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An Young Adult Volunteer Shares his PPI-NI Experience!

Wed, 10/29/2014 - 5:49pm

Meet Will Massey who is currently in the Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program. Since September, he has been volunteering at PeacePlayers International-Northern Ireland.

My name is Will Massey and I am 21 years old from Iowa. I studied Physics and Religion at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. I love dogs, rock n’roll, and the Chicago cubs.

When I tell people in Belfast that I coach basketball in Ballymena on Wednesdays and Thursdays, they almost always say, “Och, I bet you have had a hard time with that Ballymena accent,” but to American ears a Belfast accent and a Ballymena accent are not so different especially when coming from a child’s mouth.

I came to Northern Ireland with the Young Adult Volunteer Program (YAV) of the Presbyterian

Will with other volunteers from the YAV program.

Church U.S.A. YAV sends volunteers all over the world to partner with local organizations engaged in missions. To my delight, I was placed with PeacePlayers, as well as the Whitehouse Presbyterian in Newtownabbey. Four other YAVs are serving in Belfast this year with other congregations and community programs. Reconciliation is one of the key goals of the church, as articulated by the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Peace Players is committed to this ministry, and how they operate really impresses me.

In Ballymena, I coach three twinning sessions, which excites me, although it strains my voice and my patience. At 9-years-old I may have been just as eager to learn basketball as these children, although it is hard to imagine. Our challenges as coaches are to direct this energy towards learning basketball skills and community relations activities, which ask kids to think critically about identity and prejudice. Coming in as an outsider, I am counting on PeacePlayers to provide me with the right questions to ask, and on the kids to be honest in answering. The answers I get are often encouraging and I like to ask my fellow coaches about the responses I get from the kids on the drive home. I am learning a lot through my partnership with PeacePlayers.  I hope that I am making a positive contribution to the PeacePlayers mission in Northern Ireland by coaching, playing, and educating.

Aside from my work at PeacePlayers, I spend a great deal of my time with the various ministries of the Whitehouse Presbyterian Church, including Boys’ Brigade, Girls’ Brigade, Youth Fellowship, and 50+ lunch club.

My PPI-NI experience is more than just about a t-shirt, it is about the impact that I can make in children’s lives.

We would like to thank  Rev. Doug Baker, who is the Regional Liaison for the Presbyterian Church of USA in Ireland and the United Kingdom. He coordinates the YAV placements in NI and has been responsible for inviting PPI-NI to formally host Will. We previously had a informal relationship with the YAV programme. We met with the group and gave briefings on the works of PPI-NI and we also had another YAV, Patrick Harley, volunteer with us two years ago.

Shaping Brains Through Basketball

Tue, 10/28/2014 - 3:30am

Coaching can create a happier, healthier and more successful adult through basketball

Picture this, you have four hours a week to work with fifteen kids. Each kid has it rough; poor socioeconomic backgrounds, their saintly 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? Catherine Woulfe, who writes for The Listener delivered a pretty compelling answer in her recent article ‘The age of opportunity’: The exciting discovery of the plasticity of adolescent brains reveals a make-or-break chance to create a happier, healthier and more successful adult. She essentially summarizes the ground breaking work of leading developmental psychologist and Temple University Professor Laurence Steinberg.

When it comes to impacting kids’ lives, the rule is, the earlier the better. If you read to your child between the ages of 0-3, that will have a much more profound effect on the child’s education  than if that was done later in life. In general, that applies to all experiences. As Woulfe puts it “between the ages of zero to three, our brains are exquisitely sensitive to experience. What happens to us during that time has a profound lifetime effect.” It’s widely known that children who experience abuse at a young age will have a permanent echo of that experience throughout their life.  As Dr. Dipesh Navsaria of the University of Wisconsin puts it “If we get the first 1,000 days of a baby’s life right, we’re really going to save a lot of trouble later on.”

As much as Steinberg agrees with this, his research also shows that when children hit adolescence, a similar opportunity arises to deeply impact their futures. With over 40 years of studying tens of thousands of adolescents, Steinberg has developed a new model that suggests adolescence is also a time where the brain is significantly shaped by experiences. If you think of the brain as clay and the hands that shape the clay as the environment, adolescence is the time that the clay is ripe for molding (if you want to know more about the neuroscience behind it, read Woulfe’s article or google neuroplasticity). How the brain will be molded at the end of adolescence is a good indicator on the shape it will stay in.

