"Those who are more influential because they have greater share of goods and common services should feel responsible for the weaker and be ready to share with them all they possess… the Church feels called to take her stand beside the poor, to discern the justice of their requests and to help satisfy them, without losing sight of the good of groups in the context of the common good." - On Social Concern, #39.
"One of the most striking features of today's world, and one due in no small measure to modern technical progress, is the very great increase in mutual interdependence between people." -The Church in the Modern World, #23.
You’ve most likely heard or seen the phrase “Kony 2012” if you’ve used Facebook, Twitter, Youtube or any other major internet platform within the past few weeks. Maybe you’ve seen the promotional video, maybe you’ve ignored it. Maybe you’ve been inspired to donate, maybe you’ve been skeptical. In any case, as Catholics and world citizens, it’s important to be informed and make a difference in the most socially, ethically, and morally responsible way. I was surprised that it took Catholic media outlets a few weeks to respond to the viral video. However, a few sources have responded, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, and I wanted to take this rare social opportunity to sort it out. Pope Paul VI reiterated to the world that “if you want peace, work for justice,” in 1972. 50 years later, KONY 2012 challenges Catholics, and the global community, to work for justice responsibly, morally and effectively.
*Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is NOT to dictate the Church’s stance on this social issue. To my knowledge, the Catholic Church hasn’t issued an official statement of guidance to the Church, aside from the wonderful guidance on social justice given to us by Pope Paul VI and Bl. John Paul II. The purpose of this article IS to provide facts, information, and resources for Catholics seeking to make a difference, especially in regard to this social issue, to do so responsibly and knowledgeably.
THE BASICS: For anyone who may not be familiar with the phrase or actual campaign, “Kony 2012” is the name of a campaign created by Invisible Children, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending the propagation of child soldiers in African countries. In brief, the campaign calls for the recognition and arrest of Joseph Kony, leader of a rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Invisible Children sites Kony’s crimes to include the kidnapping and abduction of thousands of children, the use of young boys in his violent rebel armies, the rape and sexual enslavement of young girls, and the killings of many Ugandan and Central African villagers. The ultimate goal of the Kony 2012 campaign is the capture, incarceration, and trial of Joseph Kony by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
INVISIBLE CHILDREN: Invisible Children, the nonprofit behind this viral campaign, claims to use ““film, creativity, and social action to end the use of child soldiers in Joseph Kony’s rebel war and restore LRA-affected communities in Central Africa to peace and prosperity.” Invisible Children are “storytellers, activists and everyday people who use the power of media to inspire young people to help end the longest running armed conflict in Africa.” Invisible Children does this through “documentaries,” lobbying, and a team of “development professionals…[who] partner with local communities to implement and maintain education programs and economic initiatives in the war affected region [of Africa].”
Invisible Children claims half of their work occurs in the US, while the other half takes place in Uganda. In the US, the organization is most known for its video campaigns, though few have been as effective and viral as the Kony 2012 video. Invisible Children travels the country, giving showings of their videos at high schools, universities, and businesses. The organization also dabbles in lobbying, particularly trying to garner political support for the US intervention in Uganda. In Uganda, Invisible Children’s website lists a couple of programs, primarily surrounding schools. The organization offers a scholarship program that sponsors nearly 500 children to attend primary school. Schools for Schools, a program that encourages US schools to raise money for school refurbishment, has been suspended temporarily, but partners with the scholarship program to assist students in Northern Uganda. The most notable Ugandan effort is the Bracelet Project, which sells Ugandan made bracelets to raise money for local villagers to support Savings programs, Water and Sanitation programs, and Literacy programs.
Where does Kony 2012 factor into all of this? Kony 2012 is the featured campaign for this year and Invisible Children. The organization plans to schedule viewings of this 30 minute video, despite its internet popularity, throughout the United States. In addition, the organization has voiced its intention to continue lobbying members of Congress, and other government officials, to advocate for a United States intervention in Uganda.
THE CONTROVERSY: As is natural in our society, anything popular can’t be free of scandal. Soon after the Kony 2012 video went viral, backlashes to the campaign came from all directions. Skeptics of the Kony 2012 campaign, and Invisible Children at large, pointed to several elements of the strategy that they found questionable:
1. Financial Critique: According to many of the skeptical sources, donations to the Kony 2012 campaign were not going to directly to children in Uganda, but rather to the operating costs for Invisible Children to show this video in the United States. Various sources have claimed that only 30-37% of the organization’s revenue goes to programs in Africa, while most of the budget goes to funding programs in the United States and paying overhead salaries.
