INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – The cause of children trapped in a vicious African war was the focal point at a recent event at St. Edward’s School for what organizers hope will become a fund-raising tradition.
An art auction and dinner organized by St. Ed’s junior Amee Upadhyay and the Invisible Children Club of raised $3,000 by selling donated works of art.
The paintings, prints and sculpture were donated by students, faculty and their families, some of them professional artists.
“They were just thrilled to do their part,” says St. Ed’s art teacher Anne Whitney, who invited the kids to donate paintings, drawings and pottery. “The kids like everything Amee stands for and has worked so hard for.”
The event took place at St. Edward’s former lower school campus in Old Riomar.
The Invisible Children are so named for a common fate – abduction and forced to fight for a ruthless leader of a guerrilla group in Uganda, Joseph Kony, whose Lord’s Resistance Army is trying to install a theocratic government there.
An estimated 66,000 children have been kidnapped and 2 million have been displaced by the conflict.
Upadhyay’s efforts, along with her 23-club members here, are part of a nationwide effort begun by a small group of college-age activists who are sparking awareness of the situation in Uganda as well as neighboring countries.
This Monday, a nationwide effort called “Speak Out by Staying Silent” will see 30,000 participants spend 24 hours in silence in honor of the victims of 25 years of war in Uganda.
Upadhyay, the president of the St. Ed’s club, and other students intend to join others from around Florida who will meet in Orlando to break the silence together.
“Just imagine the powerful moment that will be,” she says. “All these kids that haven’t spoken, suddenly speaking together. It’s going to be wild.”
The effort has already raised $500,000, with each participant raising a minimum of $25.
Last year, Lauren Allik, who has since graduated, brought speakers to the school to raise awareness of the Ugandan children who are kidnapped to fight for Kony.
Upadhyay went a step further this year with the auction and dinner.
The event, for adults, follows a presentation by the national organization to the student body in March.
Upadhyay, a resident of Port St. Lucie who has three brothers who attended St. Ed’s, has traveled extensively in her lifetime, and gave thanks to her parents, Dr. Bharat and Urvi Upadhyay.
“My parents firmly believe in travel,” says Amee, who has visited Australia, New Zealand, Europe, South America, and her parents’ native India several times.
Last year, she went to Russia for a conference of Model United Nations participants.
“I think that’s what got me interested in all this,” she says, “that there is something outside the United States. Here – and I refer to it all the time – we live in what I call the Vero Beach bubble. All my friends are born here, and they grew up in Vero and they haven’t had the chance to really get out that much.”
The Invisible Children group aims to stir interest in the Ugandan cause among young people since peers in Africa are affected by Kony’s brutality.
“There are problems in the world that kids don’t know about, and we need to be aware. It’s my generation that’s going to be able to change things. The fact that we have the resources to change things, but we’re not aware? That drives me crazy.”
Upadhyay said she hopes to major in international relations after graduation.
Meanwhile, she continues to enjoy her high school years – crew is a particular passion. But she doesn’t intend to stop thinking about other kids her age beyond U.S. borders.
“The poverty some people face here is honestly considered wealth to some of these children in Africa. That’s what really affects me.”
She is hopeful that St. Ed’s students, moved by last month’s presentation, will continue the effort.
“I could not believe the effect the presentation had on the student body. It was insane. I have kids still now saying, ‘You won’t believe how many people I’ve told,’ and they’ve gotten involved in different ways. It’s incredible.
“The thing is, it’s not just a sad story,” she says. “It’s how you can change things. It gives you a way to help out.”