Jordan J. Hill –Blackdoctor.org
Most of us know Forest Whitaker from movies such as The Last King of Scotland, Repo Men and The Butler, but there is another side to the Oscar-winning actor. He is also a determined humanitarian and activist. “War that could manifest itself in violence in the home, escalate the violence inside ones community and which could lead to civil unrest in society, then explode into war on the world stage.” This quote from the 2011 UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Peace and Reconciliation inductee sums up why he founded the Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative (WPDI), an international organization building peace programs around the world.
Breaking an intricate process down into simple terms, the goal of the organization is to help societies impacted by destructive conflicts transform into safer and more prosperous communities. WPDI has impacted parts of Uganda, Sudan, Mexico and even the United States.
The program’s methods include conflict resolution education programs and methodologies, grassroots projects, and state of the art communication tools and content. Taking a closer look into these projects, we can see the impact that they’ve had on communities.
In Northern Uganda, WPDI is partnered with Hope North, a secondary school that educates young victims of the civil war in Uganda (North Vs. South). The students at this school include orphans, former child soldiers, children who were abducted by rebels, or other vulnerable youth who are recommended by their peers. Many of them have lost their parents or lost contact with them. “Many of them have been so consumed by conflict that they do not know who they are,” said Whitaker.
WPDI not only enhances the programs at the school, but it also provides students with computers, mobile phones and basic Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and social media training and tools. WPDI’s ultimate goal? To bridge the gap and conflict between Northern and Southern Uganda.
Sadly, Sudan (plagued with conflict and deadly violence) is also the home of many child soldiers, orphans and youth impacted by conflicts and violence. Through teaching peace-building and conflict management/mitigation skills, meditation and life-skills as well as ICT skills, ideally, the youth should become productive agents of change for their respective communities. WPDI helps create and provides micro-funding initiatives to activities.
The city of Tijuana in Mexico has seen a spike in crime and violence for the past several years. Noticing this, WPDI has set their sights on the city. With crime finally beginning to slow down in Tijuana, the youth are ready and willing to improve their city. They just need the necessary tools to do so! WPDI is currently training 34 young people with leadership potential through online and in-person educational sessions. At the end of these trainings, these participants will be certified in conflict resolution, breathing and movement technologies, and life coaching and will have launched and operated their own community-enhancing projects.
Des Moines, Iowa is a highly impoverished city in which many families lack safe and stable housing. In an effort to improve the school, student attendance and academic scores at Findley, a diverse elementary school, WPDI has partnered with Findley and the Turnaround Arts Initiative to incorporate arts into the core subjects. The art program is a signature program of The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (Michelle Obama is the Chairman). WPDI strives to enable Findley’s diverse students to capitalize on the limitless power of the arts to express their voice, creative energy, peaceful conflict resolution, and in turn, enhance their overall learning in core subjects as well as their self-confidence.
When discussing his organization, Forest Whitaker reminds us, “We all face conflicts of different kinds throughout our lives, and by doing our part individually, we can collectively advance our world towards peace; one community, one person, and one day at a time.”