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This has been one of the hardest semesters of my life. Also one of the most rewarding. Let me explain.

I have been up to my eyeballs in coursework, most of it non-English coursework. As new editor-in-chief, I’ve revived the school newspaper and led my staff to produce what’s been said is the best paper the college has had in recent history. I’ve been a student ambassador, always trying to recruit potential students. And I’ve worked really, really, really hard to fundraise for Invisible Children’s latest campaign, #zeroLRA: I’ve tutored (both with Centenary and a private agency), babysat (for numerous families in Shreveport), held raffles, and sold cookies, all in exchange for donations. And, as of now—December 3rd, 2013, 6:00pm CST—I’ve raised $12,257 (245% of my original goal), which makes me the sixth top fundraiser worldwide.

I’ve raised this money for so many different reasons, the first of them being that I truly believe in the work that’s being done. The money funds on-the-ground programs that have been proven effective in rescuing and rehabilitating child soldiers and child sex slaves in central Africa and then reuniting them with their families. I believe so much in the cause. Children are my life, my passion, and I long for a world in which all children are free to be just that—children. That’s why I babysit, tutor, aspire to be a teacher, and, yes, fundraise for Invisible Children’s life-saving programs.

But that passion alone hasn’t fueled me to raise over $12k (and counting) in less than five months. I have also been motivated constantly by Invisible Children staff members as well as fellow attendees of the 2013 Fourth Estate Summit, an IC leadership conference I attended back in August. The Fourth Estate is a group of individuals who believe in the interconnectedness of this world and of justice and of liberty. We believe that a threat to any person’s liberty is a threat to every person’s liberty. And we believe that, as citizens of the world, we all belong to each other. And the Fourth Estate members I know have really exemplified that to me this year.

Even before the Summit, early this summer, 4E members kept me afloat. We had all joined a Facebook group to get acquainted before the event. And when, in May, my whole family (except for me) was hit by a texting driver and my little brother was airlifted to the nearest children’s hospital with severe spinal injuries, I turned to that group. And y’all, they showed up. They were thinking about us, praying for us, sending us good vibes, messaging me to ask for updates and to offer kind words. All during his recovery, they had me and my family on their minds and hearts.

And then, when my friend Maggie passed away suddenly in September, so many of them saw my posts on social media or saw my blog, and they offered condolences freely. I received messages with links to comforting poems. I received text messages asking if I was okay. I received virtual hugs out the wazoo. These people knew what I was dealing with, and they were there to share my burden. I cried for days on end, but these people helped me pull myself together when most everyone else in my life was too affected by the tragedy to lend the support I needed. And even now, I’m working on a fundraiser for the Maggie Minter Scholarship Fund, and a 4E friend is helping with the design work. Because she cares about me, and because she knows I’d do the same for her.

I know this is ramble-y; I just can’t help it. Here’s what I’m trying to say: I live my life for children. I am passionate about childhood, education, and empowerment, and these values are the core of IC. And just as I support IC, IC supports me. I honestly don’t know where I’d be without Invisible Children and the Fourth Estate this semester. #zeroLRA has been my life for the last 20-something weeks. This campaign—and this organization and these people—have my heart and soul.

Now, the relevance: yesterday, a clock started—a clock that will run for two weeks (until Monday, December 16th). Whoever has raised the most money during this timeframe will win a trip to Uganda with Invisible Children’s management team to see the programs  we’ve been funding on-the-ground. As of right now, I am in the lead, with a little over $6,000.

Whoever wins this trip will be deserving and worthy. I sure would love for it to be me, but I will be pleased regardless; I know I’ll get to Uganda someday, and I don’t need to see the efforts with my own eyes to know that they’re worthy and working. Still, this is the opportunity of a lifetime, and I’d be lying if I said I weren’t wishing and hoping for “victory.” 🙂

SO, if you would like to see me go to Uganda to witness firsthand what I’ve been working for all semester (and, on-and-off, for the last six years of my life), you can donate to my fundraising page here.