Uganda earlier this year!

The short video clip below is from my first trip, and was taken on my second day at Friends of Orphans, just as I was getting to know the young women and children, who had in their recent pasts served as child soldiers in Joseph Kony‘s LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army).

The video is classic… Enjoy!

Ebony at Friends of Orphans from Ebony Butler on Vimeo.

Although my method is not a common technique used in child soldier rehabilitation and re-integration efforts (in fact I think it may have never been used anywhere in the world before this!) I do know for a fact that it works – and if not kissing, at least being friendly; funny; open and a little bit ‘Ebonesque’!

The students at FRO Uganda opened up to us immediately after the little kiss with Moses, and I do believe this helped in building the strong relationships we had with the students. Getting everyone laughing and happy was a great building block that lead to many of the former abductees, both boys and girls, wanting to become friends and engage in conversation, which then lead to them confiding in and trusting us. This also resulted in the beginning of new and long-lasting friendships, which have stood the test of time…

I was recently in Northern Uganda (Odek) where I spent some time with the victims of Nodding Disease, and their parents / guardians or only surviving family members. It was a period, and experience in my life I will always hold close to my heart, and could never forget. The faces of these children still haunt me to this day. I hope through my work with children around the world sick or not, that I have been able to make them smile, cheer them up, make them giggle and laugh through their suffering… But this was a different story altogether. The suffering, the pain, the anguish and isolation of these poor, sick and neglected people, is a sad story that has its roots buried far beyond the first outbreak of Nodding Disease.

This young boy has been severely disfigured by Nodding Disease. He is 12 years old yet looks about 6, he cannot speak and he is the last surviving son in his family. 4 died of Nodding Disease and one was abducted by the LRA and has never returned. His father does not know if he is dead or alive. April, 2012 www.atlanticstarproductions.com

The sad truth is that the government of Uganda does not really care about the poor young Acholi children in the North who are suffering, then dying of this shocking Nodding disease. When I was in Uganda a couple of months ago, there was so much local media showing President Museveni out in health clinics and setting up facilities for nodding disease victims and so forth. That was while I was in the same country. Actually! During my time in Northern Uganda; the President just flew in for many media opportunities. Speaking about these issues, I would say I have spent more time in Northern Uganda than the President himself. I would have spent more time on Acholi soil, speaking Acholi (a little, but a little more than President Museveni), working with them; learning; sharing; caring; teaching; drinking; eating; laughing; living; crying with them… and establishing life-long friends with them! Oh, my heart goes out to my dear Acholi friends from the North!

So all this news about the children being looked after and in hospital is a total lie. Because I have witnessed firsthand the suffering and the devastation of these young and older families who have children with the disease, I spent time with them, I listened to their stories and I saw with my own eyes what was going on. It is a total travesty by the Government of Uganda. There may be some health clinics set up for a few certain children, but in Odek, Josph Kony’s hometown, situated between Gulu and Pader (closer to Pader), hashundreds and hundreds of children with Nodding Disease, WITHOUT ANY AID AT ALL.

A young nodding disease victim in Odek northern Uganda who has ran into fire 8 times and had her fingers burnt & cut off, without treatment! Please explain Mr. President? April 2012

There have been a lot of funds that were supposed to be allocated to Nodding Disease, but they didn’t make it, if some did, it would surely be under 10% of what was allocated. I did not witness one clinic for the disease in all of Uganda, (Northern Uganda) yet I witnessed, on what was the most horrific and heartbreaking period of my 2 month trip there, so many young girls and boys, either tied to trees by their parent (usually only one guardian exists) to prevent them from hurting themselves as Nodding Disease victims often lose control of their behaviour and run towards fire and water, resulting in devastating and too often deadly consequences. I also interviewed the guardians, parents or remaining relatives of the young Nodding Disease victims.

