My name is Mary Valentino.

Mary Valentino’s story is one of perseverance, hope, hard work, and resilience in the face of realities that many of us simply could not fathom. When she was eight years old, she fled war-torn South Sudan on foot, carrying her infant brother for days until they finally arrived in Northern Uganda. Far from being disenfranchised, her experience as a refugee strengthened her belief in what could be achieved in the future. Mary persevered and succeeded by fighting for her own education. In turn, she also encouraged other girls in her community in Northern Uganda, many of whom had dropped out of school, to resume their own education.

I think of my country, South Sudan. Its political leaders just signed a peace agreement that everyone hopes will hold this time. But a peace agreement is just a piece of paper if people do not have peace in their minds. Therefore, is it so important to have young people trained and ready to build peace in their own country. This is why the work of WPDI is so important for us.



A refugee

68 million forcibly displaced people worldwide

A peacemaker

800+ young refugees trained as peacemakers to build peace and foster economic development

Trained and supported by WPDI

178,000 community members benefitted from our training programs

She is a student, a teacher, and an inspiring young community leader. Mary is one of the 46 of the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative’s talented young Peacemakers working in the Kiryandongo refugee settlement camp in Northern Uganda. Eighteen months into the program, Mary has proven to be an exceptional recruit. With her 45 peers, she underwent a year of intensive training in topics including conflict resolution, information, and communications technology (ICT), entrepreneurship, and life skills. Once certified as one of WPDI peacemakers, she started training young people and vulnerable women from local clusters of the settlement – more than 100 of them – and additionally began teaching conflict resolution in primary and secondary schools within the settlement. In 2018, Mary entered in Makarere University to study journalism thanks to a scholarship program managed by the MasterCard Foundation. As she admitted, “it is thanks to the certificates I got from WPDI that I could enter the scholarship program.”

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With her already profound experiences,  Mary won the Western Union Foundation’s ‘Moving Money for Better Scholarship’, that sponsored her attendance at the 2018 One Young World summit in The Hague.She mingled easily with the other young women and men brought by Western Union from Asia, the Americas, and Europe. After exchanging her hopes and ideas with other young people and learning from them, Mary felt strengthened in her resolve to make difference in her community. “As a young woman, I am very sensitive to the situation of women and girls where I come from. We do not value them enough. As I gain experience, I want to continue supporting girls that are not in school or have dropped out of school. Education is the key for them”.

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