Western Union Chief Executive Officer Hikmet Ersek, Chief Compliance Officer and WU Foundation Board Chair Jacqueline Molnar, and Western Union Chief of Staff to the CEO Nicole Vogrin, visited the Kiryandongo refugee settlement in Uganda in December to see firsthand the work of the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI), a Western Union Foundation beneficiary. The visit culminated in the graduation of WPDI’s first class of Trainers of Trainees (ToTs), who will become the leaders that bring WPDI’s skills-building and conflict resolution curriculum to other young people at the settlement.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), Uganda accepted its one-millionth refugee in 2017. Most of them have come from war-torn South Sudan. Uganda is a popular destination for refugees because unlike many other countries, Uganda places the refugees it hosts into settlements rather than traditional camps, providing them with a small plot of land and facilitating their integration into the host community. Despite this assistance, it can still be difficult for newcomers to gain a foothold in the new country; the UNHCR reports that 85% of South Sudanese refugees are women and children under the age of 18, and many have been unable to participate in educational opportunities that would prepare them for employment.
To help provide refugees with the skills and training they need to integrate into the economy, the Western Union Foundation partners with WPDI to bring its Youth Peacemaker Network (YPN) program to Kiryandongo. The YPN curriculum includes training on business/entrepreneurship, computer/technical skills, conflict resolution, and peace-building and is designed to lead to job opportunities and better pay, either in the host country or home country, should they choose to return once it becomes safer.
Western Union and the Western Union Foundation delegation were hosted by Forest Whitaker, Founder and CEO of WPDI. This was the second visit in the first year of a three-year collaboration between the Western Union Foundation and WPDI. In November 2016, the Western Union Foundation pledged nearly USD $1.2 million to WPDI, with the goal of improving employment outcomes for 10,000 refugees at the settlement. This was part of Western Union’s overall commitment from the September 2016 White House Call to Action on Refugees to use company resources to help refugees participate more directly in the global economy through education, employment, and financial inclusion.
Upon their arrival, the Western Union and Western Union Foundation delegation met with WPDI representatives for a tour of the Kiryandongo settlement and traveled to Hope North, a school for former child soldiers, where they met with the ToT graduates for a leadership and mentoring session. Hikmet and Jacqueline both discussed their experiences and explained how education was a key component of their success, encouraging the new graduates to make the most of the opportunities that the education from WPDI provides them.
The delegation also visited the Western Union Foundation-funded Community Learning Center and celebrated the ToTs who had completed WPDI’s inaugural YPN program in Kiryandongo. Both Hikmet and Jacqueline addressed the graduates and their guests, and after the distribution of certificates, the group was treated to a performance of traditional Acholi dancing.
Later that evening, the Western Union Foundation held a special check presentation ceremony with Forest Whitaker to announce its contribution of USD $25,000 to WPDI from the Foundation’s #IAmMore campaign, which helped raise awareness about refugees and included participants from the ToT program. As a special gift, the delegation also handed out more than 50 soccer balls for use during WPDI’s “Peace through Sports” programming, which encourages inhabitants to settle their rivalries on the field rather than through fighting.
The Western Union Foundation collaboration with WPDI is helping to save lives and promote peace across the Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement. “Without a doubt, the WPDI graduating class of ToTs is the most remarkable group of young people I have ever had the privilege to meet,” Jacqueline said after the trip. “They are truly the future of peace and prosperity in the region.”