BY ELLA KIRBY
On Tuesday, Sept, 29, at 7:00 p.m., St. Norbert College was honored to recognize Victor Ochen for the 2015 Ambassador of Peace Award. Ochen’s presentation, titled “The New Faces of Peace—Youth and Children as Agents for Transformation in Conflict and Post-Conflict Settings,” was held in Dudley Birder Hall, and hosted by The Norman Miller Center for Peace, Justice and Public Understanding.
The presentation began with a welcome speech from Catherine Kasten, Program Coordinator for the Center for Norbertine Studies and the Norman Miller Center. She stated that the Norman Miller Center “cultivates awareness, compassion, commitment to justice and the building of sustainable peace.”
Father Jay Fostner, Vice President for Mission and Student Affairs, then took the stage to deliver a prayer. This was followed by a short introduction from Robert Pyne, Senior Director of Community Engagement, who announced that Victor Ochen had been named Global Goals Ambassador for Peace and Justice for the Sustainable Millennium Development Goals 2016.
As well as being the founder of the African Youth Initiative Network, Victor Ochen is a nominee for the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize.
After being awarded the 2015 Ambassador of Peace Award, Ochen began his speech by stating “I am here to take the opportunity to thank with my whole heart the leadership of St. Norbert College. Thank you so much for thinking beyond the sea, thank you so much for looking all the way to Northern Uganda to see me.”
When one talks about peace, Ochen indicated that one must acknowledge who could contribute to the positive and negative roles. Conflict, violence, segregation and alienation in the world can lead to people harboring anger and bitterness. Ochen explained that people need to look at the positive elements of “reconciliation, rebuilding and healing” to combat this conflict.
“It is our responsibility to make these elements of peace a reality in our world. We can do this by supporting and aiding the communities, families and individuals who are the victims of conflict,” said Ochen. “Until they can heal emotionally and physically, they will not heal historically.”
Ochen then asked “Do we sit and watch and see those who suffered in the hands of those who do not care?”
To this, he responded, “We should care and step up with all our good faith and all our love and care for those people that suffer from the hands of those who do not care.”
Ochen then recounted an event from his childhood in Uganda. The community that he grew up in suffered an outbreak of meningitis, and the medicine to this illness was not available at the time. One week after the outbreak had occurred, 100 people had died. Major conflicts between rebel groups isolated his community from the nearest town and access to medical treatment.
During a church service, Ochen began to show the symptoms of meningitis. A dispensary was set up in order to isolate the people exhibiting meningitis symptoms from the rest of the community.
“None of them came back alive,” said Ochen.
Ochen’s mother refused to take him to the dispensary; instead she took him home and locked herself inside the house with him. She demanded that the rest of their family leave the house in order to minimize infection.
“My mother prayed from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. in the morning,” said Ochen.
The next morning, Ochen walked out of the house alive. His mother’s commitment highlighted the unbreakable bond parents can share with their children. Ochen was the first survivor of meningitis within his community.
“I survived because there was no single moment where my mother kept quiet and did not pray for me.” Ochen stated.
Ochen told this story to raise awareness of the severe challenges that the people in areas of conflict must endure.
This led Ochen to question, “Who really wants the war to continue?”
He highlighted the political and religious leaders around the world who abuse their power and military forces in nations already in conflict, as well as leaders that use race and color to segregate individuals, groups or communities from the larger society.
“We cannot achieve sustainable development when we look at peace through a military lens.” Ochen stated. “Peace comes from our generation, from parents, teachers and leaders emphasizing the importance of peace and justice.”
“You are the generation to bring around change and world peace,” said Ochen.
Ochen also spoke about the hardships of gaining his education. Determined to study, he financed himself through school by chopping down trees, some of which were rigged with mines by rebels. He emphasized how we should be grateful for the aid and support we receive from our parents and governments for the opportunity to study.
Ochen ended his speech by addressing the current generation, stating, “Injustice will only stop when we pick up the confidence to challenge our society, and embrace the concept of tolerance.”
“Every single person can make a difference in the world by refusing to be part of conflict. We can all become ‘The New Faces of Peace.’”