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Answering your questions about Children of War in Uganda story (Tim Sandler, Producer)
Thank you to everyone who took the time to e-mail us about our story on the plight of the children in northern Uganda. As you might imagine we’ve received a considerable number of letters. I hope this note will address most of the questions that you’ve asked.
For more information, in general, Dateline’s Web site has some addition contact information.
On it you’ll find how to contact the volunteer group that’s running the shelter where Patrick spends each night. The name is Charity for Peace. Any questions about Patrick can go through Charity for Peace. If you want to skip going to the Web site and send an email directly, the address is CharityforPeace@gmail.com.
For those of you have asked how to get involved in other ways, there is a Boston-based group called Ugandan North American Association. The groups president says it involved in everything from petition drives to getting assistance to those in need in northern Uganda. The web site address is www.unaanet.com. The phone number is 617-780-9116.
Finding inspiration in the midst of misery in Uganda (Tim Sandler, Dateline producer)
As you look into the eyes of the children of northern Uganda, it's difficult not to think of your own children and envision them in the same situation. They're images your mind won't let you stay on for too long: your daughter abducted and used as a commander's "wife," your son forced to become a child soldier, killing neighbors and family members.
And then you think about what it must be like for parents sending their children off — tens of thousands of them — to safer terrain, fearing they could be maimed or stolen at any time. So called night commuters. No dinner story telling, no family history shared, no tender good nights. Just fear passed on from one generation to the next.
You see places like a destitute displacement camp like Pabbo, where 63,000 are crammed into a makeshift community and struggling to survive, and the despair is hard to shake.
James' staff is uncommonly dedicated. We met a woman working at Charity for Peace who was telling us about what they do for the children. She apologized for having to leave us before she was done explaining how the volunteer program works. She said she had lost her sister. Lost her sister? We asked her what she meant. Her sister had died the day before, she told us, and she had to be with her family now. Still, she said she wanted to try to talk more about the children with us the next day. Such extraordinary devotion.
Not long ago, James brought Patrick to Gulu town, where there are some computers you can use if there isn't one of the routine blackouts. Patrick tapped out an email to me, proud that he was named leader of the room where he sleeps in the shelter. He signed it "Your best friend ... PATRICK ... CLASS CAPTAIN ... CHARITY FOR PEACE FOUNDATION GULU UGANDA."
A proud moment for Patrick amid the chaos surrounding him, given to him by James Kidega and his staff at Charity for Peace. Difficult not to be inspired.
Coming back from Uganda a changed man (Keith Morrison, Dateline Correspondent)
Yes, Virginia, there is a boogeyman. Most people in America can muddle along for years without thinking much about a place like Uganda. But go there once, and you come back changed.
This is, need it be said, a country with a colorful past.
Our story was up north, hundreds of miles past largely abandoned tourist destinations — gorgeous scenery, brazen baboons, — in a conflict which owes its beginnings to the long departed Mr. Amin. Up here in towns with names like Gulu and Lira are the northern tribes from which Amin came. When he was driven from power 20 years ago, many northerners expected reprisals; an independence movement began in anticipation. And though the reprisals never came, the movement morphed into a bizarre rebel "cult" lead by a man who claims to be a reincarnated Jesus (and Moses thrown in, too): Joseph Kony. Some of the poorest of the poor around this part of the country — and there are millions of them — believe he has mythic powers, that he can kill with a curse, or throw an invisible net of protection around his soldiers.
Trouble is, the soldiers are kids. He kidnaps them and forces them to fight for him.
And this is the reason we are here. We met children who were taken when they were 7 or 8 years old, trained to use weapons, forced to kill friends, family — anybody Kony wanted killed. Why take the little ones? Because they are malleable, they can easily be brainwashed. So now this army of children wanders around northern Uganda, living entirely in the bush, striking villagers who neither know nor care why Kony is opposing the government. We talked to kids— escaped soldiers— who had been forced to beat their parents to death. Others told us they had been forced to kill infants who cried too much, or stragglers unable to keep up. Usually, they said, they would beat them with heavy sticks. Something like a baseball bat. They also had a supply of lightweight assault weapons, just right for a pre-teen to carry. Kony's misinterpretations of the Bible have led to heartbreakingly brutal mutilations. Because the people oppose him, he has lips or ears or breasts cut off. He attacks at night, targets rural villages, mostly.