So what needs to happen in order to mold these flexible brains into happy, intelligent, and creative forms? The answer is exceptionally complex and requires master craftspeople from all angles – parents, teachers, learning specialists, and etc. Experts such as Steinberg have been able to flesh out the dominant features in order to give some very clear answers as to where to focus. Steinberg’s research reveals that mastering self-control, or in more colloquial terms, “their capacity for self-regulation” is the largest predictor of  one’s future success.

The capacity for self-regulation is probably the single most important contributor to achievement, mental health and social success. In study after study of adolescents, and in samples of young people ranging from privileged suburban youth to destitute inner city teenagers, those who score high on measures of self-regulation invariably fare best… This makes developing self-regulation the central task of adolescence and the goal that we should be pursuing.

To illustrate this, Steinberg often references a famous study conducted in New Zealand that measured the self control of one thousand children at age three. The researchers followed the individuals for forty years and self control at the age of three strongly predicted their levels of health, wealth, and happiness regardless of socioeconomic background.

Remember that marshmallow test that went viral with those cute kids that were told they can have one

Toying with of self-control in the marshmallow test

treat now or two in ten minutes when the adult gets back?

Guess what, the kids that showed self control are much more likely to be happier later in life and although the ones that smashed the marshmallow may have been super cute, intervention was definitely good advice.

So how do you teach an adolescence self control?

Steinberg states,  “the most important environmental contributor to self-regulation is the family.” The people who predominantly shape the environment of the youth are their parents. “Parents practice authoritative parenting. Be warm, be firm, and be supportive.”

Research has also shown that Autocratic parents (ones that rule with iron fists) teach obedience. “There’s no evidence that it’s good for kids. In fact, there’s a lot of evidence that it’s not good for kids.” Permissive parents (ones that get walked over or “just want to see their children happy”) tend to raise children that have little understanding of boundaries.

You’re probably thinking, that’s great but how the heck does that help an organization like PeacePlayers International? People often over simplify it by saying “these kids are missing life skill x, y and z” or “teachers are not being held accountable.” When you try and change the course of someone’s life, you’re fighting years and years of poor development. That’s massively difficult to address with a few hours a week of coaching basketball Or even six hours a day of classroom time.

You can definitely provide a strong mentor/support figure in the form of a coach. Especially, if the coach has a

Molding the minds of our PeacePlayers International participants.

strong understanding of principles such as how to enforce self-control. If the coach is really good they can even create drills that are microcosms of self-control. It’s beautiful watching a coach warmly, but firmly, explain to a player why taking that 3 pointer 5 seconds into the shot clock showed poor self-control:
“It was an ambitious shot, but you could have used a lot more self-control. That’s what’s truly valuable. Think about the other options you had. Sam in the corner had an open 15 footer. The point guard was right behind you and could have organized the team. Did they have a higher chance of creating a better shot for the team?”

Social change is HARD and it requires a reshaping of a youth’s environment that is guided by reason and research. Basketball may not be able to change the whole environment, but for four hours a week, it does make a difference.

My Rewarding Experience at PeacePlayers International!

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 10:04am

Inside the Washington Wizards locker room during the ECA exchange.

Communications and Development Intern Lauren Rogers reflects on her time with PeacePlayers and tells how the organization has impacted her life.

I have to work there!

That was my first thought as I left my interview last spring for an internship position at PeacePlayers International. Fortunately, several days later, I got a call offering me the job.

These past five months working with PPI have been incredible. As a student of Conflict Resolution at Georgetown University, I was drawn to PeacePlayers because of its creative use of sport in areas of conflict and post-conflict. The organization is completely innovative, even boasting its own unique curriculum for participants and working with other organizations across the globe through PPI-SPIN.

I began in May as a Communications and Development Intern. My responsibilities included, but were not limited to, increasing our social media presence, drafting and editing grant proposals, and working on communications pieces. I loved coming into the office to hear people talking about the basketball game last night or arguing over which star baseball player is better. I loved the camaraderie between staff members, whether it was those located in our office in Washington, D.C. or thousands of miles away in Northern Ireland, Cyprus, South Africa, and the Middle East. I loved getting to know participants of the program through videos, pictures, and blog posts. I also loved being a part of an organization that was making a visible difference, and  everyone was proud of the work they accomplish. Towards the end of the summer, I was asked to stay on with PPI for a couple more months to help out with the ECA exchange funded by a grant from the U.S. State Department. I overwhelmingly accepted, as I knew I was not yet ready to leave this awesome place.

