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Uganda’s Child Soldiers on PBS

As a journalist I’m used to working long days.  Adrenaline keeps you in the game for 16 to 20 hours during breaking news and disaster coverage.  You sleep for three hours then you’re back at it.  But nothing prepared me for how exhausted I would be after just a couple of hours of listening to the painful testimonies of young Ugandan men and women who had been abducted as children and forced to fight in Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army.  We produced the story for the PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer when we traveled to Uganda this past June.

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/africa/july-dec10/uganda_11-16.html

During our journey we met up with the young men at World Vision’s Children of War Rehabilitation Center in Gulu, Uganda.  We also spoke with Sarah at her home in Orum in the Otuke District of Northern Uganda.  For 20 years kids as young as 9 were taken from their villages, marched to Sudan where they were trained to be soldiers, and sent out in the battlefield whether they were ready or not.  Michael told us how he was forced to kill his own brother.  Justin showed us his body riddled with bullet wounds.  Sarah gave us a tour of the village, pointing out graves including her sister’s.  It was a senseless civil war and the children didn’t even know why they were fighting.  Estimates are that 30,000 children were kidnapped but those are considered conservative.  More than likely the number is over 50,000.  Many spent their entire childhood in captivity and if they were not killed in battle or shot by ruthless commanders, if they survived their wounds and the traumas they witnessed, they might have been lucky enough to escape or be captured by the Ugandan government and sent into the arms of NGO’s like World Vision who work to rehabilitate them so they can be returned to their villages.  It is tough work.  Many of these children come home as young adults after spending the majority of their lives in the bush.  They have been robbed of their education and have little hope for the future.  They need to trust again.  They suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and depression.  One half of them were forced to kill someone.  Communities have mixed feelings about taking them back.  After all, these rebels killed tens of thousands of people and forced almost two million from their homes.  It’s understandable that there are some hard feelings.  Northern Uganda is at peace again and people have returned to their villages.  It’s hard to imagine this terror just a few years ago. But the physical and emotional scars endure for these children.  For their families.  For the people of the region.  And the LRA has not gone away.  Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army has just moved next door where they are traumatizing the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

For a longer version of the story watch the link below to see what we produced for HDNet’s World Report.

http://player.vimeo.com/video/15209575?portrait=0&color=ffffff

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.

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Uganda’s Child Soldiers: In Their Own Words

As a journalist I’m used to working long days.  Adrenaline keeps you in the game for 16 to 20 hours during breaking news and disaster coverage.  You sleep for three hours then you’re back at it.  But nothing prepared me for how exhausted I would be after just a couple of hours of listening to the painful testimonies of young Ugandan men and women who had been abducted as children and forced to fight in Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army.  We produced the story you see below for HDNet’s World Report when we traveled to Uganda this past June. During our journey we met up with the young men at World Vision’s Children of War Rehabilitation Center in Gulu, Uganda.  We also spoke with Sarah at her home in Orum in the Otuke District of Northern Uganda.  For 20 years kids as young as 9 were taken from their villages, marched to Sudan where they were trained to be soldiers, and sent out in the battlefield whether they were ready or not.  Michael told us how he was forced to kill his own brother.  Justin showed us his body riddled with bullet wounds.  Sarah gave us a tour of the village, pointing out graves including her sister’s.  It was a senseless civil war and the children didn’t even know why they were fighting.  Estimates are that 30,000 children were kidnapped but those are considered conservative.  More than likely the number is over 50,000.  Many spent their entire childhood in captivity and if they were not killed in battle or shot by ruthless commanders, if they survived their wounds and the traumas they witnessed, they might have been lucky enough to escape or be captured by the Ugandan government and sent into the arms of NGO’s like World Vision who work to rehabilitate them so they can be returned to their villages.  It is tough work.  Many of these children come home as young adults after spending the majority of their lives in the bush.  They have been robbed of their education and have little hope for the future.  They need to trust again.  They suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and depression.  One half of them were forced to kill someone.  Communities have mixed feelings about taking them back.  After all, these rebels killed tens of thousands of people and forced almost two million from their homes.  It’s understandable that there are some hard feelings.  Northern Uganda is at peace again and people have returned to their villages.  It’s hard to imagine this terror just a few years ago. But the physical and emotional scars endure for these children.  For their families.  For the people of the region.  And the LRA has not gone away.  Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army has just moved next door where they are traumatizing the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

http://player.vimeo.com/video/15209575?portrait=0&color=ffffff

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Haiti Earthquake: Telling the Story

Woman in Rubble of Haiti Earthquake

The Los Angeles Times and the New York Times are doing a great job reporting a backstory in Haiti.  Their journalists are telling how broadcast and cable news handled the incredible logistics of deploying their people to Port Au Prince to cover the story.  This is not to diminish the role of Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube and cell phones, but to get people like Anderson Cooper of CNN, Brian Williams of NBC and Katie Couric of CBS, along with their entourages, to a country with no infrastructure and then see them on the air within 24 hours after the disaster is an incredible feat.  I am watching my friend Kerry Sanders, who is based in Miami for NBC News, cover this story and it looks like he is taking this disaster personally.  Through exhausted eyes and a sick heart, he is reporting about a country and people he cares about deeply.  In one poignant report he said “this city is now the saddest place on Earth.”

What strikes me about the comments following these articles is the vitriol and nastiness aimed at these first responders.  Sure these are the “celebrities” of the networks but they go because this is a story of such tremendous magnitude and their reporting is touching people who are in turn helping to open the floodgates of aid to Haiti at this most terrible time.  I am shocked that anyone would be critical of these efforts.  They are allowing all of us to bear witness and stay informed.  They are moving us to reach for our wallets when we are powerless to do anything else.  Who cares if the broadcasts are rough?  Who cares if Al Roker is doing the weather from the tarmac?  He is also interviewing the people from all over the world who are arriving to roll up their sleeves.  Why shouldn’t Ann Curry be desperately trying to get on a chopper?  Why shouldn’t she rush to the scene along with rescuers and NGOs to cover one of the greatest catastrophes ever?  They’re not getting in the way.  They’re making sure the Haitian people are not forgotten.  I wish I was there with them.  Get real, people.     

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-et-haiti-media14-2010jan14,0,3499947.story

http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/01/14/worlds-news-media-enters-port-au-prince/

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.