Creating hope for refugees & former child soldiers

Global Issues By Emily Larson April 4, 2017

Monday Collins life story is one that is familiar to the Trainers at the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI) in northern Uganda. As a former child soldier, he says that his “life story was not a good one to tell”.

WPDI helped Monday to rebuild his life after escaping and returning to his community.  WPDI helped him discover his talent as an artist and turn it into a business opportunity. Today, Monday creates art and designs bracelets, necklaces and tie dyed fabrics.

Monday has also become actively involved in his community and is passionate about passing on the knowledge that he has gained from WPDI. He has started a peace club to help transform the lives of other young men and women in the same way that his life was transformed.

Monday’s story is just one powerful example of the work WPDI is leading, and why the Western Union Foundation is collaborating with WPDI to help to create new programs for youths like Monday, in a refugee settlement in Kiryandongo, Uganda. The three-year grant totaling more than USD$1M is providing help in life-skills and conflict-resolution training for 10,000 refugees at the settlement.

WPDI’s approach to training refugees focuses on peace education, life skills, vocational training, and entrepreneurship. The UNHCR reports that approximately 70,000 refugees and asylum seekers from Kenya, DR Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan—85% of whom are under 18—have sought safety in Kiryandongo. The goal of the program is to help provide hope, skills and opportunities for some of the millions of displaced young people across the globe.

Three months into the collaboration WPDI and Forest Whitaker [personally] have completed reviews with the office of the prime minister of Uganda, the Commissioner for refugees and commander of the settlement in Kiryandongo are now ready to kick-off the programs contemplated under the grant agreement between WPDI and the Foundation.  We spoke with WPDI to learn about the core programs they are starting this month, and the difference they are making for young women and men in the settlement. Here are the highlights:

The Train the Trainer program inspires a group of motivated young leaders who receive certified trainings in conflict resolution, mediation, human rights, entrepreneurship, life skills, information and communication technologies., and then go on to become trainers to train others and run community and business projects. WPDI has started selecting youths to join the program and the goal is to select 46 individuals, two from each of the 19 clusters within the refugee settlement and two from each of the four host communities.  Watch to find out more about the program:

WPDI is also running Conflict Resolution Education programs with 59 students in the settlement at Panyadoli secondary school and is looking to extend the program to three primary schools. The program teaches children essential lessons in health, life skills, human rights and conflict resolution.

The Peace through Sports program aims to utilize sports to engage youths in dialogue as an outlet for anger in at-risk populations, to foster a culture of team work, respect, commitment and trust. The program, which is due to start this month, is actively searching for two soccer teams of boys and girls.

Another program that is due to launch is Entrepreneurship Training to empower young women and men as entrepreneurs who can undertake projects and small businesses that build intercommunity dialogue and promote economic development – through training, action and peers. A rigorous application process to select 35 youths for the training is underway.

An educational and entertaining component to promote peace through cinema called the Cinema for Peace Program, was launched March 2016 in Kiryandongo gathers an audience of 300 community members. The program originally started in South Sudan in 2014 at the Protection of Civilians site of the United Nations.  As a popular media, cinema can be a potent vector of positive values to connect people across ethnicities, nationalities, and languages. WPDI initiated the Cinema for Peace program to draw on the cathartic power of movies with a view to instilling in the audiences, notably children and youth, a capacity to reflect on the conditions of peace and how to achieve them. The program consists in screenings followed by town‐hall meeting style debates to raise awareness on the need for peace and non-violence to prevail over war and conflicts as solutions to human problems. We gather an average of 300 people for each screening‐debate. The project is also available to children through the Cinema for Peace Children’s Program, featuring animated movies followed by drawing exercises.

This latest peacebuilding initiative in Kiryandongo is part of WPDI’s ongoing efforts to support the world’s growing population of individuals displaced due to violence. According to

UNHCR*, the UN Refugee Agency, wars, conflict and persecution have forced an unprecedented 65.3 million people to flee their homes. This staggering number represents approximately one out of every 113 people on Earth. Uganda hosts the eighth-largest refugee population in the world, third-largest in Africa.

The Initiative represents Western Union Foundation’s first multi-year Education for Refugees partner. The program will serve as the Foundation’s model to scale in other countries.

Find out more about the WPDI and Western Union Foundation collaboration:

* UNHCR, The Refugee Agency, Global Trends – Forced Displacement in 2015