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Bringing youth peacemakers from Uganda and South Sudan together

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Training young leaders in conflict resolution and peace building, business skills and project management, and future-oriented approaches of the Sustainable Development Goals has become essential. From 6 to 10 February 2017, young leaders from South Sudan and Northern Uganda were invited by the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI) to be trained on these topics in a workshop in Kiryandongo, Uganda. In the context of the partnership between UNESCO and WPDI, Nada Al-Nashif, Assistant Director-General of UNESCO for Social and Human Sciences, and Forest Whitaker, UNESCO Special Envoy for Peace and Reconciliation and UN Advocate for the SDGs, attended the event on 8 February.

With this workshop, WPDI brought together for the first time the two groups of young peacemakers it trains respectively in South Sudan and northern Uganda through its flagship program, the Youth Peacemaker Network (YPN), which is implemented in partnership with UNESCO.

The YPN was started to nurture the deeper roots of peace in fragile areas through establishing networks of highly talented and connected young leaders. As part of the program, groups of young women and men are provided with a unique mix of skills in conflict resolution, personal development, Information and Communication and business/project management. The goal of the program is to empower them as mediators and entrepreneurs who can transform their communities from the inside by rallying local youth around concrete projects.

Peace building was another central pillar of the workshop, which included sessions on connecting peace to development as well as a session on life skills run by Forest Whitaker, who said: “The young people we are gathering at this training have been active peace leaders for some time now through our Youth Peacemaker Network program. They have already accomplished a lot for their communities. This week is not just about teaching them things they do not know. It is also a time for us to listen to them, to learn from their stories. As they grow in confidence and experience, I feel that I receive more and more from them.”

The workshop was located at the Hope North Campus, a secondary and vocational school where many former child soldiers have found a haven. Hope North is where Forest Whitaker started working with young people from conflict-affected communities, upon hearing their stories when he was working on the Last King of Scotland movie.

In the afternoon of 8 February, Forest Whitaker, Nada Al-Nashif and Ms Rosa Malongo, UN Resident Coordinator for Uganda, attended a town hall meeting in the Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement for the launch by WPDI of a new deployment of youth-benefitting activities in the camp. Nada Al-Nashif addressed the young women and men present, most of them South Sudanese refugees, to express UNESCO’s commitment to respond to their unique situations as refugees, and to empower them with the skills they need to enter the job market and fully participate in the development of their societies.

On 10 February, Nada Al-Nashif accompanied Forest Whitaker on his visit of the Uganda Country Office and Community Learning Center of WPDI in Gulu, where they met with current and former students trained by his teams. Some former students shared personal stories on how the ICT and business certified trainings had helped them get jobs, thereby radically transforming their personal and familial lives. She afterwards participated in a meeting with Forest Whitaker and the local authorities on potential avenues for reinforced collaboration between UNESCO and WPDI in Uganda, Africa and beyond. During her mission in Uganda, Nada Al-Nashif frequently insisted on UNESCO’s engagement in Africa’s peaceful and sustainable development, notably through the Sustainable Development Goals Agenda, and its work on youth and gender equality.