Many children grow up being afraid of the dark. In Uganda, fear of the dark isn't about fictitious monsters under the bed or in the closet—it's the fear of losing their lives.

That's because nighttime in northern Uganda is when the rebel soldiers of the Lord's Resistance Army, labeled a terrorist group by the United States, storm small villages and rip children from their homes, forcing them to join the rebel army. Those who resist are brutally beaten into submission, tortured or killed in front of their families. Some are also forced to beat their own parents and commit unspeakable acts of violence. Many of the soldiers are just children themselves.

To avoid these nighttime horrors, thousands of Ugandan children leave their parents and their homes every evening and trek in the darkness in packs to larger nearby towns where they sleep for the night. They sleep, stacked body-to-body, at bus parks and in empty hospital basements—yet, space is limited and sometimes they must scramble to find a spot. In the morning, the children walk back to their homes and to school, only to repeat the ritual walk each time the sun goes down.

This is what Jason Russell, Bobby Bailey and Laren Poole saw when they traveled to Uganda in 2003. The "nightwalkers," as they called them, were young, innocent and desperate for help. Child after child told their heartbreaking stories. The three young men—just college students at the time—recorded everything they saw and turned it into a haunting documentary called Invisible Children.

Meet the young men behind the mission


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