I’ve spent the past couple months working as the ECA Project Coordinator, which was a challenging but extremely fulfilling position. We planned a two-week trip to the United States for nearly 30 of our Middle East Leadership Development Program participants. The exchange involved meeting with PPI supporters, playing basketball, experiencing a new culture, and so much more. After reading and posting blogs about these wonderful young leaders throughout the summer, as well as hearing stories from fellow staff members, it was a privilege to finally meet them in person when they first arrived in D.C. in early October. While I had fun accompanying them around the city, going on tours and meeting new people, the most rewarding experience was simply talking to them. Hearing firsthand accounts about how their membership with PeacePlayers changed their parents’ and friends’ perceptions of “the other side,” how experiences with PeacePlayers have shaped their future career paths, and how friendships developed through PeacePlayers helped them stay strong this past summer during countless waves of violence…it was something I will never forget.

I learned so much through my time at PeacePlayers, such as new computer skills, how to become a better writer, and the ins and outs of working at an international non-profit. I gained an incredible amount of knowledge from the people I worked alongside these past five months, who go far above and beyond what their job titles entail. Their passion for this work and belief in the mission of PPI is evident through their actions; every day I came into the office, I was motivated by their hard work ethic and love for the job. While I am sad to be leaving PeacePlayers in this capacity, I know I will stay in touch and keep up with the continuing success of the programs. As I’ve heard from many, “Once a member of the PPI family, always a member of the PPI family.”

I want to say thank you to the PPI staff for providing me this opportunity and helping me along the way. Thank you to my friends and family for their support not just of me, but also of the organization. Most of all, thank you to the participants of PeacePlayers International who continue to transform their communities and inspire us all through their unwavering enthusiasm, bravery, and dedication.

It was all about Hoops and Suits as PPI-NI attended the Study USA 20th Anniversary Gala Dinner and the One Young World Summit!

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 1:50pm

Joe Smith and Laura Agnew coordinating the fund raising raffle at the Study USA 20th Anniversary Dinner!

Last Friday morning, PPI-NI Business Development Officer Keith Mitchel along with PPI-NI assistant project coordinators Laura Agnew, and Ryan Stewart, hot-tailed it to Dublin to facilitate a break out session at the One Young World Summit. The annual event held at Emerald Isle, attracted over 1,400 people from ages 18-30 from 190 countries. At this event delegates heard from a wide range of leaders from around the world. PPI-NI helped to deliver a breakout session entitled “The Sporting Life – Breaking Down Barriers”, which took place at Na Fianna GAA Club in North Dublin. The team showcased PPI-NI’s community relations through sport curricula to a large group of summit delegates. A “fourth half” session facilitated by PPI-NI was complimented by sports instruction (hurling and soccer) provided by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and the Football Association of Ireland (FAI). Keith, Ryan and Laura did a great job in encouraging delegates to explore stereotypes and prejudice through a sporting lens by engaging them in our “Not On My Team” exercise.

From the left: Michael Morrow, chairman of the Alumni Association, Trevor Ringland, chairman of PPI-NI Board, Gregory Burton, US Consulate, Elizabeth Dibble, Deputy chief of mission at the Us Embassy in London, Gareth Harper, PPI-NI Managing Director, Rachel McDonnell, Study USA Alumni Association, Ryan Murphy,Study USA Alumni Association.

In the evening, PPI-NI Chairman Trevor Ringland and Managing Director Gareth Harper got suited and booted to attend the Study USA 20th Anniversary Dinner.  The Study USA alumni team has chosen PPI-NI as its partner charity for 2014/15. The event held at Titanic Belfast, was attended by over 200 guests including Dr. Stephen Farry (MLA, Minister for Employment and Learning) and representatives from the US Consulate, British Council, stakeholders from US and NI colleges, programme alumni and this year’s Study USA graduating class. PPI-NI coaches were on hand to support fundraising efforts as they ran the “Hoops in the Hall” basketball challenge. Tuxedos, evening gowns and heels didn’t interfere too much with the competitors’ jump shots..! The prizes all had an American theme and the main raffle prize of the night was a pair of round trip tickets to London to see the NFL at Wembley, which was sponsored by Oasis Travel in Lisburn. Prizes for the basketball competition run by PPI-NI were donated by PRM Group Lisburn, Belfast Harley Davidson and local restaurants, Tony Romas, Spurs, Nandos and Boojum. PPI-NI would like to thank all contributors for their kind donations.

As a result of fundraising, the Study USA alumni were able to present PPI-NI with a cheque for £1050. PPI-NI would like to thank the Study USA Alumni Association, in the first instance for selecting PPI-NI as the Association’s charity of choice for 2014/15, for their fundraising efforts to date, and for inviting us to be a part of the 20th Anniversary Dinner celebrations.

