UNESCO Special Envoy, Humanist and Artist and Forest Whitaker and UNESCO announced the expansion of the Youth Peacemaker Network (YPN) in South Sudan’s Equatorias region. This peace-building program has been developed by The Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative (WPDI) in partnership with UNESCO, Ericsson and Zain Group. The announcement came from South Sudan, where Mr. Whitaker is on a visit with Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO and Leila Zerrougui, Special Representatives of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, and project partners.
Despite a recent escalation of conflict in the world’s newest nation, Mr. Whitaker remained optimistic that peace is possible.
“I have always believed that when given the right tools, youth have the power to create ripples of change through their communities that will ultimately lead to lasting peace,” said Mr. Whitaker, “this belief was reinforced during this trip to South Sudan, where the youth I met with are determined to build a better future.”
The expansion to the Equatorias region is a continuation of WPDI’s five-year commitment to the region. In 2012, WPDI initiated a peace-building and life-skills training program for young women and men from 11 counties and multiple ethnic tribes in the Jonglei state. After an outbreak of violence in South Sudan, and following an assessment on the ground, the next deployment of the Youth Peacemaker Network will initially focus on Eastern Equatoria. The program will directly impact hundreds of youth in the region, and indirectly impact thousands in their local communities through a series of programs including peace-building, conflict resolution, life-skills, technology and vocational skills trainings. Additionally, the program will empower local communities through a series of peace-building initiatives including community projects, the establishment of computer centers, radio messages, film screenings and sports.
“Education is the most powerful tool to give young people a voice and the skills to be active change-makers,” said Irina Bokova, “I fully support this innovative initiative by UNESCO Special Envoy Forest Whitaker. I believe it is of crucial importance to South Sudan. It is also a message of hope for Africa’s youth”.
Because WPDI believes that communication and interaction are central requirements for peace, reconciliation and solidarity, the YPN will seek innovative opportunities to connect the youth involved in the project. WPDI views knowledge, information, learning, learning-by-doing, and communication as key to peace and prosperity. Modern communication technologies offer unprecedented tools to boost human potential and help fulfill aspirations. The YPN will focus on connectivity, through ICT trainings, computer centers, and mobile technologies provided by partners Ericsson and Zain.
Zain South Sudan CEO Basel Manasrah said, “Our partnership with ‘The Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative’, UNESCO and Ericsson aims to enhance the prospects of young people in the country by bringing them together and motivating them to become agents of positive change. Through telecommunications, we are all jointly focused on narrowing the digital divide, capacity building and empowering the South Sudanese youth with the necessary skills to develop a more productive future.”
Elaine Weidman-Grunewald, Ericsson’s Vice President, Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility says, “Ericsson advocates using technology as a force for good, and we are committed to empowering change-makers in the Youth Peacemaker Network through mobile technology. By enabling the youth from South Sudan to be connected to each other and to the world around them, we hope to further their peace-building efforts.
In addition to the launch of the Youth Peacemaker Network, Mr. Whitaker also visited with Leila Zerrougui and learned first-hand about the reported 9,000 child soldiers that have been recruited and used in recent conflict. “We cannot accept the use of child soldiers,” said Mr. Whitaker, “children are essential to building a peaceful future, but they cannot do so if they are subject to the physical and psychological abuse of being used in conflict. The international community has to speak out against this atrocity both in South Sudan and globally, and to pressure leaders to commit to protecting children and banning their use in conflict.” During the visit, Mr. Whitaker reaffirmed his support for the “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign, designed to raise global awareness to rally against the use of children in conflict.