Group Seeks to Aid Uganda's Youngest Victims
JACKI LYDEN, host:
And now another story about Americans connecting with people in dire need. For two decades, the Lord's Resistance Army - a brutal cult-like group - has terrorized Uganda. Many victims are children.
Philip Martin reports some Los Angeles activists are helping Uganda's embattled children.
PHILIP MARTIN: Cori Stern(ph) runs her fingers up and down a dog tag around her neck bearing the name of a young woman she doesn't know.
Ms. CORI STERN (Name Campaign): We have the names of several thousand kids, and they're a really personally way to connect with the kids.
MARTIN: The dog tags are from the Name Campaign; it's a non-profit organization dedicated to exposing atrocities committed by the Lord's Resistance Army, or LRA. The rebel group has a long-running armed rebellion against the Ugandan government. And it's been accused of many human rights violations.
That includes using children as soldiers and putting others in harm's way as human shields. Cori Stern, a former TV executive, started the Name Campaign about a year ago to help get medical aid for Ugandan children who've been injured.
Ms. STERN: When people order the nameplate necklace we say look at your tag, this is a name of a real child. We know you want to know if they're safe. The truth is is that no child is safe in northern Uganda until this conflict has come to an end.
MARTIN: Stern is always recruiting people to help the kids caught in the crossfire. One of her most active converts is Amy Eldin(ph) of Los Angeles, who became intrigued with the story of one child's suffering.
Ms. AMY ELDIN (Name Campaign Member): Cori sent me a picture of this little girl named Evelyn, who had been horribly disfigured by the LRA. She had been used as a shield. I couldn't get this girl's image out of my head. And I showed the picture to John and he said, you know, we've got to do this. Let's just bring her over.
MARTIN: John is Eldin's husband, John Turteltaub, a motion picture director.
Mr. JOHN TURTELTAUB (Movie Director): So we went to Uganda, and only by really going could we really understand the weight and the power and the extraordinary sorrow of what's going there.
MARTIN: It was there, in a Ugandan rehabilitation camp, that they met 15-year-old Evelyn. Sitting in a café in West Hollywood, she holds a napkin to her face, trying to hide the scars left by a bomb blast. Her lips are barely there, and her speech is still affected. But Evelyn is a survivor, thanks to a team of volunteer surgeons in Fort Wayne, Indiana who tended to her injuries.
That was last spring. When we met her recently in Los Angeles, Evelyn was out on the town with the new friends who helped bring her to America.
EVELYN (Victim of LRA): Well, I went shopping today. I bought earrings and glasses.
MARTIN: Evelyn is shy, but Cori Stern coaxes her into recalling the pain she suffered as a human shield for the LRA.
Ms. STERN: How many operations have you had?
EVELYN: I had two in Uganda.
Ms. STERN: And you have how many to go?
MARTIN: Stern says the Name Campaign wants to bring other Ugandan children to the U.S. for medical treatment. But she wonders if she can get Hollywood's attention for yet another African humanitarian crisis.
Ms. STERN: She is going to be a trendsetter when she goes back there.
MARTIN: That question's on the minds of eight women meeting on this night in John Turteltaub's Hollywood Hills home.
Ms. MELINDA RANGEY(ph) (Jewelry Maker): We want to talk about like her education and she wants to be a nurse when she grows up. So now...
MARTIN: Melinda Rangey, a jewelry maker, says six months ago she knew next to nothing about Uganda's tragedy.
Ms. RANGEY: I was kind of one of those people that you don't relate to them on a human level. You think, well, it's Africa. It happens there a lot. I didn't know such incredible strife is happening there until I met Amy and Cory and all the girls. And I felt a greater responsibility to make it different.
MARTIN: From his backyard, John Turteltaub looks down on the lights of the city and likens each one to a suffering child in Uganda. Many of their names are now engraved on gold and silver tags from the Name Campaign. Turteltaub recently gave one to a well-known actor.
Mr. TURTELTAUB: And I said, all right, quick, what's the name of the kid on your dogtag? And he sort of looked at me; he only been thinking of it as a group and not really thinking of it as a kid. And then the other day he sent me an e-mail and he said I've been thinking about - and he said the name of the kid, and he's very aware now of that kid's name.
MARTIN: That's kid's name, by the way, is Jacob. Also inscribed on his tag are the words, speak their names, tell their stories, and bring them home.
For NPR News, I'm Phillip Martin.
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