More than 300 people placed thousands of dollars in auction bids to better the lives of Ugandan children during A Community Affair, hosted by the Exchange for Life organization last weekend.
Participants learned about the children affected by the war in northern Uganda at the event, which went from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Sunken Garden in the Santa Barbara Courthouse. Exchange for Life — a Goleta-based organization dedicated to disseminating information about the war in northern Uganda and providing monetary relief for children affected by the conflict — collected $20,000 in silent auction bids, Camille Macres, publicity coordinator for the organization, said.
Although the auction only raised a portion of Exchange For Life’s $100,000 goal, Macres said half of the funds collected will go to World Vision- a rehabilitation center for former child-soldiers in Uganda. She said the rest of the money will go to Jason Russell, Bobby Bailey and Laren Poole, whose documentary film about Uganda, “Invisible Children,” inspired Macres and her friend Robin Rios to create the Exchange For Life organization.
Rios said the documentary depicts the situation in Uganda, where children are kidnapped from their homes and forced to become child soldiers in the war between a rebel group called the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan government.
“We watched the documentary that told the whole story of the children … and how they were forced to kill,” Rios said. “The movie made us realize we could use our own money, voice and time to help.”
Pictures of Ugandan children were set up in the grass at the event, so people could see the effects of the war firsthand. A caption on one such picture, which showed a child soldier with a bottle of shea butter around his neck, read that the LRA tells abducted children such talismans will protect them from bullets.
Attendees at the event also heard speeches by Congresswoman Lois Capps and Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum, as well as Col. Charles Angina, the defense advisor to the ambassador of Uganda.
Amnesty International, The ONE Campaign and Invisible Children set up booths at the event to provide information about different areas of the world affected by poverty and civil war. Jamba Juice and Starbucks donated drinks and collected donations throughout the day. There were also appearances by local musicians Matthew McAvene and Lois Mahalia, who performed Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All.” Rosemary Orozco, who helped host the event, said the silent auction items included gift and restaurant certificates, a year-long membership to 24 Hour Fitness, cosmetics and artwork. She said the scheduled live auction was postponed to an unspecified later date because turnout for the event was smaller than anticipated.
Angina said he thinks children sometimes cooperate with the LRA because they believe fighting in the war is a way out of poverty.
“Poverty is the root cause why children, when recruited, begin to have hope that by carrying guns they can gain something,” Angina said.
In her speech, Capps called the war in Uganda “a war by children, on children.” She said she thinks Santa Barbara residents should show their support for the children of Uganda.
“We are one small, fragile planet,” Capps said. “And we know we are connected in invisible ways-and now we’ll make them visible ways-to children in Uganda.”
Blum said she also thinks locals can and should help the Ugandan children.
“When we were children, we were allowed to be children: to play, to go to school,” Blum said. “But that’s not happening everywhere. Children of Uganda are being used in a terrible way, and we can help them.”