Forest Whitaker helps build peace through the power of cinema in South Sudan
In the midst of civil strife in South Sudan, Forest Whitaker, UNESCO Special Envoy for Peace and Reconciliation, travelled to the country on 30 August 2014 to further the agenda of peace through dialogue, culture and communication.
Immediately after landing in Juba, the capital city of South Sudan, Forest facilitated a session of his groundbreaking “Cinema for Peace” programme at the UN House site for the Protection of Civilians (PoC). In this camp for Internally Displaced People (IDP), nothing is more urgent and, yet more challenging, than to advocate for peace and reconciliation. War and violence are a recent memory of the IDPs, since the camp is located in one of the areas that have been affected by the armed conflict which broke last December in South Sudan.
To promote peace in places where conflict is still alive, the Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative (WPDI), a foundation which Forest created, has developed in cooperation with UNESCO's office in Juba a new project, the “Cinema for Peace” programme, to harness the potential of culture in the service of peace. The programme is based on projections of movies on a theme relevant to peace and reconciliation, and prompts debate among the viewers. On Saturday 30 August, the debate following the screening of The Butler involved 40 youth leaders. Despite their current situation as people displaced by ethnic conflict, they were eager to discuss on such themes as discrimination, tolerance and non-violence. Having suffered from violence and having lost their homes created frustration and, in some cases, a desire for revenge – but the programme demonstrates such feelings do not necessarily have to turn into a culture of war and violence. They can be channeled into the positive attitudes of a culture of peace if the right behaviours and attitudes are encouraged, starting with the practices of dialogue and the exchange of ideas.
The relevance of dialogue and communication for peace is also at the root of the work Forest Whitaker is conducting in the State of Eastern Equatoria, where he is leading the first workshop of the newly-minted Youth Peacemaker Network (YPN) in Torit this week from 1 to 6 September. The Youth Peacemaker Network project was launched last June jointly with UNESCO, Ericsson and Zain on an earlier mission to South Sudan. Drawing on the lessons of a pilot phase of the project in Jonglei State, this new version of the YPN seeks to establish a network of young leaders who will be trained and equipped to help maintain an early warning system on peace and security, and also to help promote peace and development through local community projects. This programme, which counts UNESCO as its proud partner, trains young people in such areas as peace education and ICTs. It connects youth among themselves as well as with local communities and the teams of WPDI, who manage comparable programmes in Northern Uganda and Mexico. An important aspect of the programme thus lies in its reliance on connectivity - indeed, technology can help foster peace if rightly used and taught. Through the main partners of WPDI on the ground, Ericsson and Zain, mobile phones and computers are distributed to the participants, who are the trustees of this technology for their communities, and computer centers are established, which are open to everyone. This ambitious programme seeks to create a movement for peace and prosperity from the ground. Given the enthusiasm and the dedication of the first 18 youth leaders who are receiving this week their training as trainers of trainers, WPDI has good hopes of the long term success of the Youth Peacemaker Network Project.
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