Hollywood actor and UNESCO Special Envoy for Peace and Reconciliation Forest Whitaker arrived in South Sudan Sunday to meet with youth who have been affected by years of conflict.
The Oscar-winning actor is in the East African country to oversee the work of his charity, the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI), which is partnering with the Education Above All (EAA) foundation and the Protect Education in Insecurity and Conflict (PEIC), according to Thomson Reuters.With a focus on young people, WPDI has worked in South Sudan since 2012. The charity hopes to train a new generation of leaders to overcome ethnic divisions and bring lasting peace to the region, which has witnessed decades of brutal fighting.
In a recent interview, Whitaker described the situation in South Sudan as dismal but added that he was hopeful things would turn around for good.
“There is a growing concern — people are thinking the conflict will escalate again.
“There are people having struggles, feeling hopeless because of the conflict, not being able to know who to trust,” Whitaker said.
Whitaker said his charity is helping to make a difference in the region and also disclosed plans to start a peace building project in March for young people.
“Some of our youths have even negotiated for the army to move out of schools and for the children to come back.
“They could help to shape the world in to a place where they have…life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” he added.
During his visit, Whitaker is scheduled to speak with youth and provide them with leadership and life skills over the course of a five-day workshop. The workshop will include training on entrepreneurship skills, conflict resolution, the importance of education, and the basic rights of citizens.
Before his arrival on Sunday, Whitaker visited Kiryandongo, Uganda, to speak with South Sudanese refugees who fled the fighting in their country.
Whitaker, 55, became interested in the plight of refugees, orphans, and former child soldiers during his filming of the Oscar-winning “The Last King of Scotland,” a movie about the former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.
South Sudan became the world’s newest country in 2011, when it finally split away from Sudan after years of bitter civil war. However, the newfound peace and joy of many South Sudanese was cut short in December 2013, when fighting broke out between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and his then-Vice President Riek Machar.
The renewed fighting has killed thousands of South Sudanese and displaced nearly 3 million more, leaving the country in a dire state.