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This week’s blog is written by a former PPI – Northern Ireland participant, 16-year-old Sean Paul.
During my time at PeacePlayers I found out a lot of new things that they do both around the office and in the field. Before I started my work experience with PeacePlayers, all I knew was that they go around primary schools, Catholic and Protestant, and try to get they kids to make friends and tell them that just because they are different they still can be friends and meet new people from that area. This past week I found out a lot more about the ins and outs of PeacePlayers here in Northern Ireland.
Here a glimpse of what it is like to work for PeacePlayers for a week!!
Monday: I went to the Holy Cross Boys and Glengormley twinning with Coach Joanne, Coach Jack and Coach Aidan. I took a lot of pictures for the social media group and had a meeting with Nasiphi and then I went back to the office and had a meeting with Debbie to find out what I would be up to the rest of the week. Nasiphi asked me to help her with coordinating social media, I was in charge of taking pictures and videos then upload them on Instagram.
Tuesday: I went to the office and had a talk with Gareth more about the goals for PeacePlayers in Northern Ireland. I enjoyed hearing him talk about different programmes and plans for the future. I had a bit of lunch before I went to Antrim with Coach Joe. We went to visit 2 schools, St. Benedict’s and Park Hall College. During and during the visits I got to participate in an OCN he delivered “Promoting Diversity Through Sport” Level II.
I realized throughout the week that the “office” is not just Peace House on Lisburn Road, it is in all of the classrooms, sport halls and community centres where they work.
Wednesday: I went out for a winning session between Victoria Park and St. Joseph’s Primary 4 classes with Coach Joe, Coach Nasiphi, and `Coach Simon. I had my own team and got to come up with a team name and cheer! It really took me back to when I was a PeacePlayers participant with Coach Joanne almost more than seven years ago! That afternoon I headed out to another twinning in North Belfast with Coach Jack.
Thursday: I got to sit in on the weekly staff meeting between all the staff members in the office. It was interesting to see the inner workings of an organisation like PeacePlayers, and how they organise and prepare for upcoming events. After the meeting, it was Debbie’s turn on the weekly lunch rotation, and she made some amazing chicken curry for everyone!
Friday: I got to head to a Primary 7 twinning between St. Annes and Finaghy Primary School with Coach Nasiphi at Finachy Primary School in South Belfast. I got to meet the school dog and help coach some of the participants. We had lots of fun coaching basketball in their hall.
Honestly going into the week I wasn’t sure what to expect doing my work experience at the PeacePlayers “Office”, but I realized throughout the week that the “office” is not just Peace House on Lisburn Road, it is in all of the classrooms, sport halls and community centres where they work. It was a brilliant week where I learned a lot and by the end of it, I didn’t want to leave!
PeacePlayers International is excited to introduce our Director of Monitoring and Evaluation, Julie Younes!
Julie officially moved into her new role in January 2015, though she has been a PeacePlayer for several years, serving as a Fellow in the Middle East from 2008 – 2010. After leaving Jerusalem, Julie went on to receive her master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where her studies focused on conflict resolution and monitoring and evaluation in international development. She then worked as the M&E Officer for Coach Across America, a US-based sport and youth development program, and as a Design, Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist at Search for Common Ground, a peacebuilding nonprofit organization. At Search, she provided M&E support to UNICEF staff working on projects aiming to transform the way education is delivered in high-conflict areas, traveling to a variety of countries, including Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Uganda, Burundi and Kenya.
It has been very exciting for me to return to PeacePlayers. As our new Director of Monitoring and Evaluation, I will help the organization gather the information we need to keep improving our programming.
Julie graduated from Dickinson College in Pennsylvania in 2006 with a Bachelor’s Degree in French and International studies, with a specialization in Middle East Studies. While at Dickinson College she was also a member of the women’s varsity basketball team.
With a plethora of experience, knowledge about peacebuilding, a love of basketball, and passion for the work PPI does, PeacePlayers is ecstatic to welcome Julie to the team!
Julie’s position was made possible due to the generous support of the Youngkin Family.
Today’s blog is brought to you by PPI-CY Managing Director, Jale Canlibalik, who recently helped organize a bi-communal football match to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the World War I Christmas Truce. She recounts the event and why it was so important to the island.
On 22nd December 2014, the British High Commission in Cyprus with the support of PeacePlayers International-Cyprus commemorated the 100th Anniversary of the World War I Christmas Truce. The Christmas Truce, so named because of the spontaneous ceasefire on the Western Front between the divided troops who came together on Christmas Day to talk and play football, is a reminder that sport can bring people together even during the most difficult of times, an ethos that is echoed by PeacePlayers internationally.
The idea was to host a football match with an internationally represented team against a bi-communal Cypriot team within the United Nations Buffer Zone in Nicosia. PPI-CY had the task of bringing together a bi-communal football team, a feat that not even the two Football Federations in Cyprus have been able to achieve, to play against a team composed of United Nations representatives. As part of the bi-communal Cyprus team we were joined by Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots as well as the two chief peace negotiators for the island Mr. Andreas Mavroyiannis and Mr. Ergün Olgun.
