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Pete Wentz: Rescuing Uganda's child soldiers

Image: Pete Wentz in Uganda
Pete Wentz, right in orange, mingles with children in the Gulu Township of northern Uganda with Fall Out Boy members Joe Trohman, left, and Andy Hurley in July 2007. Sarah Shreves / Invisible Children
/ Source: NBC News

Q: Tell me what the organization Invisible Children does.

Wentz: Essentially it’s a nonprofit organization that is interested in ending children in slavery around the world, specifically focused in Uganda, in northern Uganda. They have a bunch of specific programs as well. In general [it] is empowering people by letting people empower themselves, rather than going in. There are different groups that work in different ways and this is about people and infrastructure in the country and allowing people to educate themselves and pick themselves up.

Q: I know it deals with various aspects in northern Uganda and one of them in particular is child soldiers. Could you elaborate?

Wentz: There’s the government and then there’s a group called the LRA, which is the Lord’s Resistance Army. It’s headed by this guy, Joseph Kony. Essentially what they had been doing was abducting children and turning them into soldiers. It displaced a whole community of people in Uganda. They were put in these camps and pretty much live in squalor in a one-square-by-one-square area.

Q: Dealing with the child-soldiers issue, I saw how you were part of an effort called the “Displace Me” Program. Could you tell me a little bit about that?

Wentz: Inorder to stand with the people in northern Uganda, we’ve created these kind of displacement camps, there’s I think 15 across America. We do one in Orange County here and you live in a cardboard shantytown for a night and have just water and crackers.  We went to the [actual] camps, and [the camps in America] are actually still better than that, but I think that it’s really good to engage people and ideas like that.

And upcoming, there’s one where they’re doing this thing called [of Joseph Kony’s Child Soldiers]. It’s where people abduct themselves. Before, I think, Invisible Childrenwas promoting the idea of peace talks and Joseph Kony had entered peace talks, but then removed himself from them. Now, the idea is to abduct yourself into the city. There’s going to be like 25 of them or something like that across America. It kind of sheds light on the idea that now, once he’s kind of left the peace talks, the only way to bring peace to the region is to arrest him.  

Q: I saw how you actually personally took part in the Displace Me program. How would you describe your experience with that?

Wentz: You mean the one in Orange County or in Uganda?

Q: Well I saw that you took part in the Orange County one …

Wentz: It was a pretty interesting experience for me. I don't think I experienced it in the same way as everyone else did because, when you go into things as a celebrity, people tend to handle you a little bit differently. So it was really important for me to have an authentic version of it and I think that the value is to be able share it as well. I wanted to go to Uganda, and so we actually went to Uganda and visited one of the displacement camps there. It’s pretty much just the most atrocious thing on the planet.

I saw that you visited northern Uganda in the summer of 2007. Could you tell me about your experience there? You said you went to a camp. What did you particularly do there, and how would you describe that experience?

Wentz: We went there with the idea that we were going to film this documentary video for the last single on our last record, "Infinity on High," and it was going to be kind of like a Fall Out Boy in northern Uganda. But when we got there, we realized that people are the same around the world, I mean it just depends on what longitude or latitude you’re born in that determines your fate. We realized it would be more painted to retain the narrative. So it’s loosely based on a story we heard there. It’s this love story between two Ugandan teenagers and one of them gets abducted and how he deals with it in his head and relates to it. We went with Invisible Children and the people there were really gracious to us.

And I’ll speak little bit about the programs. They have a program called Schools for Schools where schools over here can directly raise money and it directly goes to schools over there, so there’s no middleman at all. The cool thing about it is that we get to see the differences in between the schools, between the school that they are building and the school that existed right there. The school that existed was so poorly created that it seemed like it would be hard for people to learn in it. The new one is pretty cool, and it’s a program that a lot of young people are involved in, and you are able to see exactly where all of your money is going to. That’s another cool thing about it.

Q: So it sounds like you play a lot of different parts with the organization. How would you in your own words describe your role with Invisible Children?

Wentz: It’s really small. We serve as like the hype man, kind of. There’s lots of causes that we get involved with that I think you can do in a quiet way, that you don’t really need cameras for. But after seeing what was going on in this region,  cameras need to be there because there aren’t any. That goes for Sri Lanka and that goes for Burma — all of these areas where there’s not as much attention, people need to know. I think one area that really needs attention is the Congo as well. The interesting thing is that the way LRA operates, he goes throughout southern Sudan and in the Congo and then back into Uganda. And that’s the way Kony has been able to avoid capture. I think that the international community needs to pay attention to it.

Invisible Children Going back a little bit further, how did you become involved with Invisible Children and how long have you been involved with it for?

Wentz: My friend told me about it randomly. I don’t know how long I have been involved with it for, maybe two or three years or something like that.

Q: How did you become involved? You said your friend just kind of told you about it?

Wentz: Yeah. And so I saw the DVD, and I saw how they were using the bracelet program over there. It’s hard to watch, you know? So I think that’s a good thing because it’s hard to not get involved without getting involved with it. 

Q: What would you say would be your most memorable experience working so far with Invisible Children?

Wentz: My most memorable by far was the trip to Uganda and meeting and seeing all of the kids. There’s great smiles, and really happy people in a really unhappy place. Outside that, I enjoyed going to Washington. I think it’s cool to do it on all different levels and see the way the organization works, and they’re pretty smart. It essentially started as three kids and has gotten to where it is now, which is just insane.

Q: What type of work did you do in Washington?

Wentz: We went and we approached different senators and congressmen about supporting peace talks at the time.

Q: OK, so kind of like a grassroots effort?

Wentz: It was cool because it was like meeting people from Invisible Children, and then there were a lot of high school kids there, and also seeing young people engaged.

Q: What do you think is the best thing that people can do in the United States to help out those people  in Uganda?

Wentz: Probably the best thing currently is to get involved with The Rescue. I know that Fall Out Boy is going to go on [April] 25th and we are going to bus our fans, from, I think we’re in Maryland at the time and we’re going to the reflecting pool in D.C.

Q: And that’s called The Rescue?

Wentz: It’s called The Rescue. So people can actually get involved in it. You can text 27138. In the body of the message type IC space (your e-mail address). And then you’ll get a reply and you should just follow those prompts. And otherwise, you can go to invisiblechildren.com. There’s other ways to get involved, where you can buy T-shirts or bracelets and these all directly support different campaigns that are going on there.

Q: Could you clarify a little bit about what The Rescue will be?

Wentz: Essentially it’s an event to rescue the 3,000 child soldiers and it’s an attempt to say that we’re abducting ourselves to free the abducted. So it’s like we’re abducting ourselves to different points in the city, and there will be people from Invisible Children talking. What we're trying to do is draw attention to those 3,000 child soldiers and have the international community become involved and arrest Kony so that they are free.

Q: On a lighter note, any new, exciting upcoming Fall Out Boy projects that you would like to tell me about?

Wentz: Well, we just got back from Australia and Japan and the East. And we’re going to Europe, and then we start our U.S. tour called Believers Never Die Part Deux.

Q: Great, sounds busy. Is there anything you would like to add or anything else that I didn’t really touch upon?

Wentz: No, it was good.