Students collect books for child soldiers in Uganda

Moved by a movie of Ugandan teens trying to rebuild lives after forced servitude in a rebel army, 30 Ashland High School students are conducting a book collecting campaign that will add to the supply of school books for the displaced students.

Members of the club, called "Rescue the Child Soldiers," are going door-to-door, soliciting books via e-mail and text appeals and will hold a day-long book collection on the Ashland Plaza, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 19.

"Every time you get the opportunity to help, it's fun — and they've shown us a way," said senior Kate Jensen, explaining how the students get credit for books from the Schools for Schools project.

The books are boxed and sent in, with credit turned into purchase of applicable books through Better World Books, an organization that supports global literacy with online sale of donated books, said Claire Dawson, head of the AHS club.

"What we need are books in good condition," Dawson said. "Paperbacks are good, hardbacks are better. College textbooks are good, but not high school books. We enter the title online and they assign a zero to 20 value to each book. We've been averaging about 10 on the scale and we've collected over 1,000 books."

Club advisor (and Dawson's mother) Patty Lawson picks up the books, plugs them into the BWB system by their ISBN number and oversees the boxing and shipping of the books.

The nationwide book campaign is organized by Invisible Children, whose Web site, invisiblechildren.com, notes it's a competition among 1,575 schools that has so far collected more than 86,000 books and raised $363,200.

In AHS classes, the organization gave a presentation of its movie "Invisible Children," shot on site in Uganda in 2003 and explaining how teens can help with book drives.

The AHS students have "adopted" Anaka Secondary School, 35 miles outside Gulu in a war-affected zone of Northern Uganda, where 80 percent of 916 students come from war displacement camps, according to the S4S Web site.

The displaced teens, both boys and girls, were kidnapped young and forced into service as sex slaves or soldiers — and have had their parents killed, said Jensen, but now are rebuilding their lives and rehabilitating devastated schools.

The displacement of 1.8 million people is the result of a 23-year war between the the Government of Uganda and the Lord's Resistance Army, led by rebel militia leader Joseph Kony, according to the Invisible Children Web site.

"I'm doing it because they came to the school"¦and I like doing something personal and I'm close to them in age," said AHS senior Nicholas Dake. "It's scary to think of children that age fighting against their will for something so stupid. The Ugandan government doesn't have the resources to stop Kony."

The book drive, Dake said, "is going great, it's pretty easy and I think we have more points than any other school in the region. A lot of people don't have the money to donate right now, so this is a good way for them to help."

Several club students say they're motivated by the simple fact, that despite the hardships of a recession, Americans have it easy compared to the Ugandan students.

"Kids over there aren't given a chance," said senior Brietta Powers. "I had a good childhood. They should be given a chance."

Junior Rachel Blizinski said, "Everyone expects others to do something. Everyone has the ability to help."

Senior Nayeon Kim noted, "I want to make the world a better place and help get rid of poverty and child soldiers."

Senior Cynde Trujillo said, "It's terrible what's happened over there. I doubt this (book drive) will completely change it, but it's consoling to help in some way."

"It makes me feel I'm helping," said sophomore Isis Terrall. "Seeing the film made me want to get involved because we have such great lives here. I want to be able to help others and feel I'm having a purpose."

People wanting to donate books may e-mail Katherine.a.Jensen@gmail.com.

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