The day’s proceedings were launched with a speech by the British High Commissioner Mr. Ric Todd who emphasized the importance of the meaning in commemorating the Christmas Truce and in continuing to support reconciliation efforts. A minute’s silence was held in respect of those that died during their service to their country and for those that continue to suffer from conflicts. The event was supported by many key actors, representatives and civil society organizations as well as the local media.
The Cypriot team wore their PeacePlayers t-shirts proudly and supported not only the spirit of the Christmas Truce but also the spirit of PeacePlayers as they played hard against their opponents. As PPI-CY, we were proud to be able to support such an event; and continue to promote the work we do and the message of how sport can open up dialogue and contribute positively to reconciliation efforts. We thank the British High Commission for providing us with such an amazing opportunity to help commemorate such a historic event that evokes our own core vision. We also thank our amazing Cypriot players for their commitment in supporting PeacePlayers and being part of the very first bi-communal Cypriot football team since the divide of the island in 1974.
For those that are wondering our Cypriot team lost by 5:2…
Last weekend PPI – Northern Ireland held a facilitation training for our coaches in to help them facilitate conversations with the young people we work with, give them feedback on their facilitation skills, and help them improve. PPI – Northern Ireland has a group of 25 coaches that are employed with us this term. These young people love working with children, making a difference and contributing to social change. Previously we would give them training on how to facilitate sessions but this time around we wanted to change it up a bit. Instead of facilitating the sessions with them, we paired them up and they had to plan and prepare a full session themselves! They were given curricula topics e.g. Arbinger (The way of being), stereotypes, identity, and diversity and had to prepare and facilitate these sessions. It was great to see coaches trusting each other, relying on each other and supporting each other, but mostly hearing them give each other constructive feedback to make each other better.
We are already seeing great change – they are more confident and ready to facilitate tough conversations. Our coaches are really important to us and doing these trainings is one way of investing in them while learning from them. It is our duty to ensure that our coaches are properly trained and fully equipped to give our participants a great, unforgettable experience that they will remember their whole lives. We hope that these coaches can inspire participants through out our programs to be better people, to be great role models in their communities and the next generation of coaches.
Have you ever been asked the question if you could sit down with one person from history who would it be? For a long time my answer was clear: Martin Luther King. It’s what you might expect from a bi-racial 25 year old whose family was born off the U.S. Civil Rights Struggle. A struggle that through the sacrifices and leadership of men and women like Dr. King saw blacks in America gain equal rights.
My answer has been complicated over the last few years however, as I began to learn more and more about the country of South Africa, and its infamous leader Nelson Mandela. Even more so when I moved to Durban 9 months ago. So, now if I were asked that question, I would cheat, and say both.
If that were the case I don’t see myself saying a whole lot. I can only imagine what a conversation between those two men, who fought the same battle in different wars, would be like. Would they share tears over friends lost? Smiles over victories won? Or maybe an intense conversation over violent vs. nonviolent protest?
I wonder if they knew that in 2015, 46 years after the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and 21 years after South Africa officially became a democracy, that we’d be fighting the same fight.
If I’ve learned anything over the last year or so it’s that people can’t be told how to feel. That changes in laws, while necessary and helpful do not equal changes in perception. Recent events in America have highlighted just how true that is, while South Africa’s non-white population continues to be burdened by negative perceptions, lack of opportunity and failing education systems.
Never the less, Dr. King and Mr. Mandela’s messages were both messages of hope. A hope so strong that they were willing to die for it. A hope that lives on in the communities of South Africa and America alike.
I was fortunate enough to travel back the U.S. for the holidays. Where I witnessed 60,000 people of all races marching through New York City making a loud and unified statement that black lives matter. There is still much work to do, but hope remains.
As for Durban? I see it everyday in our coaches. Our coaches who are part of the ever passionate free generation. Our coaches who work day in day out, not only to improve their own lives but to help bridge divides, develop leaders and change perceptions in their communities.
As I read through some of Dr. King’s writings last night, I couldn’t help but be struck by how his words still ring true today. How they continue to offer hope and encouragement:
I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.
Hey! My name is LaToya Fisher and I am a new member of PPI-ME. It’s my first time in the Middle East, and I have been here for a little over one week. I am super excited about this opportunity, the FOOD, and working with these awesome kids and staff. I would like to introduce myself and give a little more insight to my background. I have always been drawn to helping others, making a global impact, traveling and working in sports.
I was born in a small town in upstate New York but spent most of my life in Maryland, right outside of Washington, D.C. I am a multi-sport athlete (basketball, volleyball, softball, American football) and have played sports since I was 7 years old. I have seen firsthand how a common interest, such as sports, can create strong friendships, teach valuable lessons and breakdown barriers.
I was fortunate enough to attend and play four years of basketball at Shepherd University in West Virginia, where I was also a student assistant during my 5th year. I had a pretty successful career while playing and I graduated with a degree in Sport and Event Management.
After college, I moved back to Maryland. Like most students fresh out of college, I entered the work force in something completely unrelated to my degree. I spent a few years working before I decided to apply for grad school. In 2009, Georgetown University started a Sports Industry Management program. I decided to apply and was accepted into the program. During the process, I had to write an essay about what I wanted to do with my life. I started doing research and found out about PeacePlayers. I watched the video on the website about a twinning in Israel, and I was convinced that this was my absolute dream job.