During our visit, we noticed a few people from the International Criminal Court in the area to prepare a case against Kony. There are government soldiers everywhere, you see them strolling up and down the red dirt roads out in the country. Their campaign against Kony, however, has been decidedly mixed. They do engage the rebels, but often end up killing a bunch of kids.
So far, it’s the local efforts, and especially the brave work of one Ugandan woman, which seem most promising. Many of the Ugandans we talked to wanted to find a tribal solution: If Kony will agree to give up and apologize, the locals could start a complex ceremony leading ultimately to something that looks a lot like forgiveness. Sounded weird to Western ears, but the idea appears to have support.
When we visited one of the refugee camps I found myself wondering how long I would survive in one of them. A few days? A week? It’s humbling to realize how soft life is in the West — how tough these people are.
They have no food because they can't work their farms. Too dangerous. So we drove by countless empty food store-houses. Northern Uganda lives on UN handouts and the apparently tireless work of the NGOs. One of the UN people told me that most of the food is donated by the US, but the help is a drop in the bucket compared to the need.
And then we saw the night commuters. So strange and sad. They were little kids — 5, 6 years old. There were teenagers, rowdy boys, mothers with brand new babies. The kids had gone to school all day, then walked for miles and miles just for the chance to sleep safely where the rebels can't kidnap them. They filled up tents set up by Doctors Without Borders and other groups. They filled up city schools, libraries, enclosed courtyards, any available safe place. We asked some of them, how often do you eat? Once a day, they told us. They drink dirty water. Most of them are at risk of dying from malaria and other diseases the rest of us could cure with one trip to the drug store. They have no shoes.
But you hang out around one of the sleeping centers and they look up at you and laugh and laugh. They chatter, dance, organize games, tell jokes.
Even while they deal with horrors so vile they are beyond imagining.
As I say, you come back changed.
E-mail Keith at Dateline@MSNBC.com.
When reporting makes an unexpected difference (Richard Greenberg, Dateline producer; and Chris Hansen, Dateline correspondent)
When we first went to Cambodia in 2003 , what we found was incredibly disturbing: sexual predators traveling from around the world — Europe, Asia, Australia, and North America — to satisfy their perverse desires. They were drawn to Cambodia because sex with kids here was readily available. On any corner in Phnom Penh, men on motorbikes would offer to take you to see the young girls. They could introduce you to pimps and madams proud to show off virgins for sale.
One look at those kids was heartbreaking. We hoped our reporting could make a difference. It has, in ways that we never anticipated.
First, the human rights group we were with in Cambodia, the International Justice Mission (IJM), was able to use the fact that we were reporting on the issue to persuade the Cambodian government to take action against at least some of the traffickers. The result was a raid in March 2003 that led to the arrest of a dozen or more locals, nearly all of whom were convicted and are now serving long jail sentences.
During the police raid, the IJM was able to rescue 36 girls, 10 of them under the age of 10. These kids had been exploited, abused, and raped by the adults in their lives. What would happen to them?
The IJM worked with local charities to put the girls into group homes, where they could hopefully find some psychological stability. Many, we are told, are clearly doing better. They are housed, clothed, fed, and are receiving real educations, something unavailable in their previous lives. Some, however, particularly older teens, have returned to the brothels, as it is the only livelihood they have known.
When then-Secretary of State Colin Powell screened the tape of Dr. Albom, he told us Dr. Albom was a “criminal” who needed psychiatric treatment. No charges have ever been filed against Dr. Albom, who denies any wrongdoing. But medical authorities in two states have expressed concerns: the state of Washington is holding up his application for a medical license, citing complaints over the information we reported, and Ohio has turned him down for a license. Dr. Albom is appealing that decision. (Click here and here for PDF files concerning that decision.)
But the most unexpected result is this week’s story about the case of Donald Bakker, a Canadian who recently pleaded guilty to sexually abusing young girls in Cambodia. Bakker led a double life. He worked a regular job in the catering department of a Vancouver hotel. But on his lunch break, he would step out for sordid sessions with local prostitutes. He would pay them for rough sex, then would get rougher than they ever expected.
Police say Bakker liked to keep a trophy of his crimes on videotape, lugging a camera wherever he went. hat apparently included trips to Asia. It turns out that in the winter of 2003, he visited Cambodia, where he shot video of seven little girls performing sex acts on him.
Who could have guessed that within just a few weeks of Bakker’s visit, our team would be undercover in Cambodia, inside the same brothels as Bakker, meeting some of the same girls, but for a completely different purpose.
The fact that Bakker is now in prison provides some solace, as does the fact that at least four of his victims have been rescued from the brothels and are now being cared for and educated.
