WPDI works to empower young people from remote and vulnerable places in communities affected by a long history of violence and/or armed conflict. Our experience is that many young people from these places are eager to make a difference. But it is a fact that, in northern Uganda (or South Sudan where we also work), these young people lack access to all kind of resources. Such resources can consist in the skills to conduct prevention/reconciliation processes or the skills and technology they need to use the internet or make a powerpoint presentation - without mentioning the capacity to draw a market assessment and a business plan. WPDI seeks to broker such material and intangible resources for young people who are eager to develop community projects but who cannot access the resources they need if abandoned to themselves. This OpenIDEO challenge is a great opportunity to channel such resources to young people in the remote neighborhoods of Acholi, Uganda.
1. Why Are We Actively Promoting Lasting Peace and Sustainable Development in Uganda
After more than 22 years of civil war, northern Uganda has suffered from a nearly neglected humanitarian crisis. The struggle between the Government of Uganda and the Lord's Resistance Army, one of the most brutal rebel governments in the world, has left a number of scars that cannot heal overnight. Due to the instability and insecurity around 1.6 million people were uprooted from their homes, and countless children were left orphaned and disenfranchised, especially in the case of former child-soldiers who, for many, have lost their families and homes with no community to return to.
Although northern Uganda is relatively more secure today, the silence of the arms is not enough. Peace in the region and throughout the country will not be sustained if north Ugandans cannot reap the benefits of peace, which include political stability, economic growth, and an optimistic society. The post-conflict fate of child soldiers is thus one of the most crucial conditions of long-term peace for the future of the country. Disarming and demobilizing them rarely means that they will be able to reintegrate into their communities as if their military experience was a mere parenthesis in their lives. Their childhood has been robbed from them and they need to heal and regain trust in themselves and from their communities, who often fail or refuse to recognize those children as theirs. Such exclusion has a significant and worrying impact on the access of these youth to such basic goods as education or employment.
2.1. Holistic Peace Training
In every region, district or state where the YPN operates, we start by talking to local leaders and stakeholders to understand the situation on the ground and to identify a core group of young women and men with a passion for peace and a record of service in their communities. Also, we have entered a specific partnership with UN Women to ensure that our enrolment and training practices fully ensure gender equality and women’s empowerment.
This high level group of youth “trainers of trainers”, or ToTs, once fully trained over a year in peace-building, human rights, mediation, leadership, ICT, entrepreneurship and life skills will in turn teach other youths about the YPN and its work in their communities. We take a holistic approach. That’s why we also provide training in life skills like positive psychology, trauma healing and meditation. In addition, Ericsson, one of our long-time partners, generously provides every ToT with a tablet and phone, as well as comprehensive training on these devices, so that they can stay connected to each other as they coordinate their peacebuilding activities.
2.2. Community Projects to Foster Participative Development
After their training, every ToT is responsible for going home to his or her county and finding a group of other young people to become part of the YPN’s work. The ToTs share what they’ve learned with these youths and empower them to pass on this knowledge and values to others. With the support of WPDI and the Advisory Council they will form at the county level composed of eminent figures and leaders, the ToTs and their teams of young women and men design and implement income-generating projects in cities and villages to address the underlying problems affecting their communities and also create opportunities for local youth to be trained in such trades as farming. To us, these youths are in a better position than we are to determine the most-pressing challenges that they and their neighbors face. While we provide guidance and support at every phase of the project, from planning to execution, we ultimately leave the decisions in their hands.
2.3. Promoting education and connectivity – our Community Learning Centers, a Hub of Community Involvement
Education opens doors to new worlds of knowledge and opportunities. But in communities impacted by violence and poverty, young people often do not have access to the educational resources they need to lift themselves out of these vicious cycles. WPDI is constructing a network of Community Learning Centers in South Sudan and Uganda that serve as hubs for education, technology, and civic engagement where all are welcome. We believe that ICTs can be tremendous assets in fragile communities that empower women and men to tap into the world’s entire collection of knowledge, to connect with others in their communities and around the world, and to participate in conversations as informed global citizens.
2.4. Empowering Peacemakers through an Interconnected, Global Network
The Internet and smartphones provided to our peacemakers allow the YPN to function as an early-warning system that provides crucial updates during periods of violence, as was demonstrated during the pilot phase of the project which was interrupted by the ongoing domestic conflict in South Sudan, during which participants courageously maintained contact across ethnic lines and worked to prevent the formation of armed groups in remote villages.
During times of peace, these technologies allow our participants to brainstorm and collaborate to foster lasting peace and sustainable development in their communities. All of our peacemakers are connected through an online portal on WPDI’s website, so—whether they live in the same village or on different continents—our youths can reach out to each other and share ideas for strengthening their communities.
The Youth Peacemaker Network (YPN) / Western Equatoria & Acholi is undertaken by the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI) to empower young people as leaders of peace and development in their communities through a unique mix of peace-building, conflict resolution, mediation, human rights, women’s and girls’ empowerment, life skills, ICT training, entrepreneurship, vocational training, youth-led community projects as well as programs promoting peace through the arts and sports.
4. Measuring Achievements
WPDI constantly monitors its activities (eg attendance of trainings, uses of Community Learning Centers, M&E online system through Ericsson Connect To Learn laptops) and collects feedback from beneficiaries (testimonies from users of Community Learning Centers, from participants in our programs). A key asset embedded in our modus operandi lies in the fact that WPDI systematically builds its projects around an In-country team which is made up of nationals and has a responsibility in monitoring every aspects of the project on a daily basis.