October 27, 2021 – Earlier this month, WPDI – thanks to support from the Public Affairs Section of the United States Embassy in South Sudan – launched a new initiative to connect South Sudanese and American youths. Designed to establish a ‘virtual bridge’ between students in Southern California and South Sudan, the “Youth Peace Bridges between South Sudan and the United States” program will, during the 2021-22 school year, help hundreds of students learn from each other in a fun and informational setting. Through regularly held virtual conversations and other online platforms, the youths will expectedly develop friendships and gain a better understanding of their similarities and differences, becoming more global citizens in the process.
In connecting 180 students from three secondary schools in Southern California and 14 secondary schools in South Sudan’s Equatorias region, the Youth Peace Bridges project will harness technology to serve as a platform that helps youths in the United States and South Sudan learn about each other and their respective countries, develop strong relationships, and forge a cultural bond while learning about perspectives on peace and conflict from each other. Over the course of six months, the students will hold regular exchanges designed to open up new perspectives and lines of thinking about topics they all encounter in their daily lives, including conflict resolution, mediation, and how to manage conflict. The initiative will culminate in a still-to-be-determined joint project that celebrates the connections made between the youths.
Since its launch only a few weeks ago, the program has already had two exciting sessions between 60 South Sudanese students based in Torit and Yambio and 60 American students in Carson and La Palma. Each session began with introductory icebreaker activities before quickly moving on to questions and answers. Participants inquired about subjects including daily routines, what school is like in their respective countries and communities, and even what life at home is like. Throughout the almost hour-long discussions, participants on both sides showed a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for learning from their peers. We were enthused that students from both countries have already asked how they could communicate with each other in between sessions, illustrating the appeal and value of the program, even at this early stage.
While the handful of sessions held thus far have focused on introducing the youths to each other, future ones will focus on specific peace-related topics, such as understanding conflict, communication, identity, forgiveness, and mediation. If the amount of energy and inquisitiveness the initial meetings have displayed are any indicator, these future sessions will prove to be impactful for all the youths involved indeed.