Can a simple ball change the game of life for a child impacted by war? Malual, a celebrated global peace activist in his 20s, knows it can. “If not for the blue peace ball, I could easily have become a child soldier in South Sudan.”

As a former Right To Play participant, Malual’s favourite group activities were the peace-builing and cooperation games he and the other children would play using a blue ball. The ball represented peace and the games, along with their follow-up group discussions centered around making friends and building teamwork. “When we played with the blue ball, everything outside the team faded away and only the team mattered,” recalls Malual. “We became brothers and forgot that we were from different tribes; instead we learned to win as a team with diversity.” Without the power of play, Malual believes he would have done what so many of his friends did - become a child solider, embroiled in warfare instead of spreading peace.

Malual’s childhood was torn apart in 2001 by civil war. Just seven years old, he and his family fled Sudan, leaving everything behind for an uncertain future in a northern Ugandan refugee camp. Surrounded by refugees from diverse Sudanese tribes, Malual’s new home was a hotbed of social tensions, enflamed by an inability to communicate. “We couldn’t speak to people from other tribes,” he remembers. “Because we didn’t know their languages.”

Amid the roiling chaos, Malual found solace and purpose in the camp classroom. “School became my sanctuary,” he says. A bright student, his teachers urged him to join Right To Play’s school programs, where through play he discovered critical skills such as conflict resolution and cooperation. “It was like a bright light, at a very dark moment,” says Malual.

The program’s activities lifted his spirits and eased the anxiety he felt from having witnessed the brutalities of conflict. The blue ball games freed him to communicate without words and build trust in others. “I learned the spirit of forgiveness and tolerance,” he says. “Otherwise I would’ve remained tribal-minded, against peace.” War had found Malual, but he was now choosing another way.

Malual eventually returned to South Sudan in 2013 only to face resurgent conflicts, forcing him to flee back to Uganda. Tired of divisive tribal differences, the young visionary made a pivotal decision: to “live what he had learned” in the Right to Play programs. Galvanizing youth from polarized tribes, he founded the African Youth Action Network, advocating for refugee children’s rights and safety, enlightening thousands to the possibility of peace over the inevitability of war.

Now a law school graduate, global youth leader, influential speaker and inspirational beacon Malual lives a very different life from the soldier’s life he could so easily have led had a special blue ball not inspired his uprising for peace.