SEATTLE, Washington — Actor Forest Whitaker is helping youth in impoverished regions in South Sudan, northern Uganda, Mexico, Myanmar and South Africa overcome the effects of violence with the Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative (WPDI).
Forest Whitaker won an Academy Award in 2007 for his portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the film, The Last King of Scotland. Whitaker now serves as the UNESCO Special Envoy for Peace and Reconciliation. In 2012, he founded the Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative (WPDI), a nonprofit that helps communities impacted by violence to become safer and more productive.
To achieve this goal, WPDI has partnered with organizations including UNESCO and Ericsson to offer youth programs in a combination of education, life and wellness skills (including meditation and yoga) and computer literacy. These tools allow participants to take part in broadcast series, social events and awareness campaigns.
In 2012, WPDI started the Youth Peacemaker Network (YPN) as a pilot program in South Sudan, with the aim of helping former child soldiers, orphans and other youths impacted by violence. WPDI reports that 51 percent of South Sudan’s population lives in poverty and ongoing conflict makes economic progress difficult. According to the World Bank, the 2014 GDP for South Sudan was 15 percent lower than projected.
Youth used the YPN to remain connected when the violence broke out in 2013. WPDI moved the program from the Jonglei State to the more stable Equatoria region of South Sudan because of the conflict.
In 2012, WDPI also introduced a program in northern Uganda to reach youth impacted by a civil war lasting more than two decades, including former child soldiers and orphans. The World Bank reports that poverty continues to be a vital issue in northern Uganda despite rates having halved by 2015 in line with the U.N. Millennium Development Goals.
The Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative works in cooperation with Hope North, an organization that provides secondary education, vocational training and refuge for young victims of the civil war in northern Uganda.
In 2014, WPDI established a program in Tijuana, Mexico, an area of high concentration in drug cartels and drug trafficking affecting youth. Additionally, according to Reuters, Mexico had a poverty rate of 46.2 percent in 2014, up from 45.5 percent in 2012.
The second phase of WPDI’s Mexico program started in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, in May 2015. Reuters explains that Chiapas was Mexico’s poorest state in 2014, with a poverty rate of 76.2 percent.
WPDI also works with youth in Myanmar, South Africa and the U.S. By offering holistic training and a safe haven for vulnerable youth in many dangerous parts of the world, WPDI is contributing to generational change and ensuring a brighter future for so many young people.
– Kate Miller