Monday, February 27, 2012

Invisible Children ~Aaron Gentry Boggs


Weeks before Aaron Gentry Boggs graduated from high school, another student showed a documentary at an assembly by three young southern California filmmakers who had gone to Africa seeking to have a film adventure.  Instead, they had a life-changing experience – capturing on film the heart-wrenching exodus of children in northern Uganda fleeing from the Lord’s Resistant Army (LRA), a guerilla force of Acholi religious extremists that had kidnapped an estimated 22,000 children and forced them into military service to fight against their own families. 

The filmmakers, Jason Russell, Bobby Bailey, and Laren Poole, had been so moved by the children they met that fled each night to “safe houses” to avoid kidnapping ordered by LRA rebel leader Joseph Kony, that they set up a non-profit foundation, Invisible Children (IC), to provide aid to children and displaced families.  They were taking volunteers.  Dangerous or not, Aaron wanted to volunteer and help in whatever way he could.

Aaron with friend, Tony, one of the Invisible Children.
Photos compliments of LIA and IC volunteers and staff.

 “Immediately after I saw the documentary, I called my friend Erin Kelly,” Aaron recalls. “I had heard she had a cousin in Uganda.  My friend said her cousin would be visiting California and I could talk to her about any questions I had.”
The cousin arrived in California.  Christina Jordan, a linguist, had founded art foundation Life In Africa (LIA) after one of her Ugandan employees had his children kidnapped by the LRA.  Christina had personally gone into the jungle to negotiate their release.  Deeply affected by the experience, she returned to Kampala determined to do something.  Her idea was to develop art co-ops to “create art not war” and she obtained sponsorship by the founder of E-Bay to sell co-op art on the Internet.

Aaron met with Christina.  She put his mind at ease about any serious dangers to volunteers.  She was also willing to be Aaron’s sponsor in Uganda, as well as Megan Kelly’s sponsor (Erin Kelly’s sister), who had decided she wanted to volunteer. The final piece fell into place when Aaron’s mom, who hadn’t figured out what she wanted to get Aaron as a high school graduation present, gave him a roundtrip ticket to Uganda.


There were no direct flights from Los Angeles to Kampala.  Megan and Aaron had to hop-scotch continents, from Washington, D.C. to Italy, and then Italy to Ethiopia to catch a flight to Kampala, Uganda.  It took days to get there. 

At the Entebbe Airport they were met by two Life In Africa representatives, Peter and Gilbert, who then drove them to LIA headquarters.  After they recovered from jet-lag, Megan and Aaron undertook an intensive LIA orientation to prepare them to work with artisans and teach art classes to children.  Then they were off to Gulu in northern Uganda where the Invisible Children stayed. 

Megan Kelly and Aaron preparing to go to Gulu.
  “We rented a mini van and one of the other LIA organizers, Grace, went up with us.  It took four or five hours…  We crossed the Nile.  It was beautiful.  Heavy rapids.  Monkeys everywhere.  We also saw baboons,” Aaron shares.

Along the way, they gave a lift to two young government soldiers with huge guns that had rounds of clips.  “They dropped one of the guns.  I flinched.  I was sure it would go off.  These guys were ready for WWIII.”

They stayed at a compound with the Invisible Children and then moved into a hostel for IC volunteers, where Aaron would see Bobbie Bailey and Laren Poole, who were deeply involved in film work.  By day Aaron taught LIA art classes and by night hung out with other IC volunteers.  At night they were grateful for the safe house, as they heard LRA gunfire in the jungle.  Michael, David and Tony – Aaron’s closest friends  -- were, themselves, Invisible Children who had had family members killed by the LRA.


Because of Aaron’s high school computer skills, he transitioned from teaching Life In Africa art classes to kids to teaching typing and basic computer skills to adults for the Invisible Children organization using low energy computers. 

“There were rolling black outs every week. In Gulu the power would be off for a week at a time. You had to haul your own water from a well to the compound in these huge yellow plastic bottles like gas cans. We took sponge baths or cold showers.”

Aaron worked for two months as a volunteer in Uganda, where he celebrated his 19th birthday.  “I’m really happy that I did this, that I worked in Uganda and got to know people. That it wasn’t a vacation. I didn’t stay in a fancy hotel.”

“I think it’s important to help people make their lives better,” says Aaron.  “When I was there, there were no public schools - only private schools, so only families with money could afford education. Invisible Children is helping to support children with scholarships to get an education. Life In Africa is trying to help build infra-structure, putting money back into the community to build houses, schools, provide electricity – through art. And there are other groups that are trying to help also.”

Teaching art classes.

Working with artisans from the cooperative.

Artisans making peace tiles for sale through the Life In Africa website.

As of this writing, Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistant Army, is still at large. Invisible Children has a real-time network - the LRA Crisis Tracker – that sends out warnings in the areas where LRA is believed to be active. For more information, please visit:

For more information about Life In Africa Uganda and Life In Africa USA foundations, 
please visit:

update on 3/8/12

After this blog posted, these sites featured the filmmakers of Invisible Children and their worldwide campaign focus on the creation of Joseph Kony Day - April 20, 2012 - to demand policymakers focus on the capture of Joseph Kony as a top priority.

To see the Kony 2012 Documentary and learn more, please visit:

Shän Boggs is a writer and editor living in Los Angeles. Aaron Gentry Boggs is her son.
For more information, visit:

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Exploratorium ~ Dennis Bartels

Image © Exploratorium - Palace of Fine Arts
When physicist and educator Frank Oppenheimer created The Exploratorium in 1969, little did he know that his highly original prototype would attract over 15 million visitors at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, generate exhibits that would be played with and enjoyed by more than 180 million people worldwide, and inspire the creation of over 1,000 other experiential museums around the globe.

