“Champions for Change” is the name of the feature, and I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was when I saw one of the champions being showcased – a young man named Lual Mayen. He was born as his family was fleeing South Sudan, and has lived more than 22 years in a refugee camp in northern Uganda.

The first time he ever saw a computer was in 2007 during a refugee registration, and after he told his mother he wanted to buy a computer, she spent three years working and saving until she had the $300 to buy him one. Lual then spent three hours every day walking to a place where he could charge his computer.

I know that may sound like an exaggeration, like the story many kids have heard from their parents, talking about “how easy kids have it these days,” compared to when the parents were young: “We didn’t have school buses that took us door to door. When I was your age, I had to walk eight miles to get to school. In the snow. Uphill. Both ways.”

Lual wasn’t exaggerating, however, and I can vouch for that because I’ve been to a refugee camp in Uganda several times – not the same one he lived in, but one with identical circumstances. I saw firsthand the lack of electricity and running water throughout most of the settlement, and how people had to walk for miles to get to a station where they could fill their plastic bottles or jugs with water for drinking and washing.

What this champion for change had to overcome, however, wasn’t the most inspiring part of his story. It’s what he did with his skills that really blew me away. After teaching himself how to code, he invented a video game called Salaam, which is the Arabic word for peace. While many video games are violent in nature, and based on bloody battles or mythical quests, the goal of Salaam is for players to get refugees from war-torn countries into a safe environment. And purchases made through the game – for water, food, or medicine, for instance – actually help purchase those necessities for refugees in real life. The game can also give kids – and other gamers – a real-world awareness of refugees, and a small glimpse of what their lives are like and the dangers they face on their journey to safety.

Here’s a 3-minute video of the story, if you’d like to see it for yourself: https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2020/09/13/lual-mayen-computer-game-champions-for-change-vpx.cnn. Or watch the 1-hour special, “Champions for Change,” at 10 p.m. EDT Saturday on CNN.

One of the narrators referred to the video game as a game changer in terms of introducing  people to the plight of refugees around the world. That may sound like a clever play on words, but it’s also 100% accurate. So is the fact that Lual Mayen is changing the world for the better.

September 18, 2020
©Betty Liedtke, 2020

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