I looked at the application and requirements for the PeacePlayers fellowship and felt that I had plenty of basketball experience but not a lot of administrative experience and had never lived in another country. So…In February 2011, I got the bright idea to take a leave of absence from Georgetown to teach English in South Korea for a year. There is nothing more terrifying than speaking in front of 30 children with varying levels of English comprehension. Teaching and living abroad also forced me to overcome some difficult barriers to make new friends, gain trust and acceptance, and learn to communicate more effectively through many different channels, and not just rely on speaking.
In March 2012, I came back home and began working and going to school again. In May of 2013, I graduated with my master’s degree in Sports Industry Management from Georgetown. I finally worked up enough nerve to send in my fellowship application and now I am typing to you from my cozy little room in Israel.
In this first week I have already witnessed so many wonderful things and seen how dedicated everyone is to the program. The kids are full of energy and eager to learn and play basketball. I was lucky enough to see a twinning on my second day here, and it was wonderful. I also had the chance to attend a retreat already and it was an experience I will never forget. My first week and a half has been packed with great food, laughs, basketball, and genuine people. I cannot wait to see what else is in store. I look forward to learning from the staff and players and hope to impact them and the program as much as they will impact me.
Today’s blog is brought to us by Aysha Faqih, Leadership Development Participant from PeacePlayers-Middle East. Aysha had the pleasure of taking part in an exchange with PeacePlayers-Cyprus for the Fall Leadership Retreat. Below she gives us an account of her experience in Cyprus.
I had the pleasure of joining our Cypriot PeacePlayers (PPI-CY) branch for a Leadership Development Program (LDP) retreat along with Heni and Duha. Visiting each other’s sites is important to me because it allows us to exchange ideas and to learn about how each program works.
Overall, it was a wonderful experience. At first, I did not understand fully the conflict between the two ethnicities, Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots, in Cyprus. But through the experience of being at the retreat with them, I heard both narratives and experiences.
An experience I take away from this retreat is the touching story of Sevilay and Alex. At first, one of their families were against the idea of them joining PeacePlayers because it required Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots to interact. Over time, their family became more involved with the PeacePlayers community. Overcoming the prejudices instilled by the communities against the other takes time, but, as we can see with Sevilay and Alex, it’s possible. Now Alex calls Sevilay “Sistera,” meaning my sister. Alex is now even close with Sevilay’s family, and his best friend is Sevilay’s brother.
During the retreat, we accomplished some amazing activities. The overall goal, which I believe was accomplished, was to increase teamwork between the LDP participants. An example of a teamwork activity was getting all the participants to cross a tangled web without touching the rope. Of course, there was an added challenge – one participant had to be blindfolded while crossing. The blindfolded member had to cross only by listening to the other group’s instructions. Eventually, our group succeeded but it required a ton of teamwork and patience!
Thank you PPI-CY for letting us join you at the LDP retreat. We hope that you will be visiting us next time!
PeacePlayers International – Middle East’s Leadership Development Program (LDP) switched into high gear with the annual Leadership Development Retreat! The Leadership Development Program was started to create opportunities for older participants who were ready to advance their leadership skills, take on more responsibility with the younger participants and even coach. With the creation of LDP, PeacePlayers cultivates socially aware leaders who are ready to make an impact within the PeacePlayers organization and out.
Every year, LDP participants pick a theme to focus on. In the past, LDP focused on public speaking and presentation skills. This year, the LDP chose to build on last year’s theme by choosing to focus on “improving academic and professional skills.” This encompasses many skills, anything ranging from writing a resume to filling out a college application successfully. At the retreat, the LDP planned out the rest of their year and got the chance to get to know each other better, because this year we had four new members join the LDP family! Omer, a new member of the LDP, reflects on his experience at the retreat. “Everything was new for me and I didn’t know what to expect. But, I enjoyed the retreat very much! I really liked that we could still bond and work together even if we were not playing basketball.”
This year the LDP have a full agenda lined up, including two social action projects: one focusing on expanding environmental awareness, and the other on volunteering in an orphanage. Our LDP teens plan these events themselves, furthering their skills on time management and coordination. Because our LDP have interesting narratives and experiences to share, many will start contributing to the blog on a regular basis! Get ready to hear more from the source.
An LDP retreat is not complete without basketball or fun. Our participants burned off energy with some friendly competition on the court. To better bond all the participants a little competition in the mix helps. The LDP took the hotel grounds by storm through a scavenger hunt that quizzed them on PeacePlayers facts and included team-building challenges. Answering riddles, crossing imaginary rivers, and completing other odd tasks bonded the group and helped prepare them to work together throughout the rest of the year!
Today, at PeacePlayers we honor a man whose work laid the groundwork for the very work we do today: uniting, educating and inspiring. What makes Martin Luther King Jr.’s actions and ideologies so remarkable is that he was not only trying to unite blacks and whites, and create equal rights for all, but he was doing so with the large majority of the country against him. Despite retaliation, which was at times violent, from those who believed whites and blacks couldn’t live together, Dr. King managed to make his voice heard and ignite a movement across the nation through nonviolent measures. Here at PPI were are still inspired by Dr. King’s work and many of his ideologies are in practice to this day in our programs.
