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Former child soldier shares life story

Born during the rise of the Lord’s Resistance Army, Ocitti “David” Okech’s life was changed when he was abducted by the African militant group in 2002.

He was only 17 and forced to join the ranks of the LRA, an army known for kidnapping children and forcing them to act as soldiers in a war against the Ugandan government.

“I was born in the year it started,” Okech said. “I lived in it. I grew up in it. I personally suffered in it.”

Okech, now 25, visited the Tempe campus Tuesday night with representatives from Invisible Children, an organization dedicated to bring awareness and end the LRA’s use of children soldiers.

The event featured a film screening of the organization’s work in Africa along with a question-and-answer session with Okech.

The LRA, formed in 1987, has since moved to other regions including South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central Africa, kidnapping children to serve in the army and forcing them to kill innocent people — sometimes family members.

“Staying with the LRA was the worst thing I’ve ever seen,” Okech said. “The only thing you would be thinking of … was whether you were going to be killed or not, every day and night.”

Okech managed to escape six months later and is now a living example of the LRA survivors.

Justice studies freshman Teresa Hauer said she has been to several Invisible Children events and each one motivates her to make a difference.

“For me, these things are really motivating and really push me off to want to do something,” Hauer said. “So if more people came to these, more people would be inspired to do something.”

Rachael Capone, a “roadie” or full-time volunteer for Invisible Children, said she learned about the LRA after studying abroad in Kenya during college.

Capone stayed with a Ugandan woman whose sister was abducted by the LRA and said the experience was eye opening.

“I thought of myself as a pretty well-informed person, I read the news and I stay current with events but I was just kind of appalled that I’d never heard of this war,” she said.

Capone said the goal of the 10-week tour is for each team of roadies to raise public awareness and $2 million for Invisible Children.

“I hope that people would realize that this is not an African problem,” Capone said. “It’s not something that can only happen there, this is a challenge for our generation.”

Because we have knowledge of the events, action is obligatory, Capone said.

Business and global studies sophomore Kimberly Irwin said the event was important to inform ASU students who are quick to dismiss issues abroad.

“I think it’s significant that they are at ASU because a lot of people don’t know what’s going on in the world and it’s surprising,” Irwin said. “So to just have someone give a first hand account is really eye opening and it brings it closer to home.”

Okech, who is serving his second tour for Invisible Children, said he appreciates the opportunity to speak and help people realize they have the power to make an impact.

“Everyone can make a difference,” Okech said. “It doesn’t matter where you are or who you are, the struggle for peace is for everyone.”


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