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South Sudanese Refugee Turns Past into a Pastime

Lual Mayen’s is putting the finishing touches on a video game that he’s been thinking about for years. It’s a lifelong dream for Mayen, a dream so big that sometimes he’s worried he might still be sleeping. For a person in his mid-twenties, Mayen does not have the typical upbringing one would imagine for a modern-day video game designer. He grew up in a place where every day was a struggle for survival. Mayen is a refugee from South Sudan who was born in the midst of his family’s search for safety. It wasn’t until 2007, when Mayen was around 15 years old, that he saw something that would change his life. “I first saw a computer in 2007 at a refugee registration,” said Mayen, “and I was like, ‘Wow, what is that?'” Mayen asked his mother for a computer. But the family had very little money, so he soon forgot about his request. For the next three years, however, his mother worked, secretly saving up $300 to surprise her son so he could buy a computer. Fueled by that question, Mayen began his mission to teach himself through tutorials how to code, design and create his own video game from scratch. Within six months, he had a basic version of a game that he could share with other people in the refugee community over Bluetooth. But once he realized that he could reach more people by posting his game on Facebook, it took off. What makes “Salaam” (an Arabic word that means peace) more than just a game is Mayen’s plan to partner with non-profits so that when players buy food, water and medicine in the game, they are actually buying those items for people in refugee camps.