Changing Lives, Building Communities

By Jean-Claude Farah

On the 2nd of May, I represented the Western Union Foundation as a Director of the WU Foundation Board, on a visit to the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI) centers in Northern Uganda. Together, with Forest Whitaker, CEO WPDI, I was introduced to several programs. It was an incredibly moving experience to be among so many people who have lived through extreme conflict and are now rebuilding their lives.

The day started when WPDI CEO Forest Whitaker, launched a new chapter of the Youth Peacemaker Network where 30 young men and women from various parts of the Gulu district will be trained in peace building, mediation, life skills, information and communication technologies, entrepreneurship skills so that they can go out and train others in their communities in peace building as a first step towards creating small businesses and income generating options.

I had the opportunity to speak to these young people about the power of changing themselves and people around them – one person at a time. I was impressed with their great confidence as they asked questions or summarized their key takeaways.

The United Nations Resident Coordinator, Rosa Malango, spoke about the importance of members of the Youth Peacemaker Network working as agents of change in their communities bringing about sustainable peace and development.

Victoria Kanobe, UNESCO representative in Uganda emphasized the value of education in resolving conflict. A number of the district administrators also commended the work that WPDI is doing in the area. It was very good to see the inclusive approach that WPDI is taking in bringing all the key stakeholders together to develop the community.

Later in the day, we received a rousing welcome at the Kiryandongo refugee settlement camp. Approximately 70,000 people have taken refuge at this camp, fleeing conflict in South Sudan, DR Congo and neighboring countries. It is here that the WU Foundation is helping WPDI set up a Community Center and sports field, facilities that will used for training in conflict resolution, ICT business, sports and cultural skills. With the training received, young men and women have set up micro businesses and income generating projects in the area.

Another program, called Peace through Sports program trains teams of young girls and boys in football. The teams have already begun to play games and have won competitions.

Even though we are only at the start of our three-year funding commitment to WPDI, it was humbling and powerful at the same time, to see how many people are already benefiting from our work together. For people who have lost homes, possessions and loved ones, we are providing a fresh start and importantly giving them the confidence that once again they have choices in life – choices that can transform themselves and those around them.

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