At Invisible Children, we’re committed to ensuring community leadership is at the heart of all of our programs working to protect civilians from violence. A perfect illustration of this can be found in our Community Defection Committees (CDCs), which function alongside our Early Warning Network. Through locally-led workshops and an innovative Mobile Cinema program, LRA-affected communities are now playing a key role in peacefully dismantling the LRA from within.
Here are a few things you might not know about this innovate and important program:
1. It is the critical missing piece between escaping the LRA and coming home.
Community Defection Committees bridge the critical gap between Invisible Children’s ‘Come Home’ defection messaging and an LRA escapees’ safe return home. While ‘Come Home’ messages have proven highly effective at encouraging LRA members to escape, it’s equally important to ensure their safe reception and return home once they’ve successfully left the LRA. With these committees in place, an LRA member who has escaped can approach a nearby community that is trained on how to safely welcome him and has the tools needed to arrange for his transportation home.
2. It empowers the communities affected most by LRA violence to take the lead in peacefully dismantling the LRA from within.
Through these Invisible Children supported committees, communities are empowered to be more than just victims – they become active participants in building peace and setting captives free. With the knowledge that they can connect LRA defectors to the right actors that can get them home, Committee members will often make signs or fliers to leave in the bush for nearby LRA to find encouraging to surrender to their community.
3. It bridges the gap between fear and forgiveness.
Due to the severe violence they have experienced at the hands of the LRA, Central African communities can often feel distrust and hostility toward LRA defectors, especially those who hold a different nationality than their own. As part of the committee forming process, community members participate in sensitization exercises which helps them better recognize the benefits of assisting defectors, as well as the reality that most LRA defectors were also forcibly abducted at one point and did not join the LRA willingly. Our Mobile Cinema project helps communities understand who defectors are, and how helping them return home makes everyone safer.
4. It makes escape from the LRA much safer.
Community Defection Committees don’t just help protect communities, they also help keep LRA defectors safe. The presence of Defection Committees in communities creates safe places for defectors to surrender where committee members can care for escapees and work with security forces to ensure that defectors return home safely. Committees are also encouraged to develop their own defection messages which give LRA members crucial information about where to go and what to do when they escape.
5. It doesn’t take much – but it saves lives.
The cost of Community Defection Committees, Mobile Cinema, and the community sensitization process are relatively inexpensive, but they have a huge and lasting impact on the entire defection process. By facilitating the safe escape of LRA members, community members themselves are helping to save lives and play a very important role in encouraging others to leave the LRA. When LRA members still hiding in the bush hear Invisible Children’s ‘Come Home’ FM radio messages with news that their friends safely escaped and were peacefully welcomed by local communities, it often gives them the courage and assurance they need to do the same.