Tony Bazilo was the definition of an "invisible child" when three young American filmmakers met him in 2003. But today he travels the United States speaking about his experiences growing up in war-torn Uganda, and raising awareness about the struggles others are still facing to rebuild his country.
Hosted by the Colorado College chapter of Invisible Children (a global movement to end conflict in Uganda), Bazilo will share his inspiring story Monday, following a showing of Invisible Children: Rough Cut, the documentary that features him at age 14.
Bazilo wasn't even born yet when two main rebel groups, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), began fighting the Ugandan government for political power. He was forced to move to a domestic refugee camp at age 8, where he lived with his mother and 50,000 others — a small fraction of the more than 2.5 million people who were displaced overall.
Dealing with overcrowding and avoiding rampant HIV — the disease that killed his father — were among the worst challenges he faced there, but another one was simply getting an education. Rebel armies would attack children walking to and from school, kidnapping them and forcing them to become soldiers.
"What they were doing is, if you are a kid and they find you living with parents or your relatives, they'll kill them in your presence and take you to fight with them," Bazilo says. "The rebels knew where the camps are, and waited to abduct us until we left for school."
This was a daily fear for Bazilo and his friends, and the focus of the documentary.
The Rough Cut filmmakers, Jason Russell, Bobby Bailey and Laren Poole, returned to Uganda after shooting and provided funding for Bazilo and others in similar circumstances to pursue higher levels of education similar to high school, a costly privilege 90 percent of Ugandans will miss. Once he's done touring with Invisible Children, Bazilo plans to attend college in southern Uganda to help support and rebuild his country from the destruction of the war, which continues today.
"To me, the filmmakers came as a light in the morning," Bazilo says. "They allow[ed] me to go to school and soon college. I want to help raise money for others to do that too, because you can see from me and my friends who also [work with Invisible Children] that we can be better and have better lives now."
The Invisible Children group at CC will help raise money for the international organization's efforts to support Uganda natives like Bazilo during a benefit dinner and silent auction Thursday, April 1.
"Bring your friends — all of them," Bazilo says, giggling. "Really, you can help and make a better life for us."
— Whitney Bryen