But that means that three other girls he abused are probably still sex slaves. So are dozens of other children we saw in Cambodia, and thousands we never met. It’s hard not to be haunted by that thought.
- Click here for Richard Greenberg's post when the report first aired
- Click here for Chris Hansen's post when the report first aired
Nestled in the hills of central California, The Academy of the Sierras bills itself as the nation's first residential high school for overweight teenagers and is the focus of Rob Stafford's emotional and unique report on teenagers fighting life-threatening obesity. Last January, school officials granted "Dateline" extensive access to the campus, where teens from all over the country attend class, exercise rigorously, strictly monitor their diet, and learn to shed the emotional weight they've been carrying along with the extra pounds. The report focuses on four teens, aged 14 to 17, whose combined weight at the start of the semester tops half a ton. "Dateline" follows their trials and triumphs for five months as they leave family, friends and their old schools behind to tackle the biggest battle of their lives.
Learning from teenagers (Susan Friedman, Dateline producer)
Last Christmas, I was assigned to do a story on the first high school for obese teenagers. These were not just kids 20 pounds overweight, these were kids weighing in the 300-lbs. range. I must admit my first thoughts were along the lines of, “How did their parents allow them to get so big?” And, since the high school is a private boarding school in a rather remote location, I was anticipating a bunch of spoiled kids whose parents wanted their kids' weight to be someone else's problem. I was so wrong.
My first visit was early in January when a new bunch of kids had just arrived. I wanted the report to be geographically diverse, and I hoped each kid would stay the 5 months to the end of the program. But, of course, there are never any guarantees. So by the end of the first day, I had asked Allison Cole from Virginia Beach, Jonny’s Dallo from outside San Diego, Cassi Harp from Bentonville, Arkansas and Shari Lininger from Yuba City, California to participate. They were all enthusiastic.
It didn't take long to learn that obesity is really a cover-up for so many other problems. And as I researched the story, I was shocked by how the numbers of obese people in the general population are climbing so rapidly. When Jonny’s mom told me how she'd taken Jonny to the doctor right before he started AOS and how his blood pressure was so high, I realized that all these kids were in real danger. And not only were the kids in danger, but the entire health care system is in danger with an exploding teenage obesity problem. Who will be paying for the diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems obese teenagers may eventually experience?
As we got to know the four students, I got to know their families. My original thinking could not have been farther from reality. All of the families had tried just about everything one could imagine to help their child lose weight.The struggle had been painful and heartbreaking for all of them. And as a parent myself, I know there's just so far you can push your own kid. Sometimes you need to step aside. And that's what happened in these families: sending a child away for five or more months was a joint decision. The child really wanted to change and the parent saw AOS as their last and best hope.
It was amazing to observe the changes in these kids. They dug deep to find out why they had been so out of control. After five months they looked beautiful — and they felt beautiful — and they taught all of us who worked on this project so much.
In the news business, we're always learning something we didn't know, but we never expected to learn as much as we did from these kids about the pressures of being a teenager.
And, probably equally as important as their new looks, the results of this "experiment" in weight loss are being tried in a pilot project in the Washington D.C. Schools. Aspen Education group, the parent corporation of AOS, along with CVS and Pfizer pharmaceuticals did some initial testing on kids for diabetes. Of the group participating in this project, 75 percent of the parents said their kids had increased their physical exercise using pedometers and 64 percent had changed the basic diet in their homes.
We need to thank Shari Lininger, Cassi Harp, Jonny Dallo, and Allison Cole for opening themselves to us and telling their stories. We could never have done this story without them.
The report airs on Dateline Friday, 8 p.m./7 C.
Development in Tamika Huston case
Earlier this month, we told you about 24-year-old Tamika Huston report “Dateline” brought you just two weeks ago Earlier this month, we told you about 24-year old Tamika Huston who disappeared over a year ago. Her family did everything to get the word out. Tamika became a symbol for the missing who were missing from TV news. But now there's been a break in her case — a tragic one.
Police in South Carolina have charged 25-year old Christopher Hampton with murder. They say he has admitted killing Tamika and has led them to a wooded area where remains were found that are believed to be hers.
In a statement on the Huston family’s Web site, the family thanked Spartanburg Public Safety Department for their investigative efforts. “For our family, this day brings us both tremendous sadness and some sense of relief. While trying to come to terms with the fact that our Tamika will not return to us, we find comfort in knowing the person responsible for this most personal tragedy is being brought to justice.”