As a newborn in his parents’ arms, Lual Mayen endured a 225-mile trek from his war-torn home in South Sudan to a refugee camp in Northern Uganda. His two older sisters died from illness while making the journey. This was only the beginning for Lual, as a young child he never had enough food, he watched as his friends were conscripted as child soldiers, and he hid with the rest as the nightly bombs regularly fell from the sky. So how did this child find himself as the CEO of a budding gaming company? In short – the love and faith of a mother.
Lual’s mother, Nyantet Daruka, said it began with shadow puppet shows that Lual would put on for their camp. Then, when he spotted a laptop that workers in the camp were using he asked if he could have one. Daruka did not know how she could even think of such a thing while trying to feed her family, but she wanted something that would help her son learn and would reduce the stress of living in the camp, she said. For three years she worked sewing clothes to save enough money to buy her son a $300 dollar laptop. Mayen said he cried when he received the gift.
“I started blaming myself,” he said. “There was no power to charge it. There was no one to train me. Was I just going to keep it in my room, like in a museum or something? Again I thought about it and I was like if my mother can work for three years to get the money, why not me? Why can’t I [find a way to] use it?”
Determined to reward his mother’s sacrifice, Mayen walked three hours every day to an Internet cafe to charge the computer. In the camp, he carried the laptop around with him, keeping it hidden in a backpack so it would not be stolen by others or confiscated by his teachers. He taught himself English, learned graphic design programs and became proficient in programming by watching tutorials a friend from Kampala provided on a flash drive.
Now 24 years old, he is a video game developer residing in the United States, leading his own company, Janub (currently also being launched) and using the experiences from his past to inform his products: games aimed at peace-building and conflict resolution. Including the upcoming release – Salaam, meaning “peace” in Arabic, a game he first conceived of and began to build while still living in the camp. In the game’s new version, players adopt the role of a refugee who must flee falling bombs, find water and gain energy points to ensure the character’s survival as the player’s country journeys from a war-torn present into a peaceful existence. If the player’s character runs out of energy, the player is prompted to purchase more food, water, and medicine for their character with real-world money. The funds go beyond the game to benefit a living refugee through Junub’s partnerships with various NGOs.
Lual Mayen took a past filled with tragedy and struggle, and turned it into a driving force for peace. And there is so much more to your Good News Story of the Day which you can read here. Learn more about his life as a refugee, of his learning, of his success, and of this wonderful idea for a game and how it can work to change minds.
Story and Image from The Washington Post.