Congratulations to the Study USA alumni on an excellent event.

Meet PPI-CY’s New Coordinator, Sureyya!

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 2:32am

Meet PeacePlayers International Cyprus’s new Turkish-Cypriot Coordinator, Sureyya Deger

This week we interviewed PeacePlayer International Cyprus’s new Turkish-Cypriot Coordinator, Sureyya Deger! She joined the team last week and has already become an integral part of the team. Below she answers some questions about her first week in the office and a little bit of background about herself. 

What drew you to PeacePlayers?

Well, at one point in your life you stop and look at what you are doing. I realized that I wasn’t at the right place, and I was seeking something more. I was looking for a new career in CSOs, as I have been a civil society and peace activist for more than 10 years now. Anyway, I was looking for a job and now I am doing what I believe in and serving for peace.

What was your first week like in this new work environment?

I was trying to understand everything, like who is responsible for what. When you apply for a job, you just

Coach Steph with PeacePlayers International-Cyprus participants.

have a general idea of the organization, as I had for PeacePlayers. I was trying to fit in and find myself in the organization, luckily the atmosphere and the team members really helped me feel at home. I am glad to be part of such a dedicated team.

What is your vision for PeacePlayers as you begin your position as Turkish-Cypriot Coordinator?

I hope that my position will affect the organization in a lot of ways. I will try to bring my effectiveness and connections to PeacePlayers, but I also hope that I will help with the coordination with the Turkish-Cypriot community.

Sureyya and her lovely son!

What is your favorite part of PPI-Cyprus so far?

Hmmm… To be honest, the family and work friendly environment. I dislike a work place when you have no “work”and you just sit there and wait for the end of the day. Mostly, I am very productive during the nights when I am comfortable, and my son is asleep. PeacePlayers gives me that flexibility. I really don’t know how, but I can sit there and work for hours without noticing the time. I am so glad that PeacePlayers has this atmosphere and flexibility.

Palestinian and Israelis Take the U.S. by Storm

Thu, 10/23/2014 - 1:53pm

National Security Adviser Susan Rice shows our kids that she’s got game at the White House

PPI – Middle East’s 24 Palestinian and Israeli youth leaders have just returned from their action-packed two weeks in the United States. We are excited to have our players back and to be able to share some of their highlights from the trip.

The goal of the trip was to broaden the participants’ view of the American culture, provide them the opportunities to improve their basketball skills and leadership capacity, and give them the chance to share what they have learned with the rest of us at PPI. The young leaders were afforded the chance to speak to community leaders, sports executives, and politicians. Throughout their trip – whether kicking back on a farm or playing basketball at the White House with National Security Adviser Susan Rice, the young leaders inspired the people they met.

On their visit to the States, the youth got first-hand experiences with American culture and also

Mussa takes a swing at the plate while volunteering with the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy

showcased the importance of sports in America. “People love playing sports of any kind,” said Mussa, a member of PPI since 2008. One of the sports that Mussa is talking about is baseball. During the trip, the youth had their first  experience with baseball, a classic American pastime that is largely unknown in the Middle East, as they volunteered with the National Youth Baseball Academy.

While they experienced many American trends and traditions, Neta, a member of PPI since 2010, noticed the similarities both cultures shared. “We are not that different culturally.” Yet, for her and many others on the trip they noticed how their environments at home impacts their life. “We have different issues and problems in our daily lives because of the conflict,” says Neta.

Traveling sometimes puts things into prospective for us. This definitely happened on the exchange. The young leaders realized how special and rare their work is with PPI. Going to the White House to met Susan Rice as she hosted them for a basketball game showed them the value of their work. “It was an experience of a lifetime to meet such an important person. Most Americans don’t get to play basketball at the White House,” says Mussa.

Another highlight of the trip, youth got to go to a Brooklyn Nets pre-season game and meet center Brook Lopez.

Even though, for Neta, participating in PPI is a normal part of her schedule, going to the White House, meeting politicians and community leaders helped her understand how big and important her role is in PPI. Susan Rice was impressed and inspired by the young leaders’ involvement with PPI. Witnessing the close friendships and teamwork on the court highlighted the similarities of hopes and aspirations of young people across the globe. Seeing the PPI members on the basketball court demonstrated “that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is possible, and within reach.”

Thank you to SportsUnited of the United Department of State, Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, for making this once-in-a-lifetime experience possible.