Among many noteworthy things said by MLK, we think this quote particularly resonates here at PPI: “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” While we are fortunate to live in a time period in the U.S. where, for the most part, there is equality for all, in many countries there are still conflicts among different groups whether they are over religious, cultural or ethnic differences. In order to remedy some of this conflict we use basketball to bring together children from communities that don’t exactly see eye to eye, but as Dr. King pointed out this is neither an automatic nor inevitable process. PPI is fortunate to not only have participants that are laying the foundation for peace and understanding in their communities, but we also have a staff, comprised of coaches, fellows, and those that work in our offices in DC, the Middle East, Northern Ireland, South Africa and Cyprus, that are completely committed to seeing the success of our programs and participants (and who contribute a lot of their time in doing so).
This Martin Luther King Day, we appreciate all the actions and sacrifices that have been taken by MLK, and thousands of others and organizations around the world, towards creating a world of peace and mutual understanding. Although a world completely rid of violence and hatred towards others may not seem feasible, it takes just one small act to ignite a movement towards creating peace. PPI puts this belief into practice through inspiring our participants that they can be the change they want to see in their communities.
I have always believed that endings and beginning are very important. 2014 ended extremely well for PPI-NI 2014. On the 6th of December we had a fantastic tournament to end our term – Jingle Ball. We had around 120 children and young people that day, with approximately 40 volunteers. What a fantastic day we had! In addition to that successful event, on the 18th of December the full time staff at PPI-NI helped to organize a Game of Three Halves (GO3H) out at Antrim Forum for over 80 children. The event went really well and both the Antrim Borough Council and the Moving Forward Together Group (from Antrim) were very impressed with our work!
As January 2015 has come around I am reminded of last January. PPI-NI was fortunate to gain funding for a year to secure a new position – a Business Development Officer.
We were very lucky to have the services of Keith Mitchell for this past year. He has supported our fundraising efforts and has helped to create a sustainable business model for PPI-NI. He has done a fantastic job! 2015 sees Keith move on to pastures new. Keith contributed so much to PPI-NI this past year and we are sad to see him go. However, he remains committed to PPI-NI and will serve on the board as volunteer. Thank you for all that you have brought to PPI-NI Keith!
January 2015 is already off to a busy start. All of our school twinnings are about to re-start as well as a number of Technical Assistance Projects in Larne, Ballymena, Antrim and Lurgan. One exciting project is a collaboration with the government Department of Culture and Leisure (DCAL), with the Greater Village Regeneration Trust and Roden Street Community Development Group. The project is bringing two sets of young people together from two separate communities in Belfast. They will work together on a multi sports project with a PeacePlayers twist. It is exciting to have our work recognized by the government and that we have the opportunity to make our unique contribution to this pilot initiative – to use sport to deliver on the messages that the government itself wants to promote.
Let’s get pumped for the rest of 2015 PPI-NI!!
A few months back (October 28th to be exact) the blog Shaping Brains Through Basketball began with this sweet paragraph:
Picture this, you have four hours a week to work with fifteen kids. Each kid has it rough; poor socioeconomic backgrounds, their teachers are overloaded with class sizes and work, and their parents (if present) are fighting an uphill battle between finding work and navigating the complex world of adolescence. So we have four hours to combat twelve years of disadvantages. What do you focus on to give them the best possible chance?
That’s quite a challenge, and many would say a very complex question. Dr. Lee Ross, who coined the term Fundamental Attribution Error – “our tendency to explain others behavior by their character traits, while overlooking the power of circumstance” – would certainly have an issue with this question. How can a child develop characteristics and skills that will alter their life for the better in a toxic environment? – They can’t.
At PeacePlayers International we know the skills we are teaching our participants go a long way. What can you instill in a child with 1 basketball court, 1 coach and 4 hours a week that will have the highest likelihood of impacting their circumstances? The answer presented last time was Self-Regulation: the ability to regulate thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that conflicted with future goals. But of course, a child’s success is far more intricate than simply prescribing a healthy dose of Self-Regulation. There’s clearly more to be discussed. Let’s give this some more thought.
So what else? What other areas of a child’s brain, besides the part that’s responsible for cooling it down (self-regulation), needs to be exercised to give them the best shot? The answer is the growing part.
Wait… what? What part of the brain is the growing part? Don’t all parts of the brain grow?
Well, all areas of the brain grow (or diminish) over time. But what’s important is that youth understand the potential their brains have to grow. Research has shown a distinct difference in life outcomes between people who have been raised to believe intelligence cannot be improved, and those who believe intelligence can be improved – that you can work your brain out like a muscle. People who believe the former have what’s labeled a Fixed Mindset – a belief that intelligence is innate; whereas the later have what’s labeled as a Growth Mindset– a belief that intelligence grows by exercising your brain.
Tracy Catchlow contrasts these mindsets in her Huffington post article Why Some Kids Try Harder and Some Kids Give Up. She does it pretty well so I’ll just quote her:
Fixed mindset: If you have to work hard, you don’t have ability
Kids with a fixed mindset believe that they’re stuck with however much intelligence they’re born with. They would agree with this statement: If you have to work hard, you don’t have ability. If you have ability, things come naturally to you. When they fail, these kids feel trapped. They start thinking they must not be as talented or smart as everyone’s been telling them they are. They avoid challenges, fearful that they won’t look smart.
