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THE BETTER HOUR CONTEST

Grand Prize Winner
Ellie Morse: Invisible Children
Overview and Report

THE BETTER HOUR Contest First Prize winner, Ellie Morse of Dickson High School in Dickson, Tennessee, will receive the $10,000 top prize and award, to be presented by her Congressional Representative John Tanner (D-8) in Washington, D.C. on May 20th. She wins the first prize for her public service to raise money for "Invisible Children," for whom she provided supplies to several schools in Northern Uganda, the war torn area where children have been kidnapped and left without parents, hope, provision, or education. Ellie initiated creative events, fairs, and projects at her school, and engaged many people in her community, not only to raise money, but also to raise awareness of the plight of the forgotten children of Uganda.
 
Ellie Morse was born and raised in a small town in Tennessee. She is seventeen years old and about to graduate high school. As a student, her main efforts are qualifying for the honors program, working with art, and learning about health occupations. Most of her time outside of school is spent on Invisible Children, church, homework, arts and crafts, and spending time with friends or her new puppy, Juno. She will be going to Lee University to pursue the call to be a missionary. She says her ultimate goal in life is "to decrease so He can increase."

 

Ellie Morse on CBN's NewsWatch (May 20, 2008)
Click on the arrow to start the video.
 

Congressman John Tanner (right) recently presented THE BETTER HOUR Teen Public Service national prize to Ellie Morse of Dickson in Tanner’s Washington office. Ellie, who graduates from Dickson County High School May 23, was inspired by a documentary called "Invisible Children" to raise $10,000 to help children in war-torn Northern Uganda. Ellie is accompanied by her father, John (left).
(high-res version of photo here)

Ellie Morse with Jay Hein, director of the White House Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives, in front of the White House.

 

 
Related Sites:
http://www.invisiblechildren.com
http://www.dicksoncountyhighschool.com
 

Ellie's Report: Invisible Children's Schools-For-Schools Program

The Better Hour

"Africa! Africa! Your sufferings have been the theme that has arrested and engages my heart. Your sufferings no tongue can express, no language impart. God has set before me two great objects: the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of society." William Wilberforce

Hi! My name is Ellie Morse. I am 17 and a senior at Dickson County High School in Dickson, TN. When I saw the movie Amazing Grace, I identified with and was inspired by William Wilberforce’s story. The issue(s) that I have decided to tackle deal with multiple aspects of Wilberforce’s work, including his concerns for human rights, political action, education, slavery, encouraging the talents and gifts of others, and broadening philanthropy. Though I don’t have a fancy program on my computer to make this entry look really "spiffy," I hope that you will be inspired by my experience the way that I was inspired by William Wilberforce.

The Beginning

My group and I in our handmade cardboard dwelling

On April 28, 2007, I was invited to an event that, little did I know, would transform my life. It was a Saturday evening, and five of my friends and I found ourselves sitting in a cardboard hut eating saltine crackers. This event was called Displace Me, an awareness event put on by an organization called Invisible Children. We, along with 3,000 in Nashville and 70,000 nationwide, gathered to symbolize and experience a day in the life of a displaced person in northern Uganda.

The Situation in Northern Uganda

For over twenty years, a man named Joseph Kony has been leading a rebel movement against the Ugandan government. He raids villages and schools, sometimes burning them, only sparing the children so that he can abduct them to fight for his army. He has abducted an estimated 25,000 children. These children are turned into ruthless killers, forced to kill one another in unspeakable manners to get used to the shock of it. Young girls are turned into sex slaves for the commanders and often become child mothers. He calls his forces the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and claims that God told him to commit these atrocities. Ten years ago, the Ugandan government gave its citizens only a few days to leave their homes to go to IDP camps so that the government could separate rebels from civilians. Around 1.5 million were forced into these camps and, after ten years, still reside there. The UN stated that 1,000 die in the camps weekly because of malnutrition, AIDS/HIV, and other preventable diseases.

Displace Me: The Aftermath

Displace Me was educational and moving. There, we wrote our senators to tell them that they should speak up about the plight of so many northern Ugandans. Because of our letters, lobbying, and the awareness we were able to raise that day, the U.S. government listened and appointed Tim Shortley as a diplomat to show U.S. support at the Juba peace talks between the LRA and the Ugandan government. After the event, I could not get the children off of my mind; I had to do something.

Invisible Children

I made I.C. ornaments and bags (The tote says"My heart is beeping for the Invisible Children")

Invisible Children (I.C.) is the most amazing and unique organization that I have ever gotten to work with. It was started by three college-aged guys who traveled to Africa on a filmmaking adventure and were disgusted by the situation in northern Uganda. They came back to America and made a documentary that has now been shown to millions of people. I.C. is an awareness, advocacy, and development organization. It has many different programs on the ground in Uganda: The Bracelet Campaign, which gives jobs to displaced persons; The Cotton Initiative, which is working to rebuild the cotton industry and provide jobs, The Invisible Child Scholarship Program for exceptional but at-risk students; and my favorite, Schools for Schools. They very much put to use Wilberforce’s invention of issue campaigning- about half of their revenue comes from merchandise (t-shirts, bracelets) sales. They make it cool to care.