It was all about Hoops and Suits as PPI-NI attended the Study USA 20th Anniversary Gala Dinner and the One Young World Summit!

Wed, 10/22/2014 - 4:22pm

Joe Smith and Laura Agnew coordinating the fund raising raffle at the Study USA 20th Anniversary Dinner!

Last Friday morning, PPI-NI Business Development Officer Keith Mitchel along with PPI-NI assistant project coordinators Laura Agnew, and Ryan Stewart, hot-tailed it to Dublin to facilitate a break out session at the One Young World Summit. The annual event held at Emerald Isle, attracted over 1,400 people from ages 18-30 from 190 countries. At this event delegates heard from a wide range of leaders from around the world. PPI-NI helped to deliver a breakout session entitled “The Sporting Life – Breaking Down Barriers”, which took place at Na Fianna GAA Club in North Dublin. The team showcased PPI-NI’s community relations through sport curricula to a large group of summit delegates. A “fourth half” session facilitated by PPI-NI was complimented by sports instruction (hurling and soccer) provided by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and the Football Association of Ireland (FAI). Keith, Ryan and Laura did a great job in encouraging delegates to explore stereotypes and prejudice through a sporting lens by engaging them in our “Not On My Team” exercise.

From the left: Michael Morrow, chairman of the Alumni Association, Trevor Ringland, chairman of PPI-NI Board, Gregory Burton, US Consulate, Elizabeth Dibble, Deputy chief of mission at the Us Embassy in London, Gareth Harper, PPI-NI Managing Director, Rachel McDonnell, Study USA Alumni Association, Ryan Murphy,Study USA Alumni Association.

In the evening, PPI-NI Chairman Trevor Ringland and Managing Director Gareth Harper got suited and booted to attend the Study USA 20th Anniversary Dinner.  The Study USA alumni team has chosen PPI-NI as its partner charity for 2014/15. The event held at Titanic Belfast, was attended by over 200 guests including Dr. Stephen Farry (MLA, Minister for Employment and Learning) and representatives from the US Consulate, British Council, stakeholders from US and NI colleges, programme alumni and this year’s Study USA graduating class. PPI-NI coaches were on hand to support fundraising efforts as they ran the “Hoops in the Hall” basketball challenge. Tuxedos, evening gowns and heels didn’t interfere too much with the competitors’ jump shots..! The prizes all had an American theme and the main raffle prize on the night was a pair of round trip tickets to London to see the NFL at Wembley, which was sponsored by Oasis Travel in Lisburn. Prizes for the basketball competition run by PPI-NI were donated by PRM Group Lisburn, Belfast Harley Davidson and local restaurants, Tony Romas, Spurs, Nandos and Boojum. PPI-NI would like to thank all contributors for their kind donations.

As a result of fundraising on the night the Study USA alumni were able to present PPI-NI with a cheque for £1050. PPI-NI would like to thank the Study USA Alumni Association, in the first instance for selecting PPI-NI as the Association’s charity of choice for 2014/15, for their fundraising efforts to date, and for inviting us to be a part of the 20th Anniversary Dinner celebrations.

Congratulations to the Study USA alumni on an excellent event.






Different Colors

Tue, 10/21/2014 - 2:22pm

Bryan and Candace getting ready to dig into the must eat meal for any visitor to Durban, the Bunny Chow.

In today’s blog, International Fellow Bryan Franklin reflects on a visit from his girlfriend, Candace. Candace got to experience how PeacePlayers work first hand by attending a LDP practice in Wentworth and an LDP all girls extravaganza over the weekend.

“You two can’t date!”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Because you’re different colors!”

Those words hit me like a fire truck. Candace and I met in New Jersey, where she still currently lives, but she is originally from a small little Island in the Caribbean called St. Christopher or St. Kitts. Throughout her visit she was consistently asked if she was or assumed to be Zulu.

Like any good girlfriend, Candace was adamant on not only vacationing while down here, but also getting a better idea of what I do on a daily basis. Thus, she attended a practice with myself and Coach Yamkela (Yam) last week in the township of Wentworth. Wentworth is one of two colored townships in the Durban area, and is known for its high crime rates and violence.

Candace not only attended a practice, but also participated in the all girls LDP Extravaganza, and can be seen here far left during the girls campus tour of Howard College

Yam coaches both the Assegai Primary School team and the Wentworth Community high school teams. So while this was officially a high school practice, many of the primary school kids stayed after school to watch the high school kids in action. It was a primary student that just recently entered our programme, who Candace found herself having a conversation with during practice.