2. Kony’s Diminished Influence: The timing of this campaign also drew skepticism, as many sources report that Ugandan writers, citizens, and officials claim that Joseph Kony no longer leads the LRA, at least not in Uganda. Various reports claim the LRA has been out of Uganda for as many as six years, and that the country no longer views the LRA as a predominant threat. Rumors have even circulated to claim that Kony may be dead.
3.Ethics of the Ugandan Government: According to the Kony 2012 campaign plan, Invisible Children lobbies government officials to become involved with this conflict in Uganda, primarily through enabling the local governments and armies to capture Joseph Kony. Some Human Rights activists have drawn attention to Central African armies’ questionable pasts, some of which include egregious human rights violations themselves. In other words, critics on this front believe support of this campaign uses unethical groups to fight another unethical problem.
Invisible Children, catching wind of both the hype and growing skepticism, released its response to these, and other, criticisms via their website and video. While I will not explicate their responses, I tell you all of this to make a point: this is not a simple issue. Whenever the world deals with human rights, governments, red tape, and a legal system, things get tricky. From our standpoint, as citizens outside the conflict, we need to consider the sources, consider the facts, and consider a) in what capacity we can make the most impact and b) how responsible our impact will be for all involved.
THE CATHOLIC RESPONSE: So, what do we do? The success and prevalence of this campaign leaves very few with the desire to do nothing. Invisible Children should be commended for bringing such awareness to a conflict that has largely been, well, invisible to many Americans for the past 20 years. Yet, an exceptional marketing and campaigning job doesn’t necessarily, in my opinion, garner my dollars. As a Catholic, as a world citizen seeking to do good, I want to be responsible, effective, and moral in my philanthropy, especially when I cannot feasibly give my time or talent to assist in the cause.
Enter Catholic Relief Services. CRS aims “to assist the poor and vulnerable overseas.” (crs.org). CRS acts on behalf of US Bishops, and “work[s] with local, national and international Catholic institutions and structures, as well as other organizations, to assist people on the basis of need, not creed, race or nationality” (crs.org). The organization has been rated as “A+” organization by the American Institute of Philanthropy, among many other accolades.
When it has come to the issue of child trafficking in Africa, CRS has been on the front lines (literally) since the 1980s. The organization sites that they have been active in the LRA conflict for nearly 2 decades, providing safety shelters for children on the run, providing food and clean water to refugees, and working in peace-building efforts. The USCCB (US Conference of Catholic Bishops) has officially condemned human trafficking on all fronts, and remains the leading philanthropic organization working against this atrocity, largely due to the work of CRS. CRS partners with many organizations in Uganda, including AIDSRelief Treatment Facilities and the Ugandan Catholic Church. CRS has 3 staffed sites in Uganda, including a main branch in Kampala with 100 paid staff members.
CRS donates nearly 95% of all donations to its programs expenses, meaning the vast majority of your dollar will go directly to funding programs making a difference in the places CRS serves (not salaries or overhead expenses). Further, CRS is in line with the Catholic Church, and functions under the close monitoring of the USCCB and other Catholic partners. Giving your donations to CRS, you can be assured your money will be put to good use: it will be put to programs, it will be used to help people in need, and it will be used morally.
CONCLUSION: I reiterate, I’m not writing any of this to disparage Invisible Children, their mission, or even the Kony 2012 campaign. However, I am encouraging all who read this to be conscious of your philanthropic efforts (time, talent and treasure). Do research! As public organizations, you can often access charities’ financial information (form 990s, financial statements) for free. Look below for resources on how to do this. Be mindful of the organization’s mission, how they plan to achieve their mission, and how/where they spend money. I believe we can all agree that this world needs our help. As responsible, Catholic citizens, it is our duty and our charge to provide help to those in need. Whether it’s children in Africa, earthquake victims in Haiti, or your next door neighbor, you can make a difference. Consider Jesus’ words in Matthew’s Gospel, and let us all strive to be on the right side by using our time, talents and treasures effectively here on this earth…
“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me" (Matthew 25).