A Young Refugee Promoting Peace

Giving By Emily Larson Jun 11, 2021

The Western Union Foundation met Ajang Nathaniel through our work with the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI) in Uganda, and as a mentee in our Mentorship Beyond Borders program. Since 2016, we have worked with WPDI to help reach tens of thousands of conflict-affected youth gain the skills needed to promote peace and create a community. The following article is written by Nathaniel, a trainer of trainees at WPDI, who strives to create a positive impact to those around him every day.  

I know I can make a difference. And sharing my story will help create a change.

I am happy to be among the young leaders benefitting from WPDI’s program at the Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement in Uganda. When I meditate, I think about the negative things I have passed through, like grazing cattle while carrying a gun in the bush back in my home country of South Sudan. Denial to my education. The distance I covered barefoot to escape during the armed conflict in 2013. Displacement with my parents. Being the first born, holding on to my followers’ arms while running toward freedom and finally refuge in Uganda.

While I have faced these challenges and more, I have much appreciation to Forest Whitaker for the initiative he has built at the Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement. With the Western Union Foundation’s support, WPDI’s program here helps us create a culture of peace at the settlement. Since joining WPDI I have positively transformed to be a peace ambassador and now live in harmony. I have faced failures but now see them as opportunities to learn. At WPDI, I am a trainer in peacebuilding and conflict resolution, as well as business entrepreneurship. I strongly believe that I have an especially important role to play in bringing peace to my community. To create change, we need to demolish the negative ideology in the youths. I am so glad for who I am because of this program.

Through my 8 years at the settlement, I realized that there are many refugees here that do not have their needs met. Widows with young children, and elderly people over 75 years of age, in particular are discriminated against – physically, economically, socially and emotionally because of their family status. This inspired me to create my own community-based organization here named Paanda Widows and Elderly Program, allowing me to work more directly with this community. I empathize and talk to them about the discomfort and difficult moments they face. I carry out community meetings with leaders of the tribes to try to change negative practices towards the widows – like relatives taking the deceased husband’s assets, widows being inherited by the deceased’s brother, wastage during ceremonies using up all of the widow’s resources and leaving the family financially poor. And above all, these needy people should be clothed and have a bed to sleep, for them to have a healthy life. It is my mission to help people – the youth at WPDI, the widows and elderly, and others like me who are just looking for a chance at a better life.

So long as I can speak, I will create positive transformation.