It wasn’t until afterwards, when practice was over and we were getting ready to leave, that our primary student noticed that Candace was my girlfriend. She wasted no time in addressing the situation.

You two can’t date!”

Why is that?” I asked.

“Because you’re different colors!”

And then before I could even say anything, a response that had more meaning than anything I could have ever said.

“You don’t date someone based on their color. You date someone based on their personality”

A second primary student entered the picture and came to my rescue. Unlike her friend, who she had actually invited to join the programme, she had been with PeacePlayers for a few months. She traveled to play games against primary schools from the communities of Umlazi, Lamontville, Durban City and Waterloo. She had memorized the PeacePlayers Pledge, and performed it multiple times with those who were different colors.

 I will play hard;

 I will play fair;

 I will trust in my teammates and coaches and;

 I will respect my opponents;

 Because we are PeacePlayers;

 And for the Love of the Game we play!

 South Africa is still an incredibly young democracy. It’s a country where for many years, those who were “different colors” were taught to despise one another. That’s an attitude that still hangs over the country, but there is still  hope. Organizations like PeacePlayers who are working tirelessly to bridge divides, change perceptions and develop leaders, creates hope in this country. There is also hope in our coaches who aren’t using the past as an excuse and who are on the front lines working to break down racial barriers. Most importantly, there’s hope in our primary school participants who are learning on a weekly basis that we are all people first, and anything and everything else second.

How Will You Spread Peace?

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 9:43am

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2014 was awarded to two campaigners for children’s rights, Kailash Satyarthi of India and Malala Yousafzay of Pakistan.Credit N. Elmehed, Nobel Media 2014

I hear a lot of people say that peace is a great idea, but an impossible one. I believe that world peace is extremely feasible. However, to achieve this, it will take hard work, flexibility, and a great deal of open-mindedness. I personally see peace as a celebration of our co-existence, a necessity in our collective struggle to survive and flourish, and an acknowledgement of our inter-connections and mutual needs. The Peace Players International mission is to unite, educate, and inspire young people in divided communities through basketball, and is doing just that all over the world. The organization has  more than 65,000 participants and has trained more than 1,100 youth leaders. Today, however, we want to congratulate two individuals who are doing their part to promote peace in the world. They are Nobel Peace Prize 2014 awardees Kailash Satyarthi of India and Malala Yousafzay of Pakistan.

On Oct. 9, 2012, Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman as she

Ms. Yousafzai in Birmingham, England, Sept. 2013.

returned from school. She had been campaigning for girls education in Pakistan’s Swat valley. Two years later, Ms. Yousafzai became the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described her as “a brave and gentle advocate of peace who through the simple act of going to school became a global teacher.”


Kailash Satyarthi at his office in New Delhi.

The life and work of Mr. Kailash Satyarthi is synonymous to the never-ending crusade against child slavery. While teaching as a professor in a college in Bhopal, Mr. Satyarthi decided to work more actively for social change. Along with a set of friends, he founded Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) in 1980. BBA (Save the Childhood Movement in English) symbolizes the struggle against child labor and child servitude. The organization is also the initiator of the first regional South Asian people’s movement, and the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude (SACCS), a conglomeration of more than 750 civil society organizations. It was nearly 30 years ago that he left a promising career as an electrical engineer to set up Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save Childhood Movement) and since then, by his own count, he has rescued more than 80,000 children.

Napoleon Boneparte once noted that “those who have changed the universe have never done it by changing officials, but always by inspiring the people.” Peace Players International is currently inspiring youths to live in peace through their many programs worldwide.

Finding What Motivates You in Life

Mon, 10/13/2014 - 12:24pm

PPI’s Intern, Desiree Snyder biking through Alaska.

PPI’s Development and Communications Intern, Desiree Snyder shares her remarkable experience of meeting with some of PPI-ME’s Leadership Development Program participants.

Have you ever really taken a step back and thought about what really drives you? Is it your family, the sport you play, or maybe even a small thing like fashion? Whatever it is, we all have that little thing that makes us feel like we’re living.

For me, traveling the world has always made me feel complete. There is no better feeling than getting lost in a new place. Now I am not talking about the lost where you are in a scary place and don’t know what direction to turn, but the misplaced feeling where you can really soak up everything around you. I have always felt the people you meet in those far away places are the true memories you keep close to your heart. Venturing so far away will not only teach you so much about yourself, but it can give you a glance into other people’s lives.

