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A year into the full launch of their program in the Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement, Uganda, WPDI and the Western Union Foundation are recording early promising successes

















Two years ago, Hikmet Ersek, CEO of Western Union and Forest Whitaker, CEO/Founder of WPDI, met in Istanbul at the Humanitarian World Forum. The international community had gathered under the helm of the United Nations to address the issue of combining humanitarian assistance and development work, two areas that too often remain distinct. Both leaders concurred that action was needed to address the reality that developing countries affected by conflict stand few chances of achieving the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, and that armed conflicts increase exposure to disease, reduce the supply of medical care, and destroy health systems.  

Discussing the common principles behind their respective organizations, Hikmet and Forest agreed that forced displacement constituted a major challenge in this light. Armed conflict displaces millions of people, creating highly complex humanitarian and development challenges. According to the UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), 2.9 million people have been displaced in South Sudan and close to 11 million in Syria. Refugees are rarely presented with solutions that combine humanitarian, or emergency assistance, with development, or long term, aid. Something had to be done – something could be done.

Drawing on the September 2016 commitment by Western Union and the Western Union Foundation to the White House’s Call to Action on Refugees and WPDI’s groundbreaking work in conflict-affected countries, Hikmet and Forest realized that there was room for innovation. Their idea was simple but powerful --to  connect with people in refugee camps and other fragile communities to address the root causes of conflict, while simultaneously providing hope for the future through job training and workforce enablement programs. This approach was pioneered by WPDI’s flagship Youth Peacemaker Network (YPN) initiative, which has been offered in South Sudan and Uganda, and was recently launched in Mexico.  The main goal of the YPN is to develop community-based activities and services, tapping the potential of children and young adults to promote peace and sustainable development in their communities.

Building on WPDI’s prior work in South Sudan and the Western Union Foundation’s interest in supporting refugee and migrant communities, through direct financial contributions and staff support, we decided to empower young people and children residing in the Refugee Settlement of Bweyale, Kiryandongo, where UNHCR numbered around 60,000 refugees and asylum seekers from South Sudan, 85% of them children and youth under the age of 18.

WPDI worked directly with local and national authorities, as well as camp managers and civil society organizations, to establish a program beginning in early 2017. And we now are seeing the first results.

Our first achievement was to gather a peace force of 41 young women and men. What is unique about this group is that we have trained them over a year in a holistic series of trainings in conflict resolution, entrepreneurship and ICTs to prepare them as peacemakers and entrepreneurs at the service of their peers and their communities at large. They graduated in December 2017 and are now ready for their roles as trainers of other youth trainees (ToTs), mediators, advocates for dialogue, and entrepreneurs. In this latter capacity, they will create small businesses that will serve the community twice by providing tailored products and services and by creating job opportunities for young people.

Upon meeting them in December 2017, Hikmet 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.” Western Union Foundation Board Chair Jacqueline Molnar declared, “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. They are truly the future of peace and prosperity in the region.”

Another key success of the initiative supported by the Western Union Foundation is our Community Learning Center (CLC), another signature program of WPDI. CLCs are local hubs for connectivity and knowledge. Community members can access the internet thanks to our partner MTN Foundation and computers to connect with the world thanks to our partner Ericsson – and for many of the refugees living in Kiryandongo, with their families too. Most importantly, the Kiryandongo CLC offers a range of diverse courses covering peace education and vocational training in entrepreneurship to arts and crafts. 919 people have been trained at the CLC so far, mostly youth, as well as a group of 285 vulnerable women. These trainings are transformative. Conflict resolution courses help reduce tensions and conflicts within and around the settlement. ICT courses help people find jobs. In the next phase of this effort, we will be setting up business plan competitions for entrepreneurship trainees, with the winners being supported in the creation of community businesses. We are already assessing 42 business plans submitted by women groups and young leaders for support.

To create and disseminate a culture of peace and non-violence within and around the settlement, we have also developed a wide array of dedicated activities and events. We teach conflict resolution in three primary and secondary schools: 641 students have been trained since the launch of the program last year; they will apply their skills in their respective environments – in school and at home. To further support access to educational opportunities for young people whose families have been affected by the war in South Sudan, the Western Union Foundation and WPDI will be provide additional funding for secondary school scholarships to 100 students each year for a five-year period.

Our “Cinema for Peace” program invites camp residents to reflect and exchange on peace. We screen movies focused on peace and reconciliation, which are followed by debates where children and youth can express their feelings on peace and learn how to foster it through their attitudes and behaviors. So far, 18,770 children, youth and adults have participated in the program. 

Sports is another key vector of peace, fostering a school of non-violence and respect for others. Those are the foundations of our “Peace Through Sports” program, which originated in a camp for displaced people in Juba, South Sudan, and was adapted in Kiryandongo. By combining sports practice with awareness-raising workshops, this program is a highly popular way to provide psychosocial support and disseminate ideas of peace to children and youth who have suffered the traumas of war and forced displacement. We were able to measure how successful the program quickly became when we organized a soccer tournament, the Whitaker Peace Cup, in which 80 teams competed in some 180 games open to both female and male teams gathering hundreds of players and thousands of spectators. 



The WPDI-Western Union Foundation collaboration is rooted in the assumption that lasting peace and sustainable development are bottom-up, grassroots processes that encourage the involvement of all people. Community members must be engaged in the most direct fashion. We do this through special events that we call Peace Engagement Days: they are “peace fairs” where we can advocate on peace and other issues, such as human rights or gender equality, while inviting community members to showcase their cultures through dance and art performances. Peace Engagement Days are also organized on such occasions as International Peace Day and World Refugee Day. To reach local people, we also organize community dialogues – 44 of them throughout 2017 – where people can express their concerns, fears and hopes and learn on how to promote peace. 

Two years after the meeting between Hikmet and Forest, our collaboration has already made a difference in the life of thousands of refugees. The feedback we get from community leaders, young people, national authorities and camp management is a reward in itself. In the months and years to come, our staff and youth will make the program grow, reaching even more people and deepening the foundations of peace in a region where so many aspire to a better future.

A delegation from Western Union and the Western Union Foundation joined WPDI at the Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement to celebrate the first graduates of WPDI's Youth Peacemaker Network in Uganda. #WithRefugees












The Western Union Foundation is an independently managed 501(c)(3), United States non-profit corporation.