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In Northern Uganda, Forest Whitaker and his partners take stock of progress made by WPDI on the ground and welcome a new cohort of future community leaders

After two intense weeks supporting his programs in South Sudan and Uganda, our CEO/Founder Forest Whitaker concluded his mission in Uganda on a day of lively ceremonies and celebrations crowning two of the most important programs currently developed in the area. Visiting his programs within the refugee settlement of Kiryandongo and presiding the graduation ceremony in Gulu of 79 new WPDI peacemakers from Acholi and Kiryandongo, he vowed to continue helping Ugandan and South Sudanese refugee youth in their pursuit of peace and sustainable development with the assistance of his partners. Among the partners represented at this day of celebration were Ericsson, Western Union and the Western Union Foundation, MTN, and UNESCO.

In the morning, Forest Whitaker led a visit of the programs developed by WPDI in partnership with the Western Union Foundation within the Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement over the past year. He took his partners to take stock of WPDI programs within the settlement, notably the Community Learning Center, which was built through Western Union Foundation funding and where around 400 monthly users take trainings or access computers and library services. The delegation thus had the opportunity to directly exchange with beneficiaries and staff and learn more on the programs they have committed themselves to. They also went to the Panyadoli Secondary School, an in-settlement school where we have initiated a conflict-resolution education program. 

The afternoon focused on the graduation ceremony of the young women and men WPDI has enrolled respectively for the Youth Peacemaker Network (YPN) in the Acholi subregion, mainly financed by the Swedish Postcode Foundation, and the YPN in Kiryandongo, mainly supported by the Western Union Foundation. Located at the Hope North Campus, where Mr. Whitaker started working with young women and men from conflict-impacted communities, the graduation marked a hinging moment in the life of our programs in Uganda, since the Acholi cohort represented the first expansion of the YPN beyond its first implementation in Gulu and that the Kiryandongo cohort embodied our first attempt at developing a full-fledged program in a camp for refugees.

Taking the two cohorts together, we trained 79 young women and men in conflict resolution, ICTs and entrepreneurship to prepare them as mediators and business leaders tasked to promote peace and sustainable development in their communities. After nine months of intensive training and exigent written test, 52 of the enrolled youth passed the program and graduated this day. The remaining 27 trainees will be taken through a short phase of revisions and tutoring to take the tests again in the course of the first quarter of 2018. 

Conferring a significant importance to this moment in the careers and the lives of the peacemakers as well as the destinies of their communities, the WPDI leadership as well as the representatives of our partners insisted on welcoming the graduates with words of praises and promises of further commitment to support them in their future responsibilities.

As main contributor for the program in the Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement, the Western Union Foundation was represented at its highest level. Highlighting the commitment of her organization to refugees and displaced persons, Jacqueline Molnar, Chair of the Western Union Foundation Board, remarked that ““Without a doubt, the WPDI graduating class of Trainers of Trainees is the most remarkable group of young people I have ever had the privilege to meet. They are truly the future of peace and prosperity in the region. The Western Union Foundation is proud and honored to support WPDI and we cannot wait to see the results of its unprecedented Youth Peacemaker Network.” 

Commending our approach to peace and sustainable development, Hikmet Ersek, CEO of Western Union, said “WPDI’s Youth Peacemaker program provides Trainers of Trainees with powerful tools to succeed in transforming their own lives as well as the lives of the communities they live in. Looking in the shiny eyes of these young leaders graduating the program I know they will be courageous change makers who will work towards the vision of peace.”

Wim Vanhelleputte, CEO of MTN Uganda, declared that “Education today is no longer just pen and pencil but ICT and internet connectivity. MTN Uganda is pleased to partner with Forest Whitaker and his Initiative to provide this vital service. We ascribe to his vision entirely and pledge our support."

The representative of a long-term ICT partner of WPDI, Elaine Weidman, Senior Vice-President and Chief Sustainability Officer of Ericsson, who provides mobile technology to our peacemakers and computers for our CLCs, praised the successes accomplished under our partnership with them and said that “Since the start of Ericsson’s partnership with WPDI, we have been a part of a coalition to spark positive change for youth in the epicenter of conflict. The strength of the partnership is based on the vision of Forest Whitaker, WPDI’s CEO, and his unwavering commitment to empowering students and building communities for peace. I am awed by the achievements made by every one of the students participating in the program, proud of the part technology has played in helping them build life-skills and inspired to be part of their journey.”

As he moved to hand their certificates to the new graduates, Forest Whitaker affirmed that “I listened to you speak about your dreams, heard your cry, watched you articulate a vision about the future you want. The beauty is that it is possible. Many of you will be written about in books, chapters dedicated to you. You are an amazing group. I am so proud of you." 

Some trainees also took the floor during the ceremony. The expression of their gratitude and willingness to commit to peace and prosperity in their communities felt to all the staff of WPDI and our partners like a reward for the efforts of the past and a promise of transformative change in the future.