When I was on my way to meet with PeacePlayers International- Middle East Leadership Development Program

PPI-ME’s LDP members practicing baseball drills at the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy

members for the first time, I was so excited. I didn’t know what to expect and was gifted one of the best opportunities that I have experienced in a long time. These young leaders were some of the most amazing people I have ever come in contact with. They traveled from a place half way across the world that deals with conflict on a day-to-day basis and you wouldn’t even know it. They approach everyone with so much joy and get so excited about basketball; it is truly amazing to see them interact with so many different people.

When you see how driven these participants have become, you really understand why a program like PeacePlayers is so important in this world today. Everyone who has a hand in the program is so driven by impacting lives and is very passionate about what they do. I am sure  PPI-ME’s cultural exchange will have a large impact on the participants lives, but it will most definitely have a larger impact on all the lives they will come in contact with.

How PeacePlayers Became an Important Part of My Life!

Fri, 10/10/2014 - 10:19am

Nursu with former WNBA player, Evan Unrau, at the 2014 PeacePlayers Summer Camp.

Hello to everybody who is reading this post. Before I start, I just want to introduce myself as PPI-CY Lead4Peace member Nursu, I am a Turkish-Cypriot who’s dream is to play professional basketball. My friends always call me fox because they think I am skinny and crafty. I’m 15 years old and have been playing basketball for about 10 years. I joined PeacePlayers-Cyprus when I was 13 and I am still participating in the program.

Nursu playing basketball.

PeacePlayers is a very important part of my life because it makes me happy when I play basketball. I also enjoy meeting new friends from both communities. I first wanted to join when coaches from PeacePlayers came to our school and presented a taster-session of basketball to us. I was really excited to be a part of this event because I felt it could be very beneficial for me and I was right.

At first, I didn’t know that it was a bi-communal organization. When I

Nursu (in the middle) with her long-time PPI friends

attended the first event I was surprised that there were a lot of people from both communities. We were all aiming to be professional basketball players. All of the participants were really nice and friendly.

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 generations. The best thing about PeacePlayers is taking part in basketball activities with my Greek-Cypriot friends. Today, I am really happy to be a PeacePlayer International-Cyprus participant and  just as Thomas Jefferson said, “Difference of opinion was never, with me, a motive of separation from a friend.”

PPI-NI Introduces New International Fellow Joe Smith!

Thu, 10/09/2014 - 5:10pm

While at St. Mary’s, the Seahawks won 3 conference championships and made 3 appearances in the Division III NCAA Tournament.

For the second time in three months PPI-NI is welcoming a new International Fellow to the team. Joe Smith, who originally hails from College Park, MD, replaces Megan Lynch who returned back to the States in July. Joe brings a wealth of coaching experience as well as a passion for working with young people. In this week’s blog we get to know Joe!

Name: Joe Smith

From: College Park, Maryland

College: St. Mary’s College of Maryland

Basketball Achievements/Accomplishments:

Co-Captain of back-to-back Capital Athletic Champions St. Mary’s Seahawks

Overall coaching record of 35-6 in 2 years coaching freshman and JV basketball teams at DeMatha Catholic High School

Favorite Basketball memory/experience?

My favorite experience as a player was winning our conference championship my freshman year and gaining a bid into the NCAA Tournament. We were one of the last teams to make it in and were able to knock off  Guilford College in the competition.

As a coach, my favorite experience came during one of my practice sessions at DeMatha High School. Before practice began, I usually gave my team a quote to think about. At the end, I would ask one of the guys if they remembered that quote, with the possibility of there being less running should they get it correct. During a practice session, a group of my players turned the screws on me and had given me a quote at the beginning of practice.  After practice ended they asked me to repeat it, or I would have to run an extra separator. Even though it was small, this interaction gave me great joy and reminded me of what I loved about coaching.

 Favorite Basketball player:

Steve Nash

Who is one of your role models and why?

I have been very fortunate to grow up in a loving household that taught me how to lead a good life and be myself.

Joe with his family at St. Bernadette’s Parish in Silver Spring, MD


I am the oldest of six children, with two sets of twins, and an eight year old. My mom and dad have dedicated their lives to the service of others through Catholic Education. My brother Sean (23) is in the process of attaining his Masters Degree in Social Work from the University of Maryland. His twin Maria (23) has completed her Masters Degree in Social Work from the University of Maryland and is currently working for Catholic Charities in Washington D.C. Maria was also an MLK scholar at St. Louis University. Nathan (20) currently attends Elon University and is majoring in Journalism. He has been featured on three websites and is in the process of co-founding another. Matthew (20) attends Holy Cross University and is currently studying abroad in El Salvador where he has continued the Jesuit tradition of “Men for Others.” Daniel (8) is in 3rd grade at St. Bernadette’s in Silver Spring, MD and has just started participating in club soccer.

