As many seniors are focused on GPAs, AP classes, college applications, and impending ‘senioritis,’ one Leesville senior is focused on a more global concern. Andrew Byrum is focused and dedicated to a cause called ‘Invisible Children,’ and he wants you to be, too.
In 2003, Invisible Children: Rough Cut was released, exposing the horrors of Africa’s longest running war and the kidnapping of children to be trained as child soldiers. This subject, though also addressed in the TV show Veronica Mars and the Leonardo DiCaprio film Blood Diamonds is not well known, and most people have never heard the phrase ‘invisible children.’
Byrum has been passionate about international human rights for several years but had not been very active until the start of an organization called ‘Caring4Congo’ that he helped to initiate with fellow students Gabriel McNair, Gene Kim, Biya Miressa, Ron Harris and Zach Rhodes, seniors, Bilo Hoese and Milkyas Miress, class of 2011.
Caring4Congo is an organization that advocates against the use of conflict minerals mined in the Congo. Many of the everyday electronics that are used in the United States contain these minerals, and as with ‘blood diamonds,’ consumers need to be made aware of the true price of these items.
One of the highlights of his involvement in Caring4Congo was the two successful meetings with Dr. McLaurin and Dr. Morrison of the Wake County School Board. The meetings, according to Byrum, were difficult to arrange due to the school board’s busy schedule of redistricting during that time. Byrum and his fellow activists were pleased to learn during the meeting that the board members were just as passionate about the cause as the students. “[The meetings] were very encouraging,” said Byrum. “[McLaurin and Morrison] were eager to put forth more effort to help the cause.”
“We are hoping to meet with the superintendent, Mr. Tata, in the near future to discuss how the Wake County Public School System can utilize their power as a large consumer to enact positive social change and help eliminate the usage of conflict minerals in our electronics and end the subsequent violence being fueled in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” said Byrum.
Caring 4 Congo is a still-active organization and continues to raise awareness and funds. In the past, Byrum and other similarly minded student activists have hosted a 3k road race, a benefits concert, and continue to see T-shirts and advocate for the non-profit HEAL Africa. You can visit their website – www.caring4congo.com
While he continues to be active in Caring4Congo, Byrum is re-focusing on the issue that first brought his attention to the African continent – Invisible Children.
Byrum explained his viewpoints on this specific crisis in Africa. “I would like to work to end the LRA’s (Lord’s Resistance Army) 25-year reign of destruction in which 30,000 children have been kidnapped and forced to commit unthinkable atrocities as child soldiers. This on-going violence and use of children as young as six and seven is sickening and must be stopped … childhood must be brought back to Central Africa.”
As far as his plans for continuing activism are concerned, Byrum hopes to dedicate his near future to travel and public speaking about the cause at universities and high schools across the United States. “I am applying for the roadie internship – basically [I would] live out of a van traveling the U.S. with the Invisible Children organization for 4 months in the spring. I will opt for early graduation if I am fortunate enough to get a spot.”
Down the road, Byrum hopes to major in International Studies and to work abroad as a humanitarian and human rights advocate. “I want to dedicate my life and use my comfortable standard of living to better the lives of the world’s most neglected and ignored. There is absolutely no valid reason nor moral justification for the fact that 20,000 children die each day from starvation or that 5.4 million people have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo since the late 1990’s with little to no media or political attention,” Byrum reasoned. “Every human being on this planet deserves the same basic natural rights that we in the U.S. were simply given at birth. I want to work to make this a reality.”
While many high school students care deeply about many social issues, few go to the lengths and level of involvement that Byrum has achieved. An inspiration to those of us who are still planning for our lives after high school, Byrum begins on a road that he found while still at Leesville.
Byrum believes in this fight worth fighting and hopes to see others join the cause. “I want people to know the basic information of various conflicts and humanitarian crises around the world rather than to just group the continent of Africa or the entire developing world as one hopeless pit of despair.”
Above all, Byrum wants to promote solidarity worldwide. “[Solidarity that is] not bound by race, ethnicity, nor religion. But that is all encompassing and limitless. Solidarity of the human race. Only then can epic social progress transpire. Idealistic much? Absolutely.”
Virginia Reed is a superb writer and an even better friend. She enjoys unhealthy foods and writing sarcastic articles. Virginia is the Online Editor for the 2011-12 school year and was a Managing Editor for the 2010-11 year but has not forgotten her humble beginnings as a staff writer when she was a wee sophomore. Her goals for the future are to get an A in newspaper and to apply to college in a timely fashion.