Everyday Heroes

Former Refugee Now Makes Video Games for Peace

He first made video games to give his friends something to do at the refugee camp. Now he's using them to save lives.

Peace is something that is built over time.

This is something Lual Mayen knows all too well. He escaped his war-torn home in the South Sudan with his family as a newborn and settled in a refugee camp in Northern Uganda. He spent his childhood mostly trying to survive. His family never had enough food, his friends were forced into fighting as child soldiers, and he would run from falling bombs launched by the Sudanese government.

Now, things are much different for Mayen. He's the CEO of his own gaming company, Junub Games, and works out of a trendy office in Washington D.C. At 24-years-old, he's working on a peace-building video game called Salaam, which means "peace" in Arabic. The game is set to be released in December, though it's already getting attention in the gaming industry.

In Salaam, players take the role of a refugee who faces challenges like running from falling bombs and dodging lions in the tall grass. Players must find water to gain energy points to stay alive, with the main goal to get from a war-torn presence into a peaceful existence. If the player runs out of energy points, they have to purchase more food, water and medicine with real-world money. The funds are then used to benefit a living refugee through Junub's partnerships with various non-profits.

Mayen got his first computer at age 12, a laptop at a refugee camp that he thought "fell from heaven." His mother worked sewing clothes for three years to save up enough money to buy him the computer. Mayen said he cried when he finally got it.

"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?"

Mayen walked three hours every day to use the computer a cafe. He taught himself English and he learned how to code by watching online tutorials. He made his first game in 2016 while he was living in the refugee camp and he would let his friends play it. When he posted a link to the game on his Facebook page, he caught the attention of the international gaming community and his new career took off from there.

Now, Mayen is focusing on releasing his new version of Salaam and helping to build a new kind of gaming category that builds empathy and helps give back to his community.

"Peace is something that is built over time," Mayen said. "It's not about people coming together and signing cease-fires and so on. It's a generation of change. It's a change of mindset. It's a change of attitude toward each other."

You can learn more about Junub Games and find out how to play Salaam by visiting the company's website.

(Source: images & video Lual Mayen Facebook )

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