Growth mindset: The more you challenge yourself, the smarter you become
Kids with a growth mindset believe that intelligence can be cultivated: the more learning you do, the smarter you become. These kids understand that even geniuses must work hard. When they suffer a setback, they believe they can improve by putting in more time and effort. They value learning over looking smart. They persevere through difficult tasks.
Another interesting finding was that individuals with a Growth Mindset had more task enjoyment than those with a Fixed Mindset. In other words, children praised for effort tended to enjoy the journey of learning, whereas children praised for achievement weren’t as fond of it. In fact, they became easily frustrated and were much more likely to give up.
However, the most profound insight of Catchlow’s article wasn’t how starkly different Growth and Fixed individuals are, but how subtly different their mindsets are. Why do some people have a Fixed Mindset and some a Growth Mindset?
The answer – for the most part – praise… Not that they get praise for their effort, but how they get praised for their efforts.
Imagine you have two basketball teams, Team Fixed and Team Growth. During a practice in Fixedland, Coach Fixed blows the whistle during a shooting drill and shouts, “112 out of 150 shots! You guys are great shooters!” Over in Growthland, Coach Growth blows the whistle and shouts, “112 out of 150 shots! You guys must have worked really hard!” – Notice the difference?
By having their talents praised, the fixed team implicitly learns a Fixed Mindset. We are a good team because of our innate talent, which we have no control over. Whereas by having their efforts praised Team Growth experiences a Growth Mindset. We are a good team because we worked hard and improved, which we have control over.
What’s profound is that a simple change in a coaches word choice – from “Wow, Jade you’re such a good shooter!” to “Wow, Jade you must have worked so hard to be able to shoot like that.” – can have such a lasting impact on a child’s life.
Today’s blog is written by Development and Communication Intern, Allie Negron. Allie is a senior at American University majoring in Public Communication and French.
This past week the news was flooded with information about the senseless acts of violence that occurred in and nearby Paris, France. Within a period of three days innocent people were killed when terrorists attacked the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, a police officer in a Paris suburb and a kosher supermarket. The media focused in on France as information pertaining to the terrorist attacks unfolded, but the sad thing is that senseless attacks like these happen every day around the world. While they may not be to this severity or gain as much media attention, it makes you question why attacks, such as the ones in Paris, have to happen at all, and what can be done to create a more peaceful world.
A world of peace and mutual understanding is idyllic but it’s difficult to imagine solutions towards achieving this goal. That’s where PeacePlayers International steps in. Here at PPI we realize that in order to achieve peace and understanding you need to bridge divides and change perceptions…but this all takes time. We accomplish these goals gradually by uniting young people in divided communities through basketball. Obviously, basketball isn’t the solution to end violence, but rather a means to expose children to their peers in different communities. Initially, the children may think they have no commonalities but by having this mutual thing (basketball) to bond over they are able to connect despite religion, ethnic and cultural practices. With changed perceptions and newfound understanding, the children return to their families, impacting the way they view outside group as well, multiplying the program’s impact. Through sport, PPI is creating sustainable solutions that will positively impact the world for generations to come.
The rallies in Paris, and around the world, affirm the power of uniting for a common cause. With millions of people taking to the streets to participate in these marches, it demonstrates that despite religious and cultural differences, people will not stand for the killings of innocent people. No one wants to live in a world where they fear terrorist attacks and this is why programming like the peacebuilding-and-leadership development curriculum used by PPI is so important. PPI participants are living proof that changing perceptions and uniting communities across cultures is a successful solution towards creating a more peaceful world.
Hey my name is Sophia Georgiou and I am a 17 year old English-Cypriot. I live in Larnaca and I have been a PeacePlayer for almost 3 years. The reason I joined at first was because of the basketball and really thats all I thought PeacePlayers was about . But then through all the twinnings, leadership retreats and summer camps that PeacePlayers organizes throughout the year, I realized that its much more than basketball.
PeacePlayers is an amazing organization that combines one of my favorite sports with peace building, which i think is awesome keeping in mind that I live in a divided country. The truth is that to me Cyprus is one country united and PeacePlayers have given me so many opportunities to see that.
My most cherished experience with PeacePlayers was the Norway trip this past summer. In Norway I was hosted by a lovely Norwegian family with my Turkish-Cypriot friend Nursu. We stayed together for a week and she is no different than my hometown friends. We listened to music together, played basketball , we played video games (I won) and basically through that trip I connected a lot with her and I can call her my sister. It isn’t only Nursu though, PeacePlayers has introduced me to so many amazing people from both sides of Cyprus and I see us as a big family where I have many brothers and sisters and even my coaches are like my family. I can always turn to them for advice either for basketball or life. Being brought up by English parents who grew up in a multicultural environment, I think its a real shame that most people are blinded by politics.
I’m grateful to PeacePlayers for a lot of things-they helped me meet some of my closest friends, they have given me opportunities to visit the other side of the island, they gave me a chance to travel to another country. But the thing I’m most grateful for is that they showed me how to be a good role model for my 4 younger sisters who mean the world to me!! So for that and so many other reasons I thank PeacePlayers and especially my coaches who are always there for me when I need it!! PLAY FOR PEACE LOVE PEACEPLAYERS!!