Interviewing the parent of a young Nodding Disease victim in North Uganda, April 2012

The interviews offered interesting perspectives not so often discussed or dissected in corporate or commercial media. Insights given often pointed to the World Food Programme‘s (WFP) food and the possibility that it was contaminated, either by accident or as some would argue, was a deliberate move by the Ugandan Government. It seems almost clear that the children who are affected by Nodding Disease, who are generally between the ages of 6 and 15 years, were infected during the time of the massive forced encampment of the Acholi into overcrowded, unprotected, disease ridden and violence prone Internally Displacement Camps (IDP camps), a.k.a ‘death camps’ or ‘modern day concentration camps’. It was around this period when all food was supplied to the encamped Acholi by the World Food Programme, and the disease started to become apparent. (2003 I believe).

I will post a few more images here of other children I met with Nodding Disease, that were not treated at all, despite the severity of their conditions. Many have since died but these figures are not shown in official statistics, in fact, Odek was rarely mentioned in the media as an area that had suffered greatly from it. It’s a very sad story and one that demands greater attention from Uganda, and also, the rest of the world.

The boy I am pictured with below had the early symptoms of the mysterious & often fatal Nodding Disease.Let’s pray that his situation has not worsened and that he is receiving at least some medical care.

A young boy in Northern Uganda with early signs of Nodding Disease, April 2012

*If you haven’t yet heard of ‘Nodding Disease’, that means it needs serious attention from the international community, so scream and shout, tell people, and do your bit! Help spread the message that Nodding Disease victims (who are all children) need our help, now!

Another young victim of the horrific, and largely unknown disease… April 2012

Please follow me on twitter at the following profiles: @madvsbad @atlanticstar233 @ebony_atlanta and @bikes4lifeorg

Radhika Coomasawary (NY)
U.N Special Representative for Children & Armed Conflict
 
Dr. Kizza Besigye (KLA)
Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) President
 
DrOlara Otunnu (KLA)
UPC President & Former U.N USG CAAC
 
Bishop Odama & Bishop Ochola (KLA & GULU)
Acholi Religious Peace Leaders Initiative (ARLPI) 
 
Nandala Mafabi (KLA)
Opposition Leader
 
Major General Pecas Kutesa (KLA)
Uganda’s People Defense Force (UPDF)
 
Jo Becker & Rona Peligal (NY)
Human Rights Watch (HRW) LRA Experts
 
Milton Allimadi (NY)
Black Star News Publisher
 
Jolly Okot (KLA)
Director (UgandaInvisible Children
 
(more…)

A crazy place, a crazy experience. Here’s what happened to me:

I was nearly stabbed in the foot by a massive stick that went straight through my shoe;

We ran over and killed a dog on the Kampala Gulu Road on our way north;

I thought I was going to be raped by a boda boda driver in Gulu;

I was close to being arrested by the Ugandan Police for filming at a ceremony where the President of Uganda was present at;

I almost died in a car accident in Pader, where we rolled 3 times after hitting a massive pot hole &

I was almost attacked after being chased by a huge baboon near Karuma Falls….

Let’s hope my last week in Uganda is a bit on the safer side (but somehow I doubt it will be!)

For more regular updates please follow me on facebook: www.facebook.com/childtroopers

PEACE!

Forest Whitaker Says He’s Got 3 Projects He Plans To Direct; One Dealing With Uganda’s Child Soldiers | Filmmakers, Film Industry, Film Festivals, Awards & Movie Reviews | indieWIRE.

Whitaker as General Idi Amin in The Last King ...
Forest Whitaker as General Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland

Forest Whitaker has a number of films he plans to direct, one of particular interest is ‘Better Angel’s’. Better Angels is a film close to Whitaker’s heart and focuses on the child soldiers of Northern Uganda. In 2007 Whitaker won an academy award for his performance as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the 2006 film The Last King of Scotland.

Pre-production for his film is expected to begin in April of this year, and Child Troopers director Ebony Butler, is hoping to be involved with the making of the film.