Schools for Schools

When the three filmmakers asked what the Ugandan people needed the most, they answered with a unanimous "education." The north’s education system is in shambles because of the war and far behind the standards of the south. Schools for Schools is a program in which youth can rally together to change lives in northern Uganda. Each school raises funds and awareness for their partner school in Northern Uganda.

My sister and I at the Schools for Schools conference with the three founders of Invisible Children
 

I heard about Schools for Schools and saw it as a real way that I could help. After much persistence, I convinced my principal to allow me to show a documentary and start the program at my school. About 100 people showed up at the first club meeting and showed their excitement about the new program. I set our fundraising goal at $10,000, a goal that didn’t seem attainable. From September to February, my team of about twenty dedicated students and I worked tirelessly for our partner school, Lacor Secondary School. We got help from many places to hold various fundraisers such as Penny Wars, Dress-Up Dodge ball, t-shirt sales, bake sales, a raffle, a benefit concert, a haunted house, and business sponsorship.

It was very encouraging to me how many people supported us and came to our events; however, we did come across some major difficulties. Though our administration said they were supportive, they tried to prevent us from being a club. Also we could not find a teacher to sponsor us in our endeavors, meaning the whole project was student-lead. I learned a lot about leadership like communication and organization skills. We definitely could not have pressed on without God’s strength.

Then came January and we had raised $5,500, which was pretty good considering the obstacles we had faced, but we had no idea how we were going to raise the remaining $4,400 in less than a month. I started seeking donations from my community. We went to virtually every business in town, and I pleaded with my church and different service organizations to help us meet our goal. Our final total was $10,137. It truly was miraculous to witness the rest of the money coming in. We will continue to fundraise this year, and we have already set up a group to continue this project next year.

A Movement

With my high school’s fundraising, we are providing latrines, books and laboratory supplies, classrooms, and extracurricular equipment for some very thankful African students. In the last year, American students collectively have raised $2.6 million for children in Northern Uganda. Without us, these students would never get the chance to go to high school or college. We are providing futures for individuals and Uganda as a whole by raising up leaders. The plight of the northern Ugandan people have touched so many young hearts and called them to action. Invisible Children has connected us with people from a different part of the world, changing lives at both ends. It lets us live for something other than ourselves and our own worries. The impact at my school is evident. Many have donated money and time to our cause. I feel that our school has become more aware and less selfish. When our school was on the news, my principal chose Schools for Schools as one of the highlights of Dickson County High School! We got to get the word out to a lot of people that way. I also got to speak on a Nashville radio station about Invisible Children. Just recently we were blessed with a club advisor. She is new this semester and after seeing our accomplishments commented, "When I was in school here, no one cared about anything besides themselves and who their prom date was going to be. Making people think about things outside their own little worlds…Ya’ll have definitely done something huge."

My lobby group and I (center, black jacket) in Rep. Frazier’s office
 

Faith and Action

It is definitely God that put a burden on my heart for the people of northern Uganda. I know that He placed Invisible Children in my life. Never, before I.C., has a cause touched me so much that it has moved me to dedicate my life to it. When I look at these people, I don’t just see them as another sad story; I see them as my brothers and sisters in Christ; as the shackles Wilberforce used in his campaign said, "Am I not a Man and a Brother?" Jesus always loved the poor and calls us to do the same. 1 John 3:17 says, If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?" God has provided so many opportunities, changed my perspective on life, and has opened my eyes to other problems around the world. In the summer He revealed His call on my life to be a missionary, and this experience has been a confirmation and a stepping stone in my journey to fulfill that call. In the film Amazing Grace, Wilberforce experiences God and wants to devote his whole life to singing for Him, but someone suggests to him that he can be both a political advocate and a man devoted to God.

"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy." Proverbs 31:8-9

Six gold heroes and I (second from left). They are some of the most amazing people on the planet.
 

I was very humbled to be chosen by Invisible Children as one out of ten "gold heroes" for my work (God’s work in me). I.C. awarded us with a trip to Washington, D.C. to lobby for northern Uganda. It was empowering to be able to speak to our senators and representatives (or their staffers) face to face about the issue. They listened to the lobbyers last year, and I pray that real change will come in this critical time. A permanent ceasefire was signed at the end of February. The war is over on paper, but it is essential that the U.S. helps see that peace finally comes in Uganda and helps to get the people out of the IDP camps and back to their homes. "Blessed are the peacemakers."

A painting of William Wilberforce on the "inspiration wall" at the Invisible Children headquarters
 

At Lobby Days I met an Acholi man (Acholi is the most prevalent tribe in northern Uganda). He was not aware that so many people cared and was amazed to see 800 people lobbying for his people. I told him that I was going to be a missionary, and he said that Uganda definitely needs missionaries- they have been terrorized for so long and need to be shown that there is hope in Jesus Christ. I hope that God sends me there. I can’t wait.

I hope that people will say about me what Samuel Morse, my relative, said this about his good friend William: "Oh, that such men as Mr. Wilberforce were more common in this world. So much human blood would not be shed to gratify the malice and revenge of a few wicked, interested men."

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