Ericson Weah spent five of his 17 years in a displacement camp in Africa.
Civil war meant that Weah, a Central Valley High School junior, his mother, two brothers and sister were forced to flee their home in Liberia, escaping war by traveling in and out of several northern Africa countries.
He told of being abducted by rebel soldiers at one point, but he escaped by pulling his arm free from his T-shirt. He and his family have been in Spokane for two and a half years.
“I’ve never seen my dad in 17 years,” Weah said. “My family was separated because of the war.”
Friday afternoon Central Valley students listened as Weah shared his struggle for freedom.
Students, clad in their red “hear our voice” T-shirts, gathered at an outdoor assembly, an event that concluded 13 days of fundraising for the Invisible Children organization’s Schools for Schools project.
Invisible Children is a nonprofit organization that brings together younger generations in the United States and in the war-torn areas of northern Uganda.
During this campaign students have raised more than $9,500 and CV is ranked 10th in the nation among hundreds of schools for fundraising.
Students have sold T-shirts, bracelets and DVDs of “Invisible Children,” a video that documents the kidnapping and violence against children by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Today, in phase two of the campaign – the Displace Me project – two chartered buses are taking 118 CV students and chaperones to Seattle, one of 15 cities involved in a project to simulate life in a Ugandan displacement camp. The students will bring cardboard boxes for their shelter, a bottle of water and crackers for their nourishment.
Twenty-five years from now, when senior Zack Graham’s classmates reminisce about the fun they had at their senior prom, he’ll have a different memory.
“I’ll remember sleeping outside in a box on prom night,” said Graham.
Graham is among several other seniors who are skipping their senior prom tonight to sleep in a cardboard box in Seattle’s Magnussen Park as part of the Displace Me project.
“I’m just looking at my priorities. … Senior prom is an important dance, but I see this as more purposeful,” said Russell Miller, 18.
Graham said the reason they’re doing this is to get national media attention and make the country’s political leaders aware of the atrocities taking place in African displacement camps.
“Some of my friends couldn’t believe I was skipping senior prom. I’d been planning to go for months, but I’ve got to give it up to help these kids who are less fortunate,” Graham said. “Prom is just one night but these kids have lived like this for 17 years.”
Across America, more than 63,000 people have committed to participate in the weekend event, including more than 4,000 in Seattle.
The funds collected by the Central Valley students will go directly to Anaka Secondary School, the school they have adopted in Uganda, to provide clean water, pit latrines, buildings, teachers and textbooks.
“I think it’s a good thing,” Weah said. “I plan to go back if I can get a better life there.”
Weah said things can change if countries around the world would “take peace to Africa.”
About 80 percent of students at Anaka come from surrounding camps for internally displaced persons. Many of the students are orphans, former child soldiers, or girls abducted and molested by the Lord’s Resistance Army.
At the end of Friday’s assembly, students went onto the field to pick up one of the 1,832 flags, which represented the number of children who have died during the past 13 days in Ugandan displacement camps. By doing this, they pledged to speak up against hate and violence and to remember these children who died too young.