As a part of a PeacePlayers International exchange, three LDP graduates and current members of PeacePlayers—Middle East staff visited our PeacePlayers—Cyprus (PPI-CY) branch to assist with their Leadership Development Program (LDP) retreat. To keep the different branches connected, PPI members visit each other from time to time. It’s a great way to exchange ideas and create innovation between different PPI locations. Duha Amla of Jerusalem shares about her experience.
Earlier this month, I, along with Heni and Aysha, visited the Cypriot branch to help lead workshops and drills for the young LDP. For me it was a great learning experience to see how other PPI branches accomplish the same overall mission of bringing two communities in conflict together. I saw the similarities we both share. The Turkish-Cypriots and Greek-Cypriots in PPI – Cyprus cared for each other and showed that they care even if they did not share the same common language. For us here, we show this care and love too through the language of basketball.
The theme of the LDP retreat was to refine the young members and equip them with developed coaching skills. To see the young LDP embark on the process of becoming coaches with the paradigm of understanding and peace, reminded me of the process I underwent with PPI—ME. Becoming a coach with my PeacePlayers family’s support made it meaningful for me and now I’m giving back to that community. We were afforded the opportunity to speak with the U.S. Ambassador to Cyprus, John Koenig. Speaking with the Ambassador highlighted the need for PeacePlayers. Koeing supported the PeacePlayers’ mission and the work PPI-CY was accomplishing and was interested to hear how PPI-ME worked in our region.
Of course the PPI-CY members were nothing but hospitable to us. We felt welcomed and that each group had something to learn from the other. Having discussions about both conflicts and how we navigate the realities strengthened our belief in PPI’s mission. In Cyprus, both theTurkish-Cypriots and Greek-Cypriots serve in their respective armies. Aysha and I shared what it means to us to see our Israeli friends leave the program to complete their mandatory service. I’ve learned that it’s important to support my friends and hope they come back to PPI after their service. For me, this happened with Heni, who left PPI for the army, but came back right afterwards and joined our staff. “I decided to come back because I love and believe in PeacePlayers. For me it’s a way to make change on a realistic level,” says Heni. “Young people going into the army with the background of PeacePlayers means to me that they may look at the other side with more understanding and respect,” continues Heni.
The simple exchange of conversation about the different conflicts helped me understand that others are going through similar situations and that they use PeacePlayers programing to make a difference on the ground.
This week’s blog was written by Noy Bachar, and 18-year-old Jewish Israeli girl from Jerusalem who has been an active part of PeacePlayers for nearly seven years. A longtime member of the Leadership Development Program and the All-Stars league teams, Noy wrote this blog just days before being conscripted for mandatory service in the Israeli military.
My name is Noy, and this is my story.
Joining the world of basketball at age 12 also signaled for me the beginning of my experience with PeacePlayers. At the beginning, the joint practices [with Arab players] had me really scared. I had no idea how to communicate or to start a conversation with the girls. And, of course, we didn’t speak the same language. At that time, my way of thinking was totally different than who I am and what I think today. I had all of the stigmas that people have when they are unaware and label people straight away.
In the beginning, my parents also warned me that it was “dangerous” [to play together with Arabs]. My parents didn’t believe that there would be peace. But today, I can tell you that my family and I have changed. As I became involved in the organization, my parents also began to believe and understand that there is a way for Jews and Arabs to grow together in the Middle East.
The thing that really got me connected was basketball. It’s the eye contact between us during a pass, the final assist at the end of a game, the “chief” who empowers and encourages us. It’s bringing it in at the end of a championship game and shouting together with all our might “We are… PEACEPLAYERS!”
It’s the feeling of winning… together!
In the beginning, I was even afraid and embarrassed of what people would say about me playing with Arabs and that I’m part of a peace organization. At school, I was afraid to raise my hand in class and to say what I really thought during political discussions.
With time, I learned that I was mistaken… majorly! I stopped seeking other people’s opinions, and I started to believe in my beliefs and my path. In 12th grade, in my last year of school, when we had political discussions, I raised my hand and said what I thought, and it didn’t matter to me what other people would say. What was important to me was to open my classmates’ eyes so that they wouldn’t say things without really knowing what they were talking about.
And now for the more personal part. In a few days, I will enter the Israeli army for my mandatory military service. As such, I’m going to be part of something that is a little different, actually more like the complete opposite of what I am doing in PeacePlayers. At this opportunity, I want to say that I will do everything I can to change, even a little bit, the way people see [the other side].
I don’t really have the words to explain the crazy emotions I am feeling right now. I don’t think I can describe in words the love I have for PeacePlayers and especially for the girls whom I have been with for nearly seven years. To stop, suddenly for two years is hard for me, and I am actually tearing up right now as I write this blog, because I could never find anything that could take PeacePlayers and my friends’ place.
At one of the PeacePlayers weekend retreats that we had, I went to Aysha’s (an Arab friend from Beit Safafa) room, and we sat on the balcony and I told her about my fears about the army and how hard it is to leave the organization. I asked her how she sees the situation from her perspective. That was a conversation that I will never forget. I told her it was for two years, and I just found myself crying on her shoulder. And she’s the one who calmed me down and said “Everything’s ok.”
To conclude, I just have one sentence to say to my friends from the PeacePlayers Leadership Development Program (LDP): I hope that one day, this small group can make big changes. If we only continue on this path, it doesn’t matter who will try to break us. We’re together and that’s what’s important.
Because we can only win when we’re together, and not only in basketball, but in everything. Just believe and stay together!
So, for the last time: We are… PEACEPLAYERS!
PeacePlayers International – Middle East recently had the honor to shoot hoops with United States Ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro. At this special occasion, staff representatives of the United States Embassy Tel Aviv, United States Consulate General Jerusalem and USAID joined PeacePlayers on the court. PPI – ME brought buses of excited youth to the event, including members of our Leadership Development Program (LDP), Minis teams, as well as All-Stars from Jerusalem.
Our two All-Star and LDP members, Toot and Duha, started the event off right, together with Managing Director Karen Doubilet, who all shared a few words with the crowd. “Without PeacePlayers, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I am now a coach and have the chance to play sports,” said Duha.
The youth participating in the event took this unique opportunity to heart and felt special during the activities with the Ambassador and staff. Showing off their twinning drills gave them time to shine, demonstrating the same activities PPI leads with both the Palestinian and Israeli communities. For the drills, the entire group was split into two sides, with each side filled with PeacePlayers, and USAID, Embassy and Consulate staff on both. Members of both sides dribbled to the center and engaged in shared action like high fives, switching balls.
Ambassador Shapiro accepted his second invitation to play with PeacePlayers. His first time playing with the group, in 2012, was also a great success. It’s not always the easy route to choose, to play with the supposed enemy, but our players are doing it and got the chance to showcase their understanding of basketball and of each other to our amazing U.S. government friends and supporters.
Thank you Ambassador Shapiro, the U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv, USAID and the U.S. Consulate General Jerusalem!
This month, espnW, a division of ESPN, announced its Impact 25, a list of prominent women making a positive contribution to the world of sports. ESPN honored many strong, driven, hard-working and hard-playing women, from WNBA star Brittney Griner, to a personal favorite of mine, Ultimate Fighting Champion, Ronda Rousey. However, in terms of importance to the mission of PeacePlayers International, where the goal is to bridge divides, develop leaders, and change perceptions, nobody has done more to bring women to the forefront of sports this past year than San Antonio Spurs Assistant Coach, Becky Hammon. In fact, Becky Hammon has done so much good for the sports world this past year that she has been named espnW’s Woman of the Year.
Becky has changed perceptions of what it means to be a woman in the world of sports. She is the first full-time, salaried coach in NBA history. Becky has been a bridge builder in her time as a San Antonio Spurs assistant, creating a bond between the WNBA and NBA, and with Head Coach Gregg Popovich, a man who Becky regards as a “progressive” mind with “a great understanding of people and societies”, according to a recent interview. Without question, Becky has also cultivated herself into a great leader in a world of men. She has honed and enhanced a dominant Spurs team, keeping them among the NBA’s best, and has learned a great deal from her boss, Gregg Popovich, and PPI Board and Spurs General Manager, RC Buford.
PPI also prioritizes the involvement of girls in its programs, both as coaches and as participants. Our current PPI – Middle East Fellows, Heba El-Hendi, a Fulbright Scholar and AmeriCorps volunteer, and Courtney Boylan, a University of Michigan women’s basketball alum, have been making connections between people their entire life, and at PeacePlayers, they have continued these efforts. Noy Bachar, a seven year participant in PPI – Middle East, is a change maker that aims to play a role in changing perceptions of Arabs while serving in the Israeli Defense Forces. Chantelle Hutchinson, a 16 year old Champions4Peace participant, works on and off the court to develop the integral activities of PPI – Northern Ireland. And there is Romy and Malak, two girls that, through the simple act of being friends, have made a world of difference in changing the perceptions of their families and their communities.
Today’s blog is brought to you by Nicos Mashias, PPI-CY board member and coach. He volunteers at every twinning, camp and tournament and gives his experience at this years PeacePlayers-Cyprus 3 vs. 3 Winter Tournament!
I joined PeacePlayers about 3 years ago, when fellows Gunnar and Adam were in Cyprus and they asked to have a friendly game between the young kids of ENAD, the team I was coaching at the time, and the PeacePlayers team of Dali. After that, I participated in a couple of twinnings and then at the summer camp in Agros, loving every minute of it. Since then, I became good friends with all the coaches, learned a lot from the experienced ones, and managed to get closer with the kids.
Most of them were present this past Saturday at our annual Winter 3×3 Tournament. According to a lot of people, the event was a success, with everyone enjoying a rainy Saturday playing basketball indoors, seeing friends they don’t get to see often or making new ones; including myself. The event started in the morning with about 150 kids 10-16 years old from both sides, boys and girls. They were divided into four groups (junior boy/girls, senior boys/girls) and in mixed teams. There were games all day long with popular music on loud speakers, as kids and coaches were dancing on the side lines, taking selfies and singing in groups as if they were auditioning for a talent show. Some parents were there as well watching their kids play and really enjoying themselves.
It is worth mentioning that Korean Broadcasting Network was at the event taking interviews from children and coaches. Mr Shin, the journalist, kept asking me at the beginning of the event if the kids are Turkish Cypriot or Greek Cypriot. I kept saying, ‘Both.’ He would look at the court, all kids wearing their green PPI t-shirts playing around, and ask me again the same thing. He could not tell who is TC or GC, could not see any awkwardness between them or even a separation into their own groups. I turned around, looked at the court full of kids aged 10-16 years old and said, “Well, they are kids, they are just happy to come and play basketball.” This is the other beauty of sports, it unites people.
After the final games for each group, and as part of our joined program with the Cyprus Turkish Diabetes Association, “Promoting Peace and Wellness in Cyprus”, sandwiches, apples and orange juices were provided for each participant: children, coaches, volunteers, parents.
Much of the success was due to the efforts of our working staff (Stephanie, Ryan, Jale and Sureyya), coaches who were able to come (Andreas, Michael, Konstantinos, Sevki, Hasmet, Bahar) and the young leaders. Their commitment all year long, as well as the rest of coaches and leaders who could not make it, keeps this program alive and evolving, planting the seeds for better things to come!
It’s actually very cool to be a PeacePlayer! #itscooltobeapeaceplayer
Today’s blog is by PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland Managing Director, Gareth Harper. Gareth talks about PPI – NI’s Jingle Ball basketball tournament in relation to the ongoing efforts of the other PeacePlayers sites to commemorate the Christmas Truce, a time during World War I when British, French, and German soldiers stopped fighting, exchanged gifts, and played sports.
On 6 December 2014, PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland hosted its annual Jingle Ball basketball tournament. This year, the event recognized the 100th anniversary of the World War I Christmas Truce that took place on the Western Front on Christmas Day, 1914. The event was of several that PeacePlayers globally has been involved with to celebrate the courage of those first Peace Players who stepped into “No Man’s Land”, during a time of conflict, to show a different way.
The spirit of Christmas 1914 was on full display December 6, when 140 modern day Peace Players aged 9-14 years old from north, south, east and west Belfast came together to take over the entire bottom floor of Stranmillis College’s sports hall. The participants had been polishing their basketball skills for 12 weeks in the Beflast Interface League on their respective sides of the city. While playing on these integrated teams, they were able to not only develop practical basketball skills, but also take part in community relations discussions which allowed them to understand and learn about the communities and backgrounds their new friends were from. Their leaders, be it their coaches, parent, teachers or community leaders have been encouraging them into their no-man’s land to build sustainable relationships.
On 9 December 2014, PeacePlayers volunteers supported a commemorative screening of the French film “Joyeux Noel” from 2005, which the events of that Christmas Day 1914. The film depicts events through the eyes of French, Scottish and German soldiers. In addition, later this month, our PeacePlayers colleagues in Cyprus will be working with the British High Commission to commemorate the Christmas Truce; they are planning to recreate a football match within the Buffer Zone. An international team that will include United Nations soldiers, representatives from foreign missions and diplomats will compete against a bi-communal Cyprus team, which will include PeacePlayers International -Cyprus players. The event, weather permitting, is scheduled for the 22nd of December. The symbolism of these events poignantly and powerfully support us in reflecting upon the bravery and courage of those first Peace Players whose actions 100 years ago continue to inspire all that we strive for today – bringing together divided communities through sport.
So this Christmas let us keep in our thoughts and prayers the Peace Players on the Western Front 100 years ago and all those since, whom in many areas of conflict, have proved and continue to prove that through sport and other means, there is a different way and that friendship works.
This week’s blog recaps PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland’s Jingle Ball basketball tournament. This year’s tournament was particularly special as participants remembered the Christmas Truce.
The Christmas spirit was on full display last Saturday, 6th December, when 140 young people took over the Stranmillis College’s sports hall for PPI-NI’s annual Jingle Ball basketball tournament! This year Jingle Ball had an added poignancy as the event recognised the 100th anniversary of the World War I Christmas Truce that took place on the Western Front on Christmas Day 1914. The tournament was one of several events sponsored by PeacePlayers globally to celebrate the courage of those first Peace Players who stepped into “No Man’s Land” during a time of conflict to show a different way. The truce was celebrated and commemorated in a positive way through our tournament.
The Jingle Ball participants had been polishing their basketball skills for 12 weeks during the Belfast Interface League programme in their respective sides of the city. While playing on these integrated teams they were able to not only develop practical basketball skills, but also take part in community relations discussions where they developed an understanding of the communities and backgrounds their new friends were from. After 12 weeks of growing into tight-knit, competitive teams the BIL programmes came together – girls vs boys and juniors vs seniors – to prove they were the side of the city to beat, to show off their skills and of course to catch up with friends from the other areas.
With everyone eyeing a coveted Jingle Ball award, the competition level was high. But so was the Christmas spirit with Coach Joanne working her Christmas glasses and Coach Joe pulling off a Santa hat. It’s debateable whether the participants had more fun than the staff team this year! DJ Topper provided fantastic tunes and the volunteers from Google, Study USA and Young Adult Volunteers were on hand to keep the energy levels high. PPI-US Director of Development Brian Lemek’s natural coaching talent also shone through as he refereed some intense games, and members of the PPI-NI Board of Directors stepped up to the almost impossible task of choosing the winners of the spirit and hustle awards! Although there was no overall winner of the tournament, North, South, East and West were all represented in the awards ceremony, either as a team or with individual players receiving awards, which made it a winning day for everyone. Jingle Ball is always a huge success and the 2014 edition was the best one yet! Friends were re-united, new friendships formed and we can’t wait to do it all again next year because everyone had a ball – no pun intended!