make-it-better monday: books, literacy, facebook, and the power of a common goal

When Kristina first started talking about colleges, Ed promoted Notre Dame.  In part because he went there, in part because he thinks it would be a good school for her: she has a strong sense of social justice, as well as high standards of academic achievement and ambitious goals for herself.

Notre Dame has a long-standing tradition of sending graduates into the world who go on to do good things, whether in social, legal, political, educational, or other communities.  The culture at ND embodies service and excellence.  (Okay, maybe not so much football-excellence in the last couple of years, but their women’s lacrosse team consistently does well.)

Kristina can’t get past the Catholic tradition and culture of the school: she believes it to be too conservative in politics and perspective for her to find a place there.

Miss K wants a college experience that feels inclusive and embracing of everyone.  These are decisions she will make for herself – selecting a college, finding a community of peers who challenge and support her growth, seeking opportunities that are in alignment with her goals.  I won’t push her in one direction over another.

Still, I can’t help but think Notre Dame has a lot to offer her.  Especially when I see what ND graduates are doing – things like Better World Books.

Books and Literacy

The business model of Better World Books is simple and profound: promote and fund literacy programs, rescue books otherwise destined for landfills, build a successful business.  This triple bottom-line is fascinating to me: the idea that it is possible – even profitable – to focus on the social, environmental, and economic benefits of a business plan.

As I explored BWB’s website, I clicked the tab for Literacy Partners.  And I was thrilled to see that they are working with Invisible Children to get books into the hands of young people in Africa.

Invisible Children does tremendous work to focus attention on the children who have been abducted to fight as child soldiers in Uganda and other countries.  Their mission has evolved in response to the local situation: it is not enough to stop the abductions – these children need a home beyond the displacement camps; they need education in local schools to put their lives back together and have a hope for something better in their future.

Better World Books is helping this cause by providing – and shipping – books to several organisatons in Africa, including Invisible Children, for effective distribution to the children who will certainly make good use of them.

You may remember that Kristina co-founded an Amnesty International chapter at her high school – twice they have brought Invisible Children to the school to screen their documentaries.  This is a huge part of the mission of Invisible Children: involve young people in America by making them aware of the situation of their same-age peers in Africa, then give them a vehicle to make their voice heard and effect real change.

Young people today – as in every generation – will inherit a world with problems they did not create.  Giving them an opportunity to begin caring about the state of that world – and indeed to begin shaping that world – is a huge endeavour, one that students all over America have responded to with full hearts.

Facebook and the Power of a Common Goal

Like they did in the Chase contest: on Facebook, fans of the Chase Community Giving  page were given five opportunities to vote for non-profits. The organisation with the most votes at the end would win $1,000,000 from Chase, with five runners-up winning $100,000 each.

Invisible Children was one of those non-profits. I think you can see what they wrote to describe their purpose only if you are fan of that Facebook page, so I have copied it here.  It’s not too long really, but if you want to skip down, you can see a quick video instead.

The Issue

A 9-year-old boy in the suburbs should not be kidnapped from his home and forced to fight as an abducted soldier. If this is true in the United States, we believe it is true in Uganda and in the Congo. We have discovered that young people across North America believe this as well, and are uniting in their local communities to fight this injustice a world away.

For the last 24 years, a rebel leader named Joseph Kony has been waging war in central Africa, terrorizing communities and abducting 30,000 children to be his soldiers. Over 2 million people have been displaced in central Africa as a result of the violence.

This crisis continues today with minimal international attention.

Our big idea is big indeed: rescue the child soldiers of Northern Uganda with the help of young advocates across North America, end the longest running war in Africa, and rebuild what was lost.

The Plan

The plan is to bring this war to an end and return these children to their homes by expanding the youth movement already in motion. Invisible Children makes documentaries about war-affected kids in Northern Uganda and tours them across the continent, exposing the youth of North America to their stories. We then equip them to band together and become activists seeking to end this war. Hundreds of thousands of people have already risen to the call. With donations of less than $20 from students across the world, we have managed to put 760 Ugandans in school, rebuild 11 war-destroyed schools, and implement microeconomic programs to jump start village economies. With the Chase grant, we can dream bigger and finish what we started. We will finally spread the story of child soldiers into theaters, dramatically increasing exposure and improving our advocacy efforts. With exposure and program funding, we can rebuild more Ugandan schools, provide more education, and better economic development.

The Outcome

The outcome is peace in Uganda and an end to this war. The outcome is a generation of young Americans believing in the power of their voice and hard work.

Nothing unites a community like a common goal. Invisible Children has found something that brings every one together: pursuing freedom and justice for abducted children. It is in forgetting ourselves to help another that we discover our own power and value. When communities work together, they become what they were meant to be: a collection of individuals who live, work, play, and care for the mutual good of the community and beyond.

If we are awarded this grant, we can prove that these communities of dedicated young people and families can work in concert to change history and set a precedent for justice like never before. We can end this war, help restore Uganda to prosperity, and help these child soldiers find a new life of peace.

We are already doing it, and with this grant we will see it through. Join us with your vote.

Voters on Facebook – many, or maybe even mostly, young people – came together and on Friday at midnight, it was clear: Invisible Children won the $1,000,000.

Here is the video Invisible Children aired to show how they will use the funds:

Books. Literacy.  Advocacy. Youth. Power.

People are doing great and small things to make this world a better place.  My small thing today is this: I commit to making my book purchases at Better World Books.


listening to: Macy Gray, I Try


  • Nice post!
    I guess “inclusive and embracing of everyone” would have to mean something that didn´t cost 38,000 per year. You would have loved the student protests when tuition fees reached one-tenth that much.
    I have a pronoun question:
    “This is a huge part of the mission of Invisible Children: involve young people in America by making them aware of the situation of their same-age peers in Africa, then give them a vehicle to make their voice heard and effect real change.”
    Are the second “them” and “their” Americans or Africans? There is a big argument for giving Africans a vehicle to make thier voice heard, and some might say American youth already have such a platform.

  • Good points. In this sense, inclusive and embracing refers to socio-cultural aspects such as sexual orientation and left-leaning politics. While there are pockets of these at ND, they are definitely not the dominant culture. Kristina could not abide attending a school with a core philosophy (Catholic) that denies homosexuality a welcome place at the table.

    All in (tuition, books, room & board, fees, etc.), most private schools range from $45-50,000 a year. University of Washington (a state school) shows $20,000 for the same. Leaving school with staggering debt is increasingly untenable for a lot of students.

    The big difference is that the private schools tend to have smaller enrollment and larger endowments: they can – and d0 – provide more financial aid. So even though the upfront cost looks smaller at a state school, a student can leave a private college with less (or no) debt. That can make a college education more inclusive.

    Yes, the numbers are astonishing.

    Referring to “a vehicle to make their voice heard,” Invisible Children does this for both American and African children/teens. American youth are growing up into a world where their voices have not COUNTED. By that I mean, they couldn’t vote or make decisions about actions the government might take in foreign policy.

    Invisible Children’s events have given them a platform to be ACTIVE, to bring attention to an issue they care deeply about. IC is also giving the African children they meet and help a voice in the process. Their documentary movies include conversation with affected children there (as in the movie Kristina gave you). And, with the money they won from Chase, they hope to bring their movies to larger distribution.

    This year, I think for the first time, IC will bring African students here to participate in the high school tours. This will be very exciting for the students here who have worked so hard to raise money, raise awareness, be heard, send books, to know that they really did make a difference, that someone DIRECTLY benefited, someone REAL. I cannot even imagine what it will be like for the African students to come here.

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