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Future WPDI peacemakers from Western Equatoria, South Sudan, consolidate their skills at a pivotal workshop halfway through their training

In the process of expanding the scope of our outreach in South Sudan, we just completed, in Juba, the capital city, from August 28th to September 1st, the third training workshop of our new cohort of future young peacemakers and entrepreneurs from the former Western Equatoria State. Their goal is to work with us as active participants in the Youth Peacemaker Network (YPN), our flagship program, which started as a pilot in 2012 and took off in earnest in 2014 in the Eastern Equatoria State.

The YPN is a structured youth leadership program through which we empower groups of young women and men from vulnerable and often conflict-affected or post-conflict communities and countries. In the first year of this three-year program, we select a group of highly talented young people representing the local communities of their state and provide them a unique mix of trainings covering conflict resolution and peace education, life skills and meditation, and vocational skills in ICTs and entrepreneurship.

Once equipped with this holistic set of knowledge and skills, these young people go back in their respective communities. They become Trainers of Trainees (ToTs) who enroll groups of young people with whom they replicate the training we provided to them and with whom they conduct peacebuilding activities, such as teaching conflict resolution in primary and secondary schools, and create small businesses with the support of WPDI. The first full-fledged cohort of 18 ToTs in Eastern Equatoria now spearhead a group of 156 highly recognized talent who are regularly approached by local authorities and State officials to conduct mediation process and train other stakeholders.

Our is a very practical program designed to generate positive impacts on the grounds. This dimension was very obvious the trainees themselves throughout the main sessions of the workshop, mainly on ICTs and business skills as well as conflict resolution and peacebuilding.

Kubana Lilian, one of the two trainees from the Tambura County, observed that “So far with the ICT training acquired, I have been using social media like facebook, twitter and email to talk peace and to build peace in my community. I use peace quotes and peace messages to transform the lives of the youth in South Sudan and this is already having a positive impact in the community. With the Business training acquired so far, I am already thinking about how I will have to start some income generating projects to help not only me as an individual but the entire youth group in my beloved County. I have to discourage idleness in the youth and empower them to bake their own bread and sustain a living.”

Another trainee, Archangelo Minawe Kanewe, from the Nagero County, remarked that “The knowledge of business skills acquired so far has opened for me a way of starting a business; the steps I should take (business plan) and undoubtedly I will replicate the same to my community. With the ICT knowledge and skills acquired to-date, I now use social media like Facebook, Twitter and email to disseminate peace messages to the public, something I was not able to do before I became part of WPDI.”

The workshop laid particular emphasis on conflict resolution and peacebuilding. UNESCO, a partner of WPDI, organized a session of conflict-sensitive education and programming at large, familiarizing trainees with international concepts and practices. The representative of UNESCO focused on a number of critical issues such as the risks and opportunities of education in conflict, bearing in mind that ill-designed education practices and policies can be detrimental to peace as opposed to education practices and policies that could significantly help in the promotion of peace in the short and the long run. The ToTs, whose missions include teaching conflict resolution in primary and secondary schools, were very attentive during the discussion on the critical role teachers play in promotion of peace in quality education and the protection of quality education in conflict.

These elements proved to be a very compelling addition to our curriculum, which seeks to help our peacemakers develop an encompassing understanding of peace. For Lilian, “Conflict transformation, mediation and peace building have so far helped me in improving my knowledge in what I did not know before. By knowing the different types how conflict can be caused, pre-mediation explains the steps I should take before mediation as a mediator to solve conflicts. This has given me a way to build peace, make peace and keep it in my community.”

This personal commitment of the ToTs is a key part of the training. Prof. Brian Williams, our conflict resolution expert from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, stressed the importance of this ethical aspect of being a peacemaker by inviting the ToTs to create, at this stage, a contract with themselves. ToTs responded very positively, with Archangelo Minawe Kanewe commenting that “The Program WPDI delivers to us the ToTs of Western Equatoria is a life-changing program for a sustainable peace and development not only in South Sudan but also in the rest of the world. Half way through the training program, I am confident that I will be an effective peace-maker amongst my community and beyond.”

In that perspective, the completion of the third training marks a pivotal moment in the constitution of a branch of the YPN. At this stage, our future ToTs have consolidated the acquisition of theoretical knowledge and begin demonstrating effective qualities of leadership and know-how. Indeed, at the next training, they will be taken to schools where we will directly assess their capacity to deliver conflict resolution courses to real students.