June 26, 2019 – Starting in 2018, the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI) – in partnership with the Western Union Foundation – launched a scholarship program for youths at the Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement, where most of the 60,000 residents are refugees forced out of neighboring South Sudan by the ongoing civil war. Although the program was initially intended to support 100 young people in their educational endeavors for a five-year period, it was quickly expanded for an additional 100. Now, there are plans in place to support even more students.
The program was originally intended to boost educational opportunities for talented children and youths we train in Conflict Resolution Education at four local primary and secondary schools: Panyadoli Secondary School, Stella Matutina Girls School, Kiryandongo Secondary School, and Kiryandongo High School. This hands-on peace education training has a transformative impact on students and helps them recover from their past experiences and build peace in their current environment. We quickly realized, though, that many of these students were from families who could not afford schools fees and other costs associated with sending children and youths to school. There was a need that we had to meet to ensure that motivated children and youths continue with their educations. The idea of complementing our peacebuilding initiatives there with a scholarship program emerged out of a conversation between our Founder and CEO, Forest Whitaker, and the CEO of Western Union, Hikmet Ersek, after they met some of these amazing youths. The program has made a difference for hundreds of young people, young women in particular.
At the end of May, staff from the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI) visited two schools within the Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement, Panyadoli Secondary School and Stella Matutina Girls School to ensure that scholarship recipients are benefitting from the program. What they heard from scholarship recipients was incredibly moving. As Biar, a youth from South Sudan told them, “I am so grateful for my scholarship. My love for study has risen up and I promise to do well at my school because I feel that it is the only way I can pay you back and support my community in the future.” Nyachen, another South Sudanese refugee, said that her “hope has been lit by my scholarship. I believe that, with education, my future can be bright. I want to become a medical doctor one day.”
Without question, the scholarship program – and its impact – are on track and even exceed our expectations. As such, we are excited to announce its expansion to 400 youth beneficiaries at Panyadoli Secondary School, Stella Matutina Girls School, Kiryandongo Secondary School, and Kiryandongo High School. Through doing so, we hope to continue to empower groups of young men and women as advocates for peace and transformative change within their communities.