When Victor Ochen was a child growing up in Uganda, he wanted to play football with his friends. They didn’t have a ball, so they made their own with whatever they could find: rubble wrapped in rags. As they kicked the ball around, a man asked them: “Kids, what are you kicking?” “It’s our ball. We made it ourselves.” The man pulled the rags from the ball and found it was an unexploded bomb.
Victor was born into war and spent his childhood surrounded by suffering. He wanted to study to be an engineer, a pilot or a doctor. Instead he lived in a camp, had no schooling, little food and water, and was under threat from disease, surviving malaria, landmines, Ebola outbreaks and the threat of being forced to become a child soldier. His own brother was taken and never seen again. Now he is using what he learned to help others
“My thinking is always from the grassroots point of view,” he told us at a recent Virgin Unite and Igniting Change gathering. “It is about inclusion, equality. I used to wonder where the international community was. Now I look for the responsibility in my own misfortune. What can we do to change our own reality?”
At 13, he founded a peace club, which confused both rebels and soldiers, as they had never known peace. He went on to create the African Youth Initiative Network, which supports victims and survivors of injustice, abuse, displacement and war through rehabilitation and reconciliation. Victor is also a member of The NewNow, the remarkable group of young leaders incubated by Virgin Unite.
I was struck by Victor’s enormous powers of compassion. He works very closely people who personally caused him and his family great harm, and embraces the principles of forgiveness his hero, Nelson Mandela, taught. “We need to move from passive victims to active survivors,” he said. “Young as we are, we need to think maturely.” With leaders like Victor, we should all have hope for the future.