Story by James Pearson
Talking to Lisa Dougan you might not know what an important force for hope she is. She speaks with unswerving humility about herself, and would likely turn the conversation to you, your interests and your successes, rather than focus on her own.
In fact even her success tends to focus on other people, on building peace and opportunity for those who find them lacking. She has helped open hundreds of thousands of eyes to Africa's longest running war, seeded a community that bridges socioeconomic divides, and was recently invited to the Oval Office to meet President Obama in recognition for her advocacy and lobbying for children in East and Central Africa.
She is, in short, an inspiration. And our first Ember Hero.
In appreciation of her contribution to hope in our world we are donating 50% of all proceeds from our online sales through the end of the month to Lisa's chosen charity: the Young Life Columbia Heights Program, which is investing in the lives of Washington DC teenagers from rough backgrounds with faithful, caring mentorship. Ember's contribution will specifically go to help 30 of these teens attend a summer camp with Young Life that offers them the chance to connect more deeply with caring mentors and experience a different perspective on life.
A couple months ago Lisa was invited to the Oval Office to shake hands with President Obama. The path that got her there started about four years ago when she saw a film called Invisible Children that highlighted the unthinkable hardships of children in a civil war in Uganda.
"My life was monopolized by a desire to advocate for the children of northern Uganda," says Lisa, and soon she was road-tripping from Washington DC to San Diego to the join a growing non-profit movement sparked by the film. As a 'roadie' for Invisible Children she spent five months travelling the country, living out of a donated RV, and "sharing the story that had taken my life captive and calling on my peers to act."
But Lisa didn't stop there. She soon left on a fact-finding trip to Northern Uganda and then returned to San Diego to help manage the ongoing awareness and advocacy efforts of Invisible Children.
Even as she split her attention between her friends in Uganda and the roadies she managed across the US, Lisa did not neglect her interim hometown of San Diego. The small coastal community of Ocean Beach is known in part for the many homeless people who enjoy its nice weather and public spaces. One Sunday afternoon a friend of Lisa's took some leftovers from a party to Ocean Beach and had a public BBQ, inviting anyone who happened to be around, many of whom lived on the streets.
Lisa saw that food was a great way to connect with people. She says, "After that first day, I made a personal commitment to return to that same spot every Sunday, with a meal to share. The food just provided an excuse to meet people. The real goal was to learn their name and their stories and to make plans to find them the following week. The point was relationship."
Five or six people grew to ten, then twenty, then forty people meeting every Sunday for food and each other's company. This small community was the catalyst for life change on both sides of the soci-economic spectrum. Says Lisa, "Through the relationships that were built between all of us and the community that formed, I had the incredible privilege of seeing people get off the streets, find the courage to pursue recovery from addictions, experience unconditional love for the first time, open up about pain and fear that paralyzed them. In turn, I have been loved, supported, educated and challenged by many of my friends living on the streets in Ocean Beach."
At the end of last year Lisa moved back to Washington DC to dive deeper into political advocacy to bring an end to the ongoing conflict in Easter and Central Africa with Resolve Uganda. Together with other advocates she slept on the streets in front of a Senator's office to get him to release a hold on the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, which aims to focus US attention on the conflict. And it worked. The bill passed and Lisa, together with a select few delegates, was invited to meet President Obama as he signed the bill into law.
It's the most visible of Lisa's accomplishments so far, but we don't suspect that it will be her last, or greatest. We asked Lisa, "If the world could be different somehow because of you, what change would you choose?" Her answer was that people would see the richness and necessity of building deep bonds of relationship, that they would brave the inconveniences and sacrifices and pursue the adventure, healing, and transformation that relationship promises. This, Lisa seems to believe, can change the world.