3 Human Rights Advocates Bring Justice, Peace & Freedom of Expression to their Communities

Launch of #WeThePossible Podcast Series

In commemoration of Human Rights Month 2016, the Broadcasting Board of Governors and USAID are launching the first of the #WeThePossible Campaign podcast series — featuring changemakers such as Victor Ochen who are driving local reforms.

Victor Ochen, executive director of USAID-supported African Youth Initiative Network. / Jessica Benton Cooney, USAID

For Victor, 34, the annual commemoration of International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10 is particularly poignant; it is also the anniversary of the abduction of his brother Omara by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda in 2003. He never saw his brother again.

Victor is the executive director of the USAID-supported African Youth Initiative Network, an organization he founded in 2005 that assists victims of serious war crimes and creates post-conflict programs for widespread reconciliation. He understands where many of the youth are coming from, as he had to overcome a difficult childhood himself while growing up in conflict-torn Uganda.

Shortly after Victor was born in northern Uganda, the eighth of 10 children, insurgents massacred hundreds of people in Lira district. His family then moved to an internally displaced persons camp, where he spent the next 20 years. There, he often ate only once a day, yet he refused to be recruited into any of the fighting groups.

Victor Ochen raises a flag in support of the Global Goal on peace and justice at a memorial site for victims of a Lord’s Resistance Army massacre in north Uganda. / Semine Lykke Brorson, African Youth Initiative Network/Global Goals Campaign

When schools reopened, Victor, who had high educational ambitions, insisted on attending. He made his way through secondary school, which he finished at the top of his class. He paid his school fees by making and selling charcoal, and then worked as a cleaner at a local radio station, where he rose to become a receptionist, and then a presenter.

Despite having to drop out of university to help care for his family, Victor joined the Straight Talk Foundation, a Ugandan non-governmental organization in 2004 — producing radio programs on reproductive sexual health and HIV prevention for youth in northern Uganda.

“To me, resilience is what situations in life have transformed you to become,” Victor said.

Victor started his work on his bike, taking victims of physical torture and other forms of abuse by the Lord’s Resistance Army from refugee settlements to the nearest clinics for treatment.

Today, the African Youth Initiative Network provides counseling and mentoring services to the country’s youth. The organization has reached more than 10,000 young people with physical, health and psychological support, many who have seen the worst in life. Its activities give youth a sense of identity — lending a spirit of unity, cohesion and tolerance that Victor hopes will inspire future peacemakers who are invested in Africa and in their communities.

In 2015, Victor earned global celebrity status when he became the youngest African to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. To Victor, the honor affirms his vision that youth can achieve peace in Africa.

Last year, he was also asked to be the United Nation’s ambassador for Sustainable Development Goal 16 — which promotes peace, justice and effective governance. Victor said he intends to promote these concepts not only in Uganda, but all over the world.

Despite many reasons to give up over the years, Victor said he never viewed himself as an underdog.

He hopes his work will help to create a time when war or killing is not an option for change — or to get to power.

“I look forward to humility-led leadership — as leadership without empathy is a pathway toward disaster,” Victor said.

First Podcast Features Local Human Rights Changemakers

Human rights activist Sipho Gumedze and Trade Union Congress of Swaziland Secretary General Vincent Ncongwane rallied for worker rights at the White House last summer. / Kate Conradt, Solidarity Center

In addition to human rights advocates such as Victor, this podcast also features Vincent Ncongwane, the Secretary General of the USAID-supported Trade Union Congress of Swaziland. For their bravery and persistence, Vincent and the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland were awarded the AFL-CIO’s 2015 George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award.

“Labor never quits,” Vincent said in accepting the award. “We never give up the fight, no matter how tough the odds, no matter how long it takes,” he said, quoting former AFL-CIO President George Meany.

For the podcast, we also sat down with Omar Fekeiki, who along with his team at Middle East Broadcasting Network is producing the “Raise Your Voice” campaign. Since its launch in 2015, the campaign has given Iraqi citizens a safe place to come together and express their views.

And lending inspiration for local reformers, Maina Kiai, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom and Peaceful Assembly and Association, speaks to “bright spots” in the global labor and human rights movements.

Maina Kiai, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom and Peaceful Assembly and Association. / UNCHR

This series will include the concepts of freedom, dignity and opportunity — universal human values and aspirations of all people. The Broadcasting Board of Governors and USAID believe these values underpin our ability to make sustainable progress in improving people’s lives across a number of development goals.

Please join us in listening to our inaugural human rights-themed podcast.

In order to subscribe, please add the following link to your iTunes or other podcast-listening device: https://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/wethepossible_campaign_podcast.rss


About the Author

Jessica Benton Cooney is the Communications Specialist for USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance.