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A blog by PeacePlayers International
Updated: 59 min 57 sec ago

PeacePlayers Holds First Interregional Peace Camp in Cyprus

Wed, 07/29/2015 - 9:57am

Over 100 young people came together for basketball and peace at the 2015 PPI – CY Summer Camp in Agros, Cyprus

From July 21 – July 26, PeacePlayers International – Cyprus hosted their annual Summer Camp, bringing together young leaders from other PeacePlayers projects around the world, including Northern Ireland, the Middle East and South Africa, to showcase how sport can be used in promoting peace. Former New Orleans Jazz star, Aaron James, former member of the Turkish Women’s National Basketball Team, Şebnem Kimyacıoğlu, adidas General Manager of South East Europe, Lawrence Norman, Head of Programmes at the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, Derek Bardowell, and Founder of Reach Sports, Mthokozisi Madonda, also joined to help empower young people to become leaders, teaching valuable life lessons through the use of sport.

Former New Orleans Jazz star Aaron James promoting friendship at the 2015 PPI-CY Summer Camp

Aaron James, a member of the National Basketball Retired Players Association, said: “It’s a wonderful initiative and I am delighted to do what I can to help. Basketball is a great sport for bringing kids together in a team setting. I was very impressed meeting some of the young leaders and I know they are going to become real role models in their communities.”

Şebnem Kimyacıoğlu added: “Witnessing the power of this program, which brings together youth from communities that under normal circumstances do not interact has been incredible. One of the goals of PeacePlayers is for the participants to apply their acquired leadership and peace-building skills to their communities. With the progress I have seen at this camp alone, I am excited and hopeful for the future.”

PeacePlayers International (PPI) was founded in 2001 on the premise that “children who play together can learn to live together.” Through a groundbreaking peacebuilding-and-leadership development curriculum, PeacePlayers International uses basketball to bring children together and teach them proven tactics for improving their communities, impacting youth in 15 countries across the globe.

Proud to promote @peaceplayers & delighted to spend an afternoon w/them – uniting #Cyprus youth 4 peace, sport & fun https://t.co/btYCgpG9Xq

— John M. Koenig (@AmbJohnKoenig) July 22, 2015

Founded in 2006, PPI – Cyprus brings together 8-18 year old Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot boys and girls to play together, learn together and build positive relationships that overcome generations of mistrust and formidable physical barriers to interaction. PPI-CY is currently the only year-round bi-communal youth sports organization on the island.

Basketball icons join @LaureusYES training in Cyprus at #PPIcamp15 #lead4peace @peaceplayers http://t.co/BAHEKuayyg pic.twitter.com/irUBO7Rl0X

— Laureus (@LaureusSport) July 27, 2015

The camp was funded through the European Union’s Cypriot Civil Society in Action IV financial assistance package within the framework of the ‘Promoting Peace and Wellness in Cyprus’ project with co-funding and support from the United States Embassy in Cyprus, the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, adidas and Jotun.

Our founder @MthokoMadonda sharing his passion for the #powerofsport & #youth dev at #PPIcamp15 pic.twitter.com/uAYM1OFwU5 Via @peaceplayers

— ReachSports (@Reach_Sports) July 21, 2015


PPI Partners with Thunderclap!

Sun, 07/26/2015 - 5:21pm

We’ve partnered with Thunderclap to help spread the word about our Summer Camp and the work we do all year round! If 100 people support our Thunderclap by tomorrow (Monday, July 27), we can make waves by showing the Internet the powerful effects sport can have! All you have to do is pledge your support below!

Join us — we’re so close to meeting our goal! 

https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/29259-ppi-camp-2015?locale=en


Coaching for Peace

Thu, 07/23/2015 - 8:29am

Rebecca and her All-Stars team are all smiles ahead of a big game

Today’s blog post was written by Rebecca Ross, a professional American-born basketball player who as a child moved with her family to Israel. For the past year, she has coached a PeacePlayers All-Star team, which competed in the Israel Basketball Association’s elite league.

In the summer of 1997, when I was 8, my family moved from Miami to Givat Ze’ev, a large West Bank settlement northwest of Jerusalem. Part of my acculturation process involved learning to hate Arabs and to hate Arabic. This past year, as coach of Jerusalem’s all-star 9th-10th grade girl’s basketball team (a team in the Peace Players project), I have learned to love Arabs and to love Arabic.

My six secondary school years in Jerusalem largely coincided with the Second Intifada. That is, the period in my life when I spent the most time on buses (as many as 6 a day because of my own basketball practice) and was also the period when many of those buses were attacked. I woke up every day fearing that a suicide bomber would decide to explode himself on my bus on my way to school. I used to see every Arab on the street as a terrorist; I was suspicious of all Arabs — men, women, and even children. When the mother of one of my high school classmates was killed in a suicide bomb attack, I was traumatized. I grew up convinced that Arabs were our enemy and that they were malicious, horrible people who just wanted to kill all the Jews.

Late last August, I moved back to Jerusalem to play on the city’s professional women’s team.  My basketball career has always included coaching as well as playing, and so I accepted a position to coach the 9th-10th grade girl’s team that is part of the same club as my professional team. I had heard that the girls team had Arabs on it, but that fact didn’t really register with me until my first practices with the team when I heard the Arab girls speaking Arabic with each other. I was filled with a visceral revulsion. The sound of Arabic just drove me crazy and brought me back to the trauma of my youth. But from practice to practice and without even noticing it, I found myself thinking a lot about my Arab players. Because they are simply great girls. Girls who just want to play ball and have a fair shot at success in life, and yet who were born in a very complicated place that doesn’t see them as human beings and that doesn’t give them a real chance to succeed.

The integrity of our team was tested on November 18, when early in the morning four people were killed in a terror attack at a synagogue about an 8-minute drive from the gym where we practice. As a religious Jew, I was shocked and hurt when I first heard about the attack, but when I showed up to practice later that day, everything was normal. By then, everyone knew all of the details of what had happened, but I didn’t mention the attack — I decided to leave all of the politics off the court. The girls practiced normally; they smiled and enjoyed as usual. After that practice I understood that even though we live in “war,” we can still make a difference through the small things.

Peace is a very big word, but I believe that until we have Peace, we need to learn how to live together and get along. When I see my young Arab players get along so well with my Jewish players, it gives me hope and fills my heart with happiness. Almost every kid loves sports, and sports are an amazing way to bring all the different peoples, cultures, and religions together.

If someone had asked me a decade ago on my bus to school if I could ever imagine myself studying Arabic, I would have looked upon that person as if they were insane. And yet, that is what I am now doing. The author of my Arabic textbook (an 89-year-old French monk named Yohanan Elihai who has lived in Israel since 1956), writes that “language is the key to the heart.” My heart was opened by my Arab players and so it feels natural for me to want to learn how to communicate with them in Arabic. I guess when you come from love, and basketball is my love, anything is possible.

Play ball.  Ela’ab eltaba.


PPI Summer Camp Begins!

Tue, 07/21/2015 - 7:52am

Today, PeacePlayers International participants from each of our sites are coming together for PPI’s annual Summer Camp in Agros, Cyprus! For the next six days, these campers will enjoy intensive basketball and classroom training, while getting to know what it’s like to be a PeacePlayer in another part of the world. On the court, they’ll be perfecting their skills with the help of former New Orleans Jazz star Aaron James and Turkish basketball star Şebnem Kimyacıoğlu. Off the court, they’ll learn from experts in leadership development, conflict resolution, and nutrition.

Thank you to adidas, the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, the European Union, the United States Embassy in Cyprus, Jotun, and the National Basketball Retired Players Association for helping make this camp possible!

Participants are ready to go!

Check back to get updates about what’s happening at the camp and make sure to like us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to follow the fun!

Danielle Green At The ESPYS: An Inspiration For Us All

Fri, 07/17/2015 - 10:37am

Two nights ago, Danielle Green, a combat veteran, won the Pat Tillman Award for Service at the 2015 ESPYS. Her story has inspired all of us here at PeacePlayers and we wanted to share her story and her acceptance speech with you. If you haven’t seen it, it is well worth a few minutes of your time.

Danielle said it best: “We can all find a purpose on this earth larger than ourselves.”

Thank you to Danielle and all the other people in this world fighting for something larger than themselves.

 


Net Gains: Former Basketball Standout Combines Service With His Love Of The Game In South Africa

Thu, 07/16/2015 - 12:18pm

PeacePlayer International — South Africa Fellow Bryan Franklin, a graduate of Stevens Insititute of Technology, was featured in their alumni magazine the Stevens Indicator!

This article has been reprinted below with permission. You can find the original here.

 

Bryan Franklin ’12 admits that as the child of an African-American father and Caucasian mother, he knew he was di­fferent from his classmates growing up in Colorado in the 1990s. “I just didn’t look like everyone else,’’ he says. “For a long time I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin.’’

PPI-SA Fellow Bryan Franklin

Always interested in race relations and multiculturalism, Franklin was appalled when he learned about apartheid, a system of racial segregation in South Africa from 1948 to 1994. He also realized that, as a child in America, he was lucky to have positive role models.

And Franklin is committed to being a positive role model. In a big way.

Today, Franklin is a Fellow with PeacePlayers International (PPI), a sport for development non-profit that uses the game of basketball to educate, unite and inspire young people in culturally and politically divided communities to become leaders. Founded in 2001, PPI has reached more than 65,000 participants and trained more than 1,100 youth leaders. PPI has locations in Northern Ireland, Israel and the West Bank, Cyprus and South Africa. Stationed in Durban, South Africa, Franklin began his two-year commitment in April 2014, living in the KwaZulu-Natal province.

Franklin, a stand-out on the Stevens men’s basketball team for four years (and captain during his senior year), was attracted to the combination of service and basketball that PPI o­ffers and, since he serves as a basketball coach and teacher, he feels the program is tailor-made for his talents.

“The nice thing about being a fellow with PPI is that I get to have a hand in lots of different pieces of the organization. I assist in the fundraising and marketing of the organization, oversee the operations in one of our communities, and am also co-leader of our Leadership Development Programme, which includes everything from setting program goals to overseeing coaches to writing and updating our life skills curriculum and organizing events,’’ he says.

KwaZulu-Natal is an area burdened by the impact of AIDS and HIV, unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse, poverty and strong cultural divides. PPI works with youth between 6th and 12th grades, and then employs former participants as coaches. Franklin works face-to-face with the children, both boys and girls.

Bryan with PPI-SA participants

He acknowledges that some days it’s hard to see so much pain. “I realize that I can’t change everything, but if only one life is changed for the better during my time down here, then to me it’s worth it. That’s my goal, one person at a time,’’ he says. His commitment to service was heightened during his college days, calling Stevens “the place where I grew up.’’

“It was during my time at Stevens that I discovered my passion for giving back to the community. I joined Alpha Phi Omega (a service fraternity on campus) and then continued as I got involved with Hoboken Grace Community Church. What better feeling than helping bringing a smile to someone’s face?’’ he says, adding that the service work continued when he worked as an AmeriCorps VISTA member at Rising Tide Capital, a non-profit in Jersey City, New Jersey, that helps people in low-income communities start and grow their own businesses. “With my passion specifically for basketball and for travel, PeacePlayers is a dream job,’’ he says.

He firmly believes that all college students should get out and see the world.

“Travel has a way of providing incredible perspective that can’t be gained in a classroom and for me, it changed my life.’’

Franklin is still undecided about what’s next for him when his journey with PPI ends in 2016. He’s considering graduate school and has dreams of starting his own non-profit or ministry one day. ❖ — Lisa Torbic


A look in the vault: PeacePlayers at the ESPYs

Wed, 07/15/2015 - 12:26pm

Tonight are the 23rd annual ESPY Awards. The ESPYs are an awards show presented by ESPN which celebrates athletic achievements in individuals and teams, as well as other sports-related performance. Back in 2007, PPI was awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award (an award that’s been given to Nelson Mandela, Jim Valvano, Muhammad Ali and other sports legends) for our work in Northern Ireland. You can watch the clip from the show below:

The ESPYs will air tonight at 8 p.m. (EDT) on ABC.


Can sports save the world?

Tue, 07/14/2015 - 4:16pm

Here at PeacePlayers, our belief that “children who play together can learn to live together” is something that we integrate into everything we do. Sport for peace and development is still a relatively new field, and so finding evidence to support what we do is always exciting. The infographic below displays a few of the many benefits. Sports are becoming increasingly important as a tool for peace, and we are very proud to be a part of an industry that strives for change!


Infographic by: bestshowticketslasvegas.com


Mitzvah Program Spotlight: Alexa’s Basketball Tournament

Mon, 07/13/2015 - 3:24pm

This week we are featuring a young PeacePlayer, Alexa. Through our Mitzvah Program, this 6th grader planned a charity basketball tournament for her Bat Mitzvah, which she celebrated on May 30th. To learn more about PPI’s Mitzvah Program, CLICK HERE.

Hi, my name is Alexa. I live in Washington, D.C. and go to Maret School. While preparing for my Bat Mitzvah, I didn’t know what my service project would be, so I did what any person would do — I turned to Google for help.

PeacePlayers International was the first project I learned about that I really felt a connection to. I love playing basketball and I loved the idea of kids creating change. I also felt connected to Israel and Ireland (some of the places where PPI works) because I have ancestors from those countries.

Alexa and a friend at her tournament.

I was also happy to see that girls participate in PPI programs, and women are PPI coaches, because creating more opportunities for girls in sports is so important to me.

I looked at the toolkits PeacePlayers provides for kids who want to do a project and I even got to call Adam, PPI’s Deputy Director of Development and Communications, for advice, which was very helpful.

I jumped into the many things that needed to be done. At first I was very overwhelmed, but I was able to break the project down into the key steps: making a flyer, reserving the gym, getting the word out, getting sponsors and referees, lining up the equipment, and registering players.

Through the whole process, my friends and family were there to support me and some kids even did some of their own community service by helping me prepare. It was great to see people getting into helping out and contributing to the tournament.

I learned a lot about myself while planning the tournament and pushed myself to overcome some of my fears. To sign kids up from outside of school, I had to go to basketball games and go around my synagogue to promote it to complete strangers. At first it was stressful, but I got more confident and better at it the more I did it.

Finally after the preparation was done, the tournament day came. I had a lot of initial concerns that people would sign up but not come, or that people would forget, but when I got there and kids were already warming up I felt so relieved. Some of my basketball coaches even came to help ref. I was excited to show them and everyone else that my love for basketball was more than just about playing the game.

Some tough competition at Alexa’s tournament!

The tournament flashed by and I couldn’t stop smiling because everyone was there to support PeacePlayers and me, and they could see how proud I was to be doing my Mitzvah project for a cause that I feel so strongly about. When the day was over and I met my fundraising goal, I couldn’t have been more relieved for how smoothly it all went. After that, I felt I really deserved to be a Bat Mitzvah.

Thinking back on it now, the experience taught me skills that I continue to use in other parts of my life. I definitely feel more confident in my abilities to plan and arrange my own things.

I will never forget how amazing it felt that because of my tournament, kids around the world were learning to resolve conflict. Now, whenever I play basketball I feel a connection to the PeacePlayers around the world because I know that basketball can bring kids together and create lasting change.

 

Participants at Alexa’s successful tournament!


A Q&A with Tom Etzel of the Global Peace Building Foundation

Sun, 07/12/2015 - 3:59pm

Since 2012, PeacePlayers International has enjoyed a partnership with The Global Peace Building Foundation (GPBF). GPBF contributes to the building of global peace by supporting organizations and projects that restore, rebuild, and transform relationships that have been broken due to prejudices, stereotyping, hatreds, and fears. Like PPI, GPBF believes that work at the grassroots level will contribute to sustainable peace.

We at PeacePlayers got the chance to sit down with GPBF Founder and President Tom Etzel to speak about this sector of the non-profit world and his experience with PPI. 

 

What sparked the idea for the Global Peace Building Foundation?

September 11, 2001 was the major catalyst in my commitment to peace building. My 25 year-old niece, Katie McCloskey, was on the 97th floor of the World Trade Center when American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower and my high school friend, Ken Waldie, was aboard that jetliner.

GPBF Founder and President Tom Etzel

I needed an outlet to channel my grieving energies in a positive way during the aftermath of that tragedy, so I decided to enroll in the mid-career Masters Degree program at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. I wanted to gain an in-depth global perspective and find a clearer vision of world affairs and efforts toward globally building peace. After completing my studies in July of 2010, I successfully established the Global Peace Building Foundation (GPBF).

 

GPBF gives funds to organizations that operate under the Contact Theory, specifically via youth programing. Why is this the sector of the non-profit world that you dedicate your time and money to?

Contact Theory is a central tenet of peace building based on the belief that negative attitudes, such as stereotypes and prejudice, can be reduced by promoting contact and familiarity between conflicting groups. Governments sign treaties and aid organizations spend billions of dollars a year, but only people can make peace. The change in attitude and beliefs, which happens in the formative stage of a young person’s life, creates the conditions necessary for youth to form lasting relationships built on mutual trust and respect. Amid the complex and shifting landscapes, this trust is the bedrock for sustainable peace.

 

How did you first hear about PeacePlayers and what drew you to our organization?

I found PPI while I was doing research for my thesis at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. PPI was one of my case studies. I interviewed Trevor Ringland, a former Ireland rugby star who won the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2007 ESPN ESPY Awards with Dave Cullen for their work with PPI. I found him to be very inspiring. GPBF grew out of the thesis, including the GPBF-PPI relationship.

 

You visited our program in Northern Ireland not too long ago, what was that experience like?

We visited PPI-NI as part of the GPBF due diligence process. We wanted to learn more about how PPI incorporates the peace education curriculum with the game of basketball.

Tom meets with PPI staff during his visit to Northern Ireland.

We learned a great deal about the history of The Troubles and how PPI-NI is working at the grassroots level to bridge the divides for the next generation. We enjoyed meeting the staff and children. They were very friendly, welcoming and inspiring.

 

With so much continuing conflict in this world, what is one piece of advice for people working in this field whether that person is a participant, facilitator, or donor?

The field of peace building is very complex. There are many components that must work together to make peace sustainable. My advice is to find a niche and be committed to a long-term approach supported by qualitative results. A short-term and quantitative results-driven approach lacks efficacy in sustaining enduring change.


Adventures in Athens

Fri, 07/10/2015 - 10:49am

This week’s blog is written by International Fellow, Jessica Walton. Last weekend, Jessica visited Athens, Greece with some friends and explored one of the world’s oldest cities.

Jessica and friends at the Acropolis

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to travel to Greece for the first time. I was lucky enough to have met two of the U.S. Embassy’s awesome interns, Alexcia and Jasmin, who invited me to tag along on their adventure! Athens has been on my list for a while, so the timing was perfect.

The city’s rich history was the biggest draw. Friends told me about the incredible views from Mount Lycabettus and the hike to the top of the Acropolis. I couldn’t wait to see the Parthenon and walk through the Agora. These historical landmarks did not disappoint. Dispersed throughout what is now a contemporary and modern city, I couldn’t help but feel like I was kind of being transported back in time. To say the Acropolis was incredible would be putting it mildly. It is definitely my favorite part of Athens. Also worth mentioning was Syntgma Square and the Monastiraki district in the old town.

View from the top of the Acropolis

Although most of my weekend was spent looking back on the past, my attention was simultaneously being drawn to Greece’s present. Greece has been a hot topic in the international news circuit. People all over the world were buzzing about the upcoming results of the Greek referendum and its impact on the current financial crisis. Visiting Athens during this unique time only added to our overall experience.

Heading back to Cyprus Sunday night, I reflected on the successful weekend. I feel incredibly lucky to have a job where I can travel. It’s an exceptional way to learn about the world we’re living in. I truly value all of my experiences abroad and am so appreciative of the opportunities I’ve been able to take advantage of. I look forward to the new adventures ahead of me!

Jasmin, Alexcia and Jessica at Zeus’ Temple


Work Hard, Play Hard! It’s All About Balance…

Wed, 07/08/2015 - 3:05pm

The PPI-ME team enjoying the beautiful weather and view!

This week’s blog takes a look at the importance of balancing work and your personal life and how PeacePlayers-Middle East tries to instill that balance within their work culture.

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around for a while, you could miss it.” — Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

If you have never seen the movie mentioned above, it’s an 80’s classic about a guy in high school who pretends to be sick for a day and embarks on quite the adventure. He convinces his girlfriend and best friend Cameron to skip school and enjoy life with him. They eat at a 5-star restaurant, take Cameron’s father’s Ferrari and total it, and end up in a parade, amongst other things. Ferris was just a kid in high school, but he definitely had the right idea. As you get older, it becomes more and more important to slow down and take a moment to enjoy life.

At PeacePlayers — Middle East the work ethic is incredible. The amount of hours put in isn’t always the regular 9-5 and the work week may not be the typical 40 hours. Two common goals for most working people is a nice work/life balance and an awesome workplace environment. When working for a successful organization, it is often hard to strike that balance and keep a great atmosphere. Here at PeacePlayers International — Middle East, we are fortunate enough to pretty much nail the formula of balance and great environment. It is very much a “work hard, play hard” type of place.

Some of the lovely ladies of PPI-ME enjoying the relaxing pool.

At the end of May, the office shut down for two days during the week and went on a relaxing team building retreat to the north. We had the pleasure of swimming and floating in the Sea of Galilee and stayed at an amazing kibbutz nearby. It was nice to have long conversations with co-workers you don’t usually get to catch up with, make impromptu music videos, and laugh all night long while playing games.

We ended the retreat with an amazing late lunch at a spot that was on a mountain overlooking the sea. It is hard to come back from such an event and not feel re-energized, more connected to your colleagues, and grateful to work for such an awesome organization.

So always remember to remove yourself from the fast lane sometimes and take a second to enjoy the experiences, people, and happiness that surrounds you.

There’s always time to create great memories!


PPI Northern Ireland holds second annual basketball camp

Wed, 07/08/2015 - 9:30am

Today’s blog is written by PPI-NI International Fellow Casey Tryon, who gives us a recap of a basketball camp that PeacePlayers ran last week in Belfast:

Campers from all areas of Belfast came together for our three-day camp!

Last week, PeacePlayers International-Northern Ireland held its second annual basketball camp at Grosvenor Leisure Centre in Belfast. More than 40 children from all corners of Belfast gathered together to improve their basketball skills and see friends they had made during other PeacePlayers programmes.

During the three-day camp, children took part in skills stations, matches, and some friendly competitions. Even though camp started at 10 a.m. every morning, the children couldn’t wait to get into the gym; several campers showed up at 9:30 a.m. to shoot around. Each morning Coach Joe took the campers through a warm up, and then they spent time working their way through different stations where they practiced shooting, passing, rebounding, dribbling and other fundamentals. Each day after lunch, campers had a chance to show off their skills in a variety of different shooting competitions both as individuals and in pairs, although the most exciting competition was Friday when the juniors beat the seniors in a shootout to be first in line for pizza!

Lunch time on Day 2 of camp!

On Wednesday, the campers were split into teams, teams that they would represent for the duration of camp. On Friday afternoon, we held the two finals matches. The Seahawks came out victorious in the NCAA (junior) division and the Spurs were champions of the NBA (senior) division.

Having worked with several of these children over the last two years, it’s exciting to see the friendships that have developed, not just with children from certain areas of the city, but with children from across all areas of Belfast. The children have not only become friends, but have also developed a love for the game of basketball. This bond over basketball has helped these friendships blossom. Children often come in with new basketballs, new basketball sneakers or stories about the basketball hoop they just got at their house. Parents and teachers are also making it a point to tell our PPI-NI coaches how much their children enjoy playing basketball. In some schools, basketball has even replaced soccer as the game of choice at recess and break time!

Friday afternoon, I hung out with a few of the campers after camp ended and asked them how we could improve camp for next year. The overwhelming response was to make camp longer! A huge thank you to coaches Hannah, Aidan, Nicole, Conor and Ryan for volunteering their time to help make camp a success. Also, a big thanks to Grosvenor Leisure Centre for all your help. We hope to see everyone back again next year for Year Three!


Fourth of July — A Time to Celebrate and Reflect

Sat, 07/04/2015 - 12:28am

On days like today, America comes together. No matter their race, religion, or socioeconomic status, people are firing up their grills and gathering with friends and family to celebrate America’s freedom and independence.

There is no denying it — we live in a country with many divides. Here at PeacePlayers, we engage with people living on both sides of conflict on a daily basis, in communities where children are conditioned to hate others on the basis of their religion or race. But that is only part of the story…

On this holiday of optimism, we want to honor the thousands of children playing for peace, their tireless
coaches who mentor them on and off the court, their parents for their bravery in letting their children be a force for peace, and finally you, our supporters, whose belief in the power of sport to bring people together enables this all to happen.

Tonight when you look up in awe at the fireworks that celebrate our country’s core uniting values of justice and freedom for all, take a moment to think about how far we have come, but also how far we still need to go to fulfill those ideals for people everywhere.

 

Happy Fourth of July from everyone at PeacePlayers International!


PPI-CY’s Stephanie Nicolas Participates in UNOSDP Program

Fri, 07/03/2015 - 9:39am

This week’s blog is written by our very own Program Coordinator, Steph Nicolas, who spent the month of June participating in a prestigious Leadership Development program in the United States.

Steph at the Sport and Social Impact Summit.

Some time ago, I received the amazing news that I had been accepted to take part in the United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace’s Youth Leadership Masters Program at the IMG Academy in Florida from June 7-19.

On Saturday, June 6, I was about to embark on this new adventure, an adventure that would help me and my organization develop in the field of sport for development and peace.

Little did I know that this unbelievable experience would change my own life forever.

Sitting in a room with 47 charismatic individuals of 30 different nationalities, not knowing anyone or where they were from, it overwhelmed me a bit. So many questions were running through my head: what is happening now? Am I in the wrong place? What do I do? How will I meet all these people? Will I be able to communicate? Or will I even enjoy myself?

Steph and participants posing with NFL Vets Mark Brunell, Henry Lawrence, Hurley Tarver and Kenny Green.

However, all those questions vanished with the help of our great facilitators and the interactions we had between us. I met so many amazing people from around the world, each and every one of them with their own ideas, thoughts, values and perspectives on life and creating change. They made me understand that it’s not always about me, but about us as a team, a family and a community.

Throughout the two weeks that we were at IMG Academy, we tried so many different sports, from baseball, to wheelchair softball, American football, the real football (soccer), wheelchair tennis, wheelchair basketball, basketball, Tae-kwo-do, table tennis, badminton and rugby – sports that we do not have the chance to practice here in Cyprus.

In addition, our great facilitators taught us more about respecting different individual’s values, opinions and ideas, taking risks and challenging ourselves, communicating better, and last, but not least, opening up ourselves to others and showing them who we really are and what we live for in life.

As I sit here on my return flight to Cyprus writing this, I have gotten increasingly emotional. I wonder if the people around me think I’m crazy or something! But I am not a person who usually cries, except for when I watch movies. It was a great pleasure meeting so many amazing people and collaborating with each and every one them. It is my honor to call them my friends and family, and I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone hopefully soon. This was not a goodbye, but only the beginning of something bigger.

Steph and candidates at a conflict resolution seminar.

I would like to thank UNOSDP, Global Action Initiatives and IMG Academy for providing us with this amazing experience and for giving me and my fellow participants the opportunity to meet and be trained by so many amazing people and organizations.

Thank you for an unbelievable experience that will be in my heart forever.


Celebrating Another Great Year at PPI-ME!

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 9:43am

One last group photo for the year! Teams from Meiser, Kfar Saba, Tamra, and Nahariya.

The end of the season is here, and PeacePlayers — Middle East likes to go out with a bang! This year, PeacePlayers organized two Minifests….on the same day! There was a Minifest in Jerusalem and one for the Northern teams. A Minifest is a great way to unite lots of teams and give the players a chance to get to know each other. And of course, Minifests are a great way for all the players to have fun together.

An All Star (far left) from the Tamra/Nahariya team helps lead a basketball passing station.

Learning to balance a plate on a stick in the juggling section.

The excitement at Minifest was palpable in the air. The kids were exceptionally excited because of the huge variety of activities to choose from: basketball, juggling, Kung Fu, bounce houses, and more. This year, the Northern teams from Kfar Saba, Meiser, Nahariya, and Tamra enjoyed going from station to station led by coaches and the Tamra/Nahariya All Star team. The All Stars were key in leading the Minifest and it proved to be a great chance for them to give back to the PeacePlayer community and to practice their leadership skills.

Minis from Tamra practicing their Kung Fu skills.

PeacePlayers uses a long-term model whereby we keep investing in the same players year after year, and have them invest back in the programming later on. The skills learned by giving back to PeacePlayers are phenomenal for the participants. Some of the same players in Minifests from 5 years ago are the coaches of the players at Minifests today! We hope that with our work in the North we will expand this type of longitudinal programming in the upcoming year.


Young Adult Volunteer reflects on time spent with PeacePlayers

Wed, 07/01/2015 - 11:38am

Today’s blog post is written by Will Massey, an American who has been serving in Northern Ireland with Young Adult Volunteers. YAV  is a U.S.-based one-year service opportunity for young people, and during his time there, he began to volunteer with PPI-Northern Ireland. He reflects on his experience with PeacePlayers below. 

A few times this year I had gaps in my schedule. Tuesday evenings, Saturday afternoons, Monday mornings on occasion. I ran my programs at Whitehouse Presbyterian and I coached in Ballymena on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. What was left was my own time. That is, until Peace Players found a way to fill the slot.

Will with one of twinning’s in Ballymena this past term.

 This could sound like a complaint but I promise, it is not. I became a Young Adult Volunteer to have new experiences in new places. And PeacePlayers has delivered. I’ve seen corners of Northern Ireland I certainly would have missed otherwise. I’ve done PeacePlayers programs in Ballymena, Larne, Castlereagh, Antrim, Craigavon, Carrickfergus and, as you might expect, Belfast. Some readers may object that these are not particularly desirable destinations, but part of the wonder of living abroad is discovering new areas, their features and character and expanding your mental map.

On my arrival I was eager to be useful as a member of the PeacePlayers team, and PeacePlayers has been eager to use me. This year was my first experience of coaching, sports development, community relations through sport and non-profit management. These experiences stretched me in new directions and equipped me to serve my communities in the future. And PeacePlayers-Northern Ireland is all about developing and equipping leaders; unfortunately I have a limited shelf life as far as Northern Ireland is concerned.

Of course, Peace Players did not bring me on as a volunteer to challenge me and develop new skills. I’m here to contribute to PeacePlayers’ exciting and expanding project in Northern Ireland. The staff and coaches work energetically to reach more children in more communities, always with their eyes on the prize: a peaceable society in Northern Ireland. And I am grateful that I had an opportunity to make my contribution to such an admirable mission.

Volunteering quickly became camaraderie. Will pictured here with some of the PeacePlayers coaches

Apart from everything else, I am also so grateful for the connections I have made with dozens of coaches and hundreds of children and young people this year. Each of those relationships has been a blessing for me.

Thanks Peace Players!


Mitzvah Project Leads to Life Altering Journey

Tue, 06/30/2015 - 4:20pm

Today’s blog is written by PeacePlayers International Mitzvah supporter, Reed Lipman. Reed is a rising senior at Riverdale Country School in New York.

When I first started supporting PPI, I did not realize the profound effect it would have on my life. My name is Reed Lipman and I have been involved with PPI since my Bar Mitzvah, when I asked my friends and family to donate money to PPI in lieu of gifts. I knew that this was a “nice” thing to do — mostly because everyone told me that it was generous to give my gifts to a charity. But really, what did I know? I was 12 years old, living a sheltered life in suburban New York.

Me playing pickup with a PPI-ME participant in Israel.

Later that year, I began to understand. I took a trip to Israel and spent some time with PPI where I hung out with Jewish and Arab young female basketball players.

These young women would never have met if they didn’t play in PPI’s mixed basketball league. Off the court, they came from different backgrounds, practiced different religions and lived in communities that didn’t interact. But on the court, these girls were teammates and much more. I began to see that the friendships and bonds being formed through basketball is what PPI is all about.

After this first trip to the Middle East, I wanted to continue to support PPI. Living in New York, I knew I could best support by fundraising and creating awareness, so I organized two parent-child golf tournaments that were both successful and a lot of fun.

In the summer of 2014, I traveled again to PPI in Israel hoping to touch base with the kids and the people who ran the program. Now a junior in high school, I helped run a twinning between a Jewish and Arab school and was an assistant coach during practices for one of PPI’s boy’s teams.. During the visit, I met Khaled Zaki, who joined PPI when he was a young man and has since graduated from PPI’s Leadership Development Program (9 years later!). Talking about our love of basketball, our schools and our friends, I realized we had a lot more in common than I ever thought we would. But Khaled also told me about the dangerous neighborhood he was from and about the conflict between the Jewish and Arab people in his area. It was eye-opening that someone so close to my age was so aware of political conflict and the dividing lines between communities of people who live next to one another.

My friends from PPI-ME and my hometown come together for the basketball clinic I organized in New York.

Last year, the tables were turned when Khaled and 30 of PPI’s young leaders came to Washington, D.C. and New York during a US State Department cultural exchange. During their trip, I organized a basketball clinic and then invited the whole group over to my house to hang out, play games, and eat dinner. It was so much fun having them at my house playing ping-pong, air hockey, XBOX and listening to music. We all realized that even though we come from such different places, we have the same interests and talk about the same things.

What started out as a Bar Mitzvah project has turned into an experience that has opened up my mind to different cultures, social conflict and how kids everywhere can unite through simple things such as sports. I am grateful for the experience I have had with PPI and I am excited to carry on the relationships I have developed with PPI’s players and coaches in the Middle East. I hope other kids take the time to get involved with PeacePlayers and get to know some of the children whose lives have been changed simply because they were given the chance to play basketball.

 

To find out how you can get involved with PeacePlayers International CLICK HERE!


PPI-SA Celebrates the Youth at the 25th City Wide Tournament

Mon, 06/29/2015 - 7:34am

Earlier this month PeacePlayers International – South Africa hosted The 25th City Wide Tournament with the theme of “Celebrating the Youth of South Africa”. Each year PPI-SA hosts two tournaments, in June and October bringing together every Primary School Participant. While the October tournament allows youth to play with their teams against other schools in a winner take all style event; in June children are placed on mixed teams and play with youth from other PPI Schools throughout. It is incredible to see the progress throughout the day. At first participants are nervous and hesitant to play with youth they have often times never met before, but by the end of the event countless new friendships have been formed

PPI students present their Youth Day posters at the 25th City Wide Tournament

and relationships built.

This year’s tournament had a special feel to it as well. Every year South Africa celebrates Youth Day on June 16th. The day commemorates South Africa’s Youth’s actions in the Soweto Uprising in 1976. Following the announcement stating all advanced subjects in school would be taught in Afrikaans (The language of the Apartheid Government), over 3,000 students and teachers took to the street in a peaceful protest. They were met by heavily armed police vehicles, tear gas and eventually live ammunition. The heroism of the youth on that day lead to a revolt that spread across South Africa and garnered international attention, exposing the brutality of the Apartheid Government. The day not only celebrates the actions of the youth but also the power the youth have to help change and shape their communities.

In the spirit of celebrating diversity and the youth, PPI-SA partnered up with Coaching for Hope, a programme, which uses football to create better futures for young people in West and Southern Africa and its grantees, like Whizz Kids United. In total, over 450 children from 8 different communities came out to celebrate youth through sports.

Thank you to the South African National Lottery for their support of the 25th City Wide Tournament

The event started with a performance from community activist and Rapper, Mhligo; and ended with each PPI Primary School presenting what youth day means to them to the crowd. In addition PPI staff member Sbahle Mkhize and coaches Thando Msweli and Gabriela Goccovah were recognized for completing the HSBC Women Empowerment through Sports Programme.

Check out the video below for a quick recap of the event. PPI-SA would like to give special thanks to the South African National Lottery for the underwriting of the 25thth City Wide Tournament, and to Coaching for Hope for their contributions.


A Day at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

Fri, 06/26/2015 - 2:31pm

Earlier this month, two of our interns, Reed and Jake (high school students from New York), took the day off of work to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In this blog, they reflect on what they learned from the experience.  

Jake and Reed on their adventure in DC.

During World War II, Hitler and his Nazi regime devised a plan to cruelly annihilate the Jews of Europe. Their tactics involved using stereotypes and already strained relationships between many Jews and non-Jews, to rally the people behind an atrocious, uninformed idea to create the ideal Aryan society.

As young Jews ourselves, we feel it is important that we honor and remember all of the 6 million Jewish people who lost their lives during the Holocaust. But we must do more than just remember; we must work to put an end to today’s conflicts. Visiting the museum while interning at PeacePlayers, an organization that is helping youth overcome fear, hate, and violence, helped us realize once again the importance of teaching peace.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC.

At the Holocaust museum, we stood in a model train car that carried many Jews to Auschwitz. The carriage was small, and when we stood in there with 8 other people it felt claustrophobic and uncomfortable for us. As we read that the Nazis would force over 100 people into these cars for multiple days, the feeling of fear those people must have felt overwhelmed us. We learned that when trips were made during the winter, many froze, and during the summer, many died of suffocation in these cars. Actually standing in the model train helped us better understand the brutality of the Holocaust and the pain and suffering many Jews experienced.

It also made us think about all the suffering that is still being experienced around the world and the pain many people endure on a day-to-day basis. We reflected on the millions of homeless people living on the streets. It made us think about all the conflicts and fighting around the world. It made us realize how lucky we are to live in a peaceful part of the world with all of the resources we may need. It made us realize that we should appreciate our lives and try and help others. It made us realize that change is necessary.


Testimonials

"We work in an education system that is divided…PeacePlayers program is pointed towards the integration of those children. You’re getting children to mix in an environment where there’s not the...
Derrick Harkness, Principal, Carrs Glen Primary School, Northern Ireland
"A lot of kids believe that one kid on the other side is a good person, but every other one is a bad person, and they then carve out these narrow exceptions. What [PPI’s] curriculum is doing is...
Chad Ford, Director, David O. McKay Center for Intercultural Understanding, Brigham Young University
"When you get to know your teammates, it doesn’t really matter what their religion is."
Aoife Doherty, Participant, PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland
"In the beginning I participated for the basketball, but then I made friends with the Turkish-Cypriots. Now we play and we all have fun together."
Evripidis Kardamilas, Participant, PeacePlayers International – Cyprus
“The reason that I participate in this program and love it so much is because it helps me learn new things while playing my favorite sport. I have made so many new friends, Greek-Cypriots and Turkish...
Victor Petrov, Participant, PeacePlayers International - Cyprus
"Through PeacePlayers I have learnt how to share, trust, cooperate, and respect everyone, creating friendship and peace. PeacePlayers taught us whatever your religion or language you are talking, it...
Cetin Pirlanta, Participant, PeacePlayers International - Cyprus
"Programmes like this that work at the grass roots level with the young people in our society are vital to achieving sustainable peace within our communities. We are committed to supporting and...
Denis Rooney, CBE, Chairman of the International Fund for Ireland, Chairman, International Fund for Ireland
 “Through basketball I got over my fears and the stereotypes that we were taught in school. Basketball helped me to become friends with those guys without even speaking!”
Alexis Georgiou, Participant, PeacePlayers International - Cyprus
"We typically use activities such as art and drama to bridge divides between the youth. We always knew that sport had the potential to do the same, but PPI - ME's sport day went way above and beyond...
Yael Gur, Project Manager, A New Way, Israel
"We find that the PeacePlayers program brings in life-skills in a non-threatening way, and is helping to educate children on the big issues of HIV…We also find that in the PeacePlayers program, we...
Pamilla Mudhray, CSI Manager, Sasol, South Africa
"By focusing on the game of basketball and the values of sportsmanship, the youth learn to break down stereotypes to contribute to an environment whereby children who play together can learn to live...
Bicommunal Support Program, U.S. Embassy in Nicosia, Cyprus
"I was on the train one day with my Jewish friends and they started making fun of an Arab woman…I told them to stop and that she was embarrassed and that she just wanted to go to work. I then told...
Adiel, Participant, PeacePlayers International – Middle East
“I love this organization because it unites Greek-Cypriots with Turkish-Cypriots by doing what we all love, playing basketball!” 
Dimitris Charalambous, Participant, PeacePlayers International - Cyprus
"If she takes one thing away, it’s to know that there’s no differences from the other community, that everybody’s equal, and that she has great enjoyment with PeacePlayers."
Nula Doherty, Parent, PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland
"At the start [playing together] wasn't weird, but it was different because we would never have gotten the opportunity to go out and meet Protestants and be friends with them."
Ann Murphy, Participant, PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland
"Basketball has added a new dimension to our sporting activities. Of course, it improves coordination and also improves communication between the kids themselves. It’s wonderful that PPI has become...
Jennifer Sonasundrum, Principal, Merry Hill Primary School, South Africa
"I met new players I didn't know before, and learned how to play with new people. The best part was learning things from new players and different areas coming together. I learned you don't have to...
Amir, Participant, PeacePlayers International – Middle East
“PeacePlayers has taught me lots of important things, like how to be a good person, a good friend, and a good leader. One of the most important things it has taught me is how to educate the younger...
Nursu Tilki, Participant, PeacePlayers International - Cyprus
“Why did I join? Simple, it gave me purpose and it made me happy. It gave me the feeling of belonging somewhere. It was a place where your goals and hobbies harmonize with the goals of an...
Eleni Partakki, Participant, PeacePlayers International - Cyprus
“The love the coaches have for basketball inspires us to continually improve our game and they taught us how to be a better person on the court as well in our everyday life” 
Christiana Miltiadous, Participant, PeacePlayers International - Cyprus
"It’s hard to live without my parents, but my PPI coach is always there for me. He’s really more like a brother."
Sihle Cele, Participant, PeacePlayers International – South Africa
"I’m glad that Ronnie’s taking part in PeacePlayers…hopefully Ronny doesn’t have to go through what I went through at Ronnie’s age.”
Manny Macauley, Parent, PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland
"I was scared to death at first. But by the end of the match, I realized we were all the same."
Geina Mdungo, Participant, PeacePlayers Interational – South Africa