Thriving against all odds

Giving By Emily Larson February 15, 2021

With her little brother on her back, 8-year-old Mary set out to trek across South Sudan’s vast grasslands, hoping that with every step, their lives would be spared. Behind them ensued a brutal civil war. On the horizon sat the Kiryandongo refugee camp in Northern Uganda, a light at the end of the tunnel.

Along with some 100,000 other refugees, Kiryandongo became Mary’s new home. There, she gained access to water, shelter, healthcare, and education. She quickly realized that her survival was not without purpose and began advocating for refugees just like herself. She encouraged women all around her to pursue education, reminding them that it was the best option for changing their circumstances.

Mary became one of 45 Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI) Young Peacemakers, a program funded by the Western Union Foundation at the Kiryandongo refugee camp. WPDI’s mission is to help societies impacted by destructive conflicts, transform into safer and more prosperous communities. Since 2016 our work with WPDI has reached tens of thousands of conflict-affected youth in Uganda, and now expanded into Mexico, and fully equipped thousands with skills needed to promote peace and enter the workplace.

In 2018, the Western Union Foundation awarded Mary the Moving Money for Better Scholarship, supporting her trip to the distinguished One Young World Summit. At the Summit, she continued her advocacy, speaking with young leaders from across the world to discuss solutions to today’s most pressing issues. Mary now represents Western Union and WPDI as a One Young World Ambassador.

Mary currently studies journalism and communications at Makere University in Uganda. She also serves as a WPDI trainer in conflict resolution, peacebuilding, and entrepreneurship at the Kiryandongo refugee camp.

The opportunities provided to Mary have not only enriched her life but those around her. Mary’s story reminds us that the experience of one person has the power to change entire communities.

“No matter the situation, no matter the condition, no matter my age, I am capable of making a change, slowly by slowly.”

The Western Union Foundation invests in people like Mary because they can make an incredible impact in their communities. In our mission to provide ‘Opportunity Beyond Borders’, we collaborate with nonprofits around the world to provide the resources and support to connect to the global economy, through meaningful employment, leading to a better life. Learn more about the Western Union Foundation’s work here, and follow us on Twitter for the latest news.