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Calvin and the Global Night Commute
updated with sidebar May 1, 2006

On Saturday, April 29, a group of students from Calvin College and Cornerstone University will make an approximately eight-mile trek from the Calvin campus to downtown Rosa Parks Circle.

There they plan to spend the night. Why?

They will be taking part in the Global Night Commute, a nationwide effort being planned by students in cities across the country (almost 140 cities at last count).

The Global Night Commute will be a re-enactment of the commute made nightly by the Acholi children of northern Uganda.

Each evening those children leave their villages and walk to city centers to escape being kidnapped by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

“The LRA will raid villages and take the kids and force them to become fighters or kill them,” says Calvin sophomore Daniel Wiersma, 20, who is organizing the Calvin commute.

He adds: “The primary goal of this event is to raise awareness.”

A contingent of around 300 students from Calvin College and Cornerstone University walked from the Calvin campus to Rosa Parks Circle on April 29. They were part of the over 1,000 local students who walked from their campuses to Rosa Parks Circle to spend the night.

“It went exceptionally well,” said Daniel Wiersma, the Calvin sophomore who helped organize the combined Calvin-Cornerstone walk. “There was an excellent turnout from Calvin, Cornerstone, Calvin, Hope, Aquinas, Grand Valley, as well as high school youth groups. There were several families. There were even people who joined the event while it was happening. Apparently the Grand Rapids event was one of the largest ones outside of the West Coast.”

Although Wiersma characterized his Saturday night’s sleep as “fitful,” he was hopeful that the efforts both local and nationwide gave a broader focus to the plight of northern Uganda: “We’re hoping it has the desired affect and can maybe have some sort of an affect on policy within the governments involved in putting an end to the conflict.”

Both awareness and policy change are overdue, according to George Monsma, a Calvin professor of economics and business who this year and in 2004 taught a January Interim class in Uganda.

“What the Lord’s Resistance Army does the people of northern Uganda is tremendously sinful and criminal,” Monsma says. The army, formed in 1987 by a man claiming to be a spirit medium, has kidnapped an estimated 20,000 children and used them as soldiers and sex slaves.

“Abducting children, forcing them to kill others, sometimes their own families, raping young girls and making it impossible for so many families to practice their livelihood because of the attacks: It’s destroyed the whole economy of that part of the world,” Monsma continues. “I think it’s important to do anything that can increase awareness in the United States of that situation and stimulate people to take action, pressuring our government to make more demands on the governments of Sudan and Uganda, which are involved in this. This has been relatively ignored by the west for far too long.”

As of Monday, April 24 there were 36,000 people around the country, and beyond, planning to take part in the upcoming Global Night Commute (Canada, Ireland and Norway are among the other countries already signed on).

That includes almost 1,000 people in Grand Rapids who will take part, among them the Calvin and Cornerstone students.

Those students plan to connect at Calvin at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 29 to watch the movie Invisible Children, a documentary on the plight of the Acholi children made by Invisible Children, Inc., the organizers of the Global Night Commute.

After the screening, the students will make the hike to Rosa Parks Circle.

Calvin students also have the opportunity to sign a petition about the Uganda situation in various locations on campus.

“By putting your name on the list, it doesn’t commit you to part in the event,” Wiersma says. “The petition is what’s going to count as far as policy change.”

The founders of Invisible Children, Inc. were three young California filmmakers who happened on the situation in northern Uganda while on a trip to Africa. In addition to screening Invisible Children all over the U.S., the organization has trained teams to travel by bus to spread the word around the country.

Wiersma, a nursing major with an eye on a career in missions, saw the film a few months ago at a screening sponsored by Calvin’s African and African Diaspora Studies program, and felt compelled to get involved.

~written by media relations staff writer Myrna Anderson