Victor Ochen was born in a country at war. He grew up in the internally displaced persons camp of Abia, in the district of Lira, a northern territory of the country that was the scene of two decades of conflict between Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the government armed forces.
He was very hungry and fearful in his childhood and adolescence, but he immediately began to mobilize this suffering by articulating peace promotion initiatives. At the age of 13, Ochen launched a Peace Club which, initially, was not very successful. “I was told I was crazy because I was talking about something I didn’t know about,” he explained in an interview years ago. Eventually, however, it won the support of the Christian leader of its community.
In order to study, he worked in charcoal, brickworking and cleaning the headquarters of a local radio station, of which he would end up being a presenter.
In 2005 she founded the African Youth Initiative Network (AYINET), an NGO that aims to promote the culture of peace and address the consequences of the Ugandan conflict that still generate suffering. Today, the activist continues to lead this entity.
Ochen is also ambassador for the Sustainable Development Goals promoted by the United Nations; specifically, he is a representative of goal 16: peace, justice and sound institutions. In addition, it is part of the Advisory Group on Gender, Forced Displacement and Protection of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
In 2015, the activist was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. He was the youngest African and the first Ugandan to choose this award. The same year, Forbes magazine ranked him among the ten most influential people on the African continent, and he received the Mundo Negro Award for Fraternity.
You visited the “Cities Defending Human Rights” in 2016.
Yeah, it was a learning experience. Since then, peace and justice initiatives in Africa have multiplied. We are promoting projects at continental and global level, such as the “Silencing the Guns in Africa – Silencing the Guns Everywhere” programme. The initiative seeks to mobilize collective efforts to address violence with weapons around the world.
You created AYINET 15 years ago. What were the main impacts achieved by the organisation?
They are numerous. First of all, we have provided reconstructive surgery to facilitate the recovery of more than 23,000 war survivors; this has been a performance aimed at victims of mutilation, rape or bullet shooting, or people with other war wounds. In addition, we have offered treatment for the treatment of more than 200 000 people directly affected by the war. AYINET has contributed, through mediation and accompaniment, to the return and reintegration of more than 200,000 soldier and young children affected and affected by the war.
With our work, we have supported the mobilisation and empowerment of young people as Community mediators in war or conflict zones. In addition, we have reached at least five million young people in Uganda, in other parts of Africa and around the world. We have worked to mobilise and inspire a generation of young people who are committed to devoting their energies to making peace a reality.
Finally, AYINET is currently promoting an African Peace Academy, a permanent infrastructure for peace building. It is intended to create a model of operations or peacekeeping missions, different from the usual peacekeeping operations or missions.
Half of AYINET’s staff are made up of people directly affected by the war.
The organization seeks to involve and empower victims of war, and to enable them to be active agents in rebuilding their lives and society. To become advisers, community mobilizers, workers and social workers, and leaders for economic recovery and post-conflict.
Why are young people so important in the work of AYINET?
AYINET prioritises young people because it is they who are always at the centre of the conflict. In our day-to-day life, we help to empower the youth and transform their trauma, their pain and their losses into an opportunity for leadership for peace and justice.
Let us work to ensure that young people, to whom the future legitimately belongs, become involved and redirect their energies towards positive participation in society. If they have their fate and their future in their hands, they will protect their society.
What are the main challenges for a future of peace in Uganda?
Uganda, like any other African country, is on the way to positive change. A key issue is how to channel the energy of young people in the best possible way, as young people are in the majority Uganda is also a country experiencing the effects of climate change; floods have increased, there are sometimes unusual droughts and, on top of that, we have outbreaks of diseases and natural disasters such as the invasion of a plague of locusts. Finally, a fundamental challenge that the country will have to face concerns the use and use of technology; in particular, we need to see how social networks can be used for the common good and not as a platform for the spread of hatred, division and disinformation.
At a conference a couple of years ago, you said: “The life I grew up with, which I lived with, hasn’t disappeared; it’s a life that lives today in many parts of the world.” What would your words be to the people in this situation?
Yeah, I still see a lot of people living the life I’ve lived. During my stage of growth, the world was on the threshold of destruction. Everywhere he saw fear, suffering and death And I was wondering if humanity would ever learn to live together. My mother taught me that we are all created in the image of God, but that caring for others is an option. These words of motivation opened my eyes, and gave me reasons to choose to help people who lived lives like mine.
All I can say to other sufferers like I suffered is: I know you suffer, I feel your pain, I have experienced your experience. Maybe you can’t imagine things can change But nothing lasts forever. The change will come, try to see you in the image of this change. Your suffering doesn’t give you permission to create more suffering. It inspires you to stop him.