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Bringing our youth peacemakers from Uganda and South Sudan together

Empowering young women and men as peace leaders and entrepreneurs – human rights, business skills, conflict resolution, international law, and future-oriented approaches of the Sustainable Development Goals led the agenda at a week-long workshop in Northern Uganda.

In the presence of our CEO, Forest Whitaker, our partners UNESCO and Education Above All (EAA), through their legal advocacy program, Protect Education in Insecurity and Conflict (PEIC), we  gathered, for the very first time, our two groups of young peacemakers from Africa, respectively from South Sudan and northern Uganda. As part of their training within our flagship program, the Youth Peacemaker Network (YPN), they learned not only on peacebuilding, entrepreneurship and sustainable development but also on themselves as a unique group.

The workshop, set up between 6-10 February, was located at the Hope North Campus in Kiryandongo, Uganda, 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.

We started the YPN 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 this training is to empower them as mediators and entrepreneurs who can transform their communities from the inside by rallying local youth around concrete projects.

A main objective of the workshop was to expand the knowledge of the young leaders on business management as most of them are now fully engaged in the development of their local community businesses. Their entreprenarial capacity was reinforced through an alternation of presentations by our trainers and group work through which they exchanged on their experiences and perspectives.

The training of the youth in entrepreneurship was strengthened by a session conducted by a representative of « Yunus Social Business », an initiative launched by Nobel Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus, to support entrepreneurs in developing or vulnerable areas. She introduced our youth peacemakers to the principles of micro-credit and social business and provided concrete examples of agribusiness, which echoed many of their community 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 ran 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.”

EAA-PEIC held sessions on international law and the protection of education. Maleiha Malik, Professor of Law, King’s College London and Academic Advisory Director, PEIC said, “In a region that continues to be beset by local tensions and conflict, it is critical that we teach, train and empower the next generation to build a bright future for themselves and their country.”

In line with Forest Whitaker’s mandates as a UNESCO Special Envoy for Peace and Reconciliation and a UN Advocate for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the workshop featured sessions on the SDG framework provided by WPDI and UNESCO to help the young leaders  identify how they contribute to the global goals through their community projects and to reach out to national and international stakeholders to support these projects.

The trainees also had the opportunity to learn on the principles and the activities of the UN system at large and in Uganda as well as Africa from Ms Rosa Malango. UN Resident Coordinator for Uganda, who ran an interactive session to engage the youth on global and regional challenges and perspectives.

Signaling the importance of the stakes at hand, sessions of the workshop were also attended by an official UN delegation composed of  representatives of UNESCO, including Assistant Director-General for Social Sciences, Ms Nada Al-Nashif, and UNICEF.