Better Angels, although a fiction film, has many similarities with our documentary Child Troopers. Both have common themes based on events and situations that arose from the LRA conflict, that has seen over 30,000 children abducted and forced to become child soldiers.

It will be interesting to see how Better Angels will portray the war, as recent films and documentaries that center on the LRA and the topical issue of child soldiers have been rather skewed and few, if any, have gone deep enough to find the true causes and possible solutions to the ongoing conflict.

It is with pleasure and great excitement that I announce Bikes 4 Life’s newest sponsor, Visa Global Logistics.

Visa Global came on board with Bikes 4 Life after their marketing manager, Joe Cetin, saw the segment on The Project on Channel 10 just a few weeks ago.

Visa Global Logistics

Australian owned company, Visa Global Logistics is now Bikes 4 Life’s official shipping sponsor, who will oversee the first shipment of bikes to Africa, scheduled to leave Melbourne on the 11th of January 2012.

In February, the Bikes 4 Life and Child Troopers crew will be setting up a Bikes 4 Life Workshop and Vocational Training Program in Uganda, at our partner organization and child soldier rehabilitation center, Friends of Orphans. The 40 foot shipping container donated by Ex-Pat Deli and decked out by ANL, will become the actual workshop in Pader, Northern Uganda at the Friends of Orphans site.

Our container packed and almost ready to go!!

The program is aimed at not only assisting in the rehabilitation and re-integration efforts at FRO, for the hundreds of young traumatized victims and former child soldiers of a brutal civil war, but it is also aimed at giving them an opportunity to learn practical and useful skills that can help in securing employment in the future. Furthermore, Bikes 4 Life aims to provide each person at the center with their own bicycle, so they can visit their families without walking for days, giving them the ability provide for their families when they return home to their villages after rehabilitation, allowing faster and easier access to food, water and access education & medical facilities, giving them a real chance at overcoming the traumas of their past and getting ahead in life- against all the odds.

Alfa and Christine off to visit their families with the bikes we sent them for Easter!

On behalf of the Bikes 4 Life Team and the Child Troopers Crew, thank you Visa Global – for making all of this possible and for helping us to help others….

Merry Christmas!

This photographs below were taken during our last trip to Northern Uganda.

They will be among a number of photographs and memorabilia on auction this Saturday December 17 at ‘A Rockin’ Great Christmas Party’, at the Memo Theatre in St. Kilda.

The event is open to the public and all proceeds on the night will be donated to our Child Soldier Media & Awareness Campaign.

We hope you can make it to the event in support of our work and also to enjoy a Christmas drink with us before we head back to Africa in the new year!

Many thanks, and Merry Christmas to all. PEACE!

Child of God
Kids of the Camps
Sweet Child O' Mine
Smiling Through The Sorrow

Follow us us on facebook at: www.facebook.com/childtroopers or check out our Bikes 4 Life project at www.bikes4life.com.au

For event details see: https://www.facebook.com/events/105945526186474/

To view or purchase a photograph from our Ugandan or Cambodian Selection please e-mail ebony@atlanticstarproductions.com.

Official presidential portrait of Barack Obama...
President Obama - Image via Wikipedia

One year ago today, President Obama signed into law a bill that committed to put an end to the LRA’s brutal atrocities and abductions.

President Obama stated that: “[This] legislation crystallizes the commitment of the United States to help bring an end to the brutality and destruction that have been a hallmark of the LRA across several countries for two decades.”

Today, LRA attacks continue and activists are urging the President to robustly implement his LRA strategy (Resolve).

In Congo today, LRA atrocities are still occurring, on a near-daily basis. Resolve‘s on the ground partner, Fr. Benoit Kinalegu stated:

“Many of us believed that President Obama’s commitment to addressing the LRA threat would finally help stop our suffering. Yet one year later, we continue to live in fear as the LRA’s attacks have shown no signs of decreasing.”

Progress has been made, but that is not enough to end the suffering and to bring about justice. Confronting this injustice needs much more global support and commitment from international actors, but more so, from the people.

(more…)