Image © Exploratorium - Dr. Frank Oppenheimer, Founder

At the crossroads of science and art, the legacy of a great vision lives on at The Exploratorium – a museum for people of all ages that provides educational experiences in science, art, and human perception.

Image © Exploratorium - Dr. Dennis Bartels, Executive Director

Today, Executive Director Dr. Dennis Bartels is leading The Exploratorium into the 21st Century with innovative ideas that will take the museum to the next level in an expansive move to the Piers on San Francisco Bay in 2013.  With a background in teaching and learning, and a focus on improving math and science education, he is fascinated by how we think, feel, and make decisions about the world around us.

Image © Exploratorium - Distorted Room Exhibit
Bartels shares that each project is field-tested to assure a high quotient for interactivity and wonder.  It must also be real. Only one idea out of 10 makes it to the ongoing exhibit stage.

Image © Exploratorium - Icy Bodies Exhibit

From playful to perplexing, The Exploratorium exhibits and activities tantalize the senses and tease the brain, challenging how we think and perceive.

Image © Exploratorium - Exhibit developer and physicist Ron Hipschman provides technical expertise for webcasting with streaming video from as far away as the South Pole.  He helped establish the museum’s web presence, making it one of the first 600 websites on the World Wide Web.

Image © Exploratorium - Cyber Lumen Exhibit

Bartels works with researchers, artists, collaborators, and staff to design everything from exhibits to the websites that have over 25,000 pages of content. His vision is to encourage learning by “doing” through hands-on experiences with our environment – for people of all ages.

Image © Exploratorium - Two High School Explainers

Image © Exploratorium - Director of Living Systems Kristina Yu oversees the biology laboratory that includes the Microscope Imaging Station that allows museum visitors to explore living biological samples and also provides high quality imagery to educators.


Shan: How does The Exploratorium introduce scientific concepts to different age groups using science, art, and perception?

Dennis: The Exploratorium is phenomenon-based.  One of my favorite exhibits is Colored Shadows. How can we have different colored shadows? (It really makes you think.) What we discovered is that phenomena are quite universal for all ages. With some of our most fascinating exhibits we have world-renown physicists awed. Physics is the core here. It immediately talks back.

Image © Exploratorium- Colored Shadows Exhibit

Visit The Exploratorium on YouTube:

Image © Exploratorium -The Tactile Dome invites exploration in total darkness by sense of touch.
Shan: What are some of the contributions that have been made to The Exploratorium by the Artists-in-Residence Program?

Dennis: Many artists, both those on staff - including MacArthur "Genius" Fellows - and artists-in-residence, have contributed to a meaningful number of exhibits that you see on the floor of the Exploratorium. Artists sometimes work alone and sometimes collaborate with scientists. We invite people to come and play with us. Scientists and artists have a similar approach. They are “expert noticers” of stuff. They come up with genuine inquiries about the world.

Two classic examples: The Tactile Dome, created by the Dean of the Art Department at San Francisco State University, August Coppola, invites you to find your way with touch. And Sun Painting, created by Bob Miller, captures a sunray through a hole in the roof and using mirrors reflects onto a white wall resulting in a beautiful color spectrum. As a scientist the separation of wavelengths is inspiring. For an artist there is amazement at the incredible variety of a star.


Shan: What are some of the innovative online activities offered by the Exploratorium?

Dennis: We were the 600th website on the World Wide Web and one of the first to have “.edu” as part of our url. It’s great what you can experience online without actually visiting The Exploratorium. “What is Evidence: How Do We Know What We Know,” is an Exploratorium website that goes through about 12 ways we look at information. One of my favorite websites is “Ice Stories: Dispatches from Polar Scientists.” We taught a group of scientists how to use video equipment to take with them to the South Pole, so that we could see research in the making.

Image © ExploratoriumMcMurdo Sound scientists share research in the making at the South Pole using Exploratorium video equipment.

Image © Exploratorium- After Dark Exhibit for Adults
Shan: How will the move to the Piers in 2013 expand upon what the Exploratorium now offers?

Dennis: It allows us to explode – multiply the impact. As an example, there will be a wonderful teaching exhibit. We will finally get to play outdoors with two whole acres. We can use the Bay as our Petrie dish - a story that isn’t told very often. What is more important environmentally, we will have more traffic and can open ourselves up in the evening to adults. Plus, there are so many people that want to play with us – the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Marine Institute, PIXAR, Stanford University, to name a few. We can now show the cool stuff they are doing.


Seeking the curious.  The Exploratorium has something for everyone, whether you are an educator, parent, artist, scientist, geek, teen, adolescent, or museum professional.

Visit The Exploratorium on YouTube:

Websites & Online Interactive Activities:
From the oceans to space including Science at Burning Man, Cabspotting, Live Deep-Sea Exploration with the E/V Nautilus, as well as Teacher Institutes and workshops, After School Activities, Food Science, Optical Illusions, Sports Science, Color, and much, much more.

Educators should be sure to check out:

*Artists-in-Residence Program
*Osher Fellowship Program  

If you are lucky enough to live in the area, there are monthly events as Family Investigation Workshops, day camps, films, evening art and science events for adults, and professional development opportunities for educators and others. But for those who cannot visit in person there is the Online Media Series, Science In The City, with intriguing explorations of urban environments, natural and human-made phenomena.

Special thanks to Dennis Bartels, Leslie Patterson and Stacy Martin of The Exploratorium for making this blogspot interview possible.

For general information call (415) 561-0360.

Shän Boggs is a writer and editor living in Los Angeles. Her interests include science, technology, the environment, health, education, multimedia, art, and gourmet cooking. Her work can be found on,, and Apple iBookstore /iTunes Store or visit for more about her most recent publications.
For more information, also visit: