Mary Valentino’s story is one of perseverance, hope, hard work, and resilience in the face of realities that many of us simply could not fathom. When she was eight years old, she fled war-torn South Sudan on foot, carrying her infant brother for days until they finally arrived in Northern Uganda. Far from being disenfranchised, her experience as a refugee strengthened her belief in what could be achieved in the future. Mary persevered and succeeded by fighting for her own education. In turn, she also encouraged other girls in her community in Northern Uganda, many of whom had dropped out of school, to resume their own education.
She is a student, a teacher, and an inspiring young community leader. Mary is one of 46 Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative’s (WPDI) talented young Peacemakers working in the Kiryandongo refugee settlement camp in Northern Uganda. Recently, Mary won the Western Union Foundation’s ‘Moving Money for Better Scholarship’, that sponsored her attendance at the 2018 One Young World summit in The Hague. Along with seven other scholarship winners, Mary had the opportunity to meet exclusively with Western Union CEO, Hikmet Ersek, and Western Union Foundation Executive Director, Elizabeth Roscoe, while in The Hague, to talk about her work. She also accompanied Forest Whitaker for a WPDI presentation in the Netherlands right before she joined forces with One Young WU delegation. Mary is now a One Young World Ambassador, representing both Western Union and WPDI, and currently studies journalism and communications at Makere University in Kampala, Uganda’s capital. Simultaneously, she is a trainer in conflict resolution, peacebuilding, and entrepreneurship at the Kiryandongo refugee settlement camp.
My own encounter with Mary at the One Young World Summit was enduringly impactful. In college, I had the opportunity to study conflict resolution and economic development in Northern Uganda for several months. While I have not visited the Kiryandongo refugee settlement, I remembered the conventional Acholi greeting “Apwoyo Matek!”, and instantly made a close friend for life! Mary’s life-story, accomplishments and future aspirations were more than impressive, and she inspired the entire Western Union delegation. She is best understood in her own profound words – words which I believe can apply to us all.
“No matter the situation, no matter the condition, no matter my age…I am capable of making a change, slowly by slowly.”
Watch the full recap for key moments from delegates, and what they hope to accomplish from their experience.