I feel that the best way to introduce myself is to introduce my family. They are who I look to for inspiration and guidance. Clearly with this crew, I am just trying to keep up.

Favorite Book?

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson

What interested you about this position?

Throughout my coaching career I have always felt that you can teach so much with just a game of basketball. PeacePlayers gives you the opportunity to ignite change with a sport that I am passionate about. In Northern Ireland, basketball is not nearly as popular as soccer and rugby. There is the potential to help grow the game of basketball here and that is something I want to be a part of.

What are you most looking forward to over your time in NI?

Getting to work with the young people here and helping to create peace in a society that was impacted significantly by conflict.

Favorite inspirational quote?

 “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”

-Jackie Robinson

Changes of Perception: From Then to Now

Thu, 10/09/2014 - 1:04pm

PPI’s Israeli and Palestinian youth basketball coaches at the Capitol Reflecting Pool.

PPI-ME International Fellow Heba El-Hendi share stories from some current participants’ about first joining PPI-ME.

As I am writing this, 24 young leaders are in the United States changing perceptions by sharing their narratives and experiences as PPI-ME members. During the next two weeks, the youth will be participating in a cultural exchange funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

As a new member, I’m fascinated by all of the unique experiences each PPI-ME basketball player brings to the table.  Learning about all their backgrounds and narratives helps me articulate to others the importance of PPI-ME. People I meet always ask me what brings me to the region. I love being asked this question because it gives me the chance to share the stories of the youth and shed some light on the importance of PPI’s work. Amidst the negativity portrayed by the media and general unknown knowledge, it’s great to inform people of the positive work PeacePlayers does.

I of course, get a plethora of responses after I give the background introduction of PPI-ME. So far, most people want to understand what the reactions are of the surrounding communities when the youth become associated with PPI-ME. The answer to that question varies depending on the different stories and communities of the players. Joining PeacePlayers is not easy for some, but for others it’s nothing out of the norm. There is, of course, a spectrum of reactions from the community when their members join PeacePlayers. Here are some of the responses that resonated with me.

One of our participants hosting a BBQ at her home

For our first highlight, we have an 18-year-old Israeli Jew from Jerusalem who joined PeacePlayers years ago and had experience being out of her comfort zone. She was nervous to interact with the players coming from the Palestinian-Arab side. Her family, too were worried and apprehensive about her joining and participating. Yet, through her commitment with PeacePlayers, she has both impacted her family and her community. Just a few months ago, she and her family hosted a large get together at her home and invited both Palestinians and Jews from PeacePlayers to the gathering. A collective gathering like this in one’s home is something almost unheard of in this region.

Our next story is of a 20-year-old Palestinian from Jerusalem who has been with PeacePlayers for nine years. She had to confront two norms associated with PeacePlayers: playing with Jews and playing sports. In her community, girls’ participation in sports is very uncommon and often received with push back. Now she is one of the front-runners for women playing sports and a certified coach.

Next, we have a participant who joined PeacePlayers four years ago. A 17-year-old Israeli Jew who received a lot of negativity from her classmates. At first, she did not know the best way to respond to the remarks. After being with PeacePlayers for some time, she now feels comfortable addressing the prejudices and questions she receives from her classmates. More of her classmates are now more open to the idea of her being with a coexistence program.

Young leaders sharing their communities’ reactions to them joining PPI

Our last highlight comes from a 19 year old Palestinian from Jerusalem who joined PeacePlayers and also felt the push back from his community and his classmates. His intermediate family supported his decision, but his community made remarks about him playing with Jews. This did not deter him from continuing his participation with PPI. He has been a part of PeacePlayers for nine years now.

This shows all members have their own experiences, yet PeacePlayers embraces all who come from different backgrounds.

From Practice to Games; From Basketball to Life

Tue, 10/07/2014 - 10:02am

PPI-SA participants working and playing together

“Today’s blog was written by PPI-SA International Fellow Bryan Franklin and was originally posted on the Fast Break Blog website on October 2, 2014.”

Have you ever tried to teach basketball to someone who has never played the game before? A challenge, no matter where you are, to be sure, but it’s one that’s made a little easier if you’re in the States, where even those who completely despise sports are bound to have seen a game on TV at some point. What about a country where there has been no professional basketball up until eight months ago, in a community where most residents wouldn’t have the resources to watch a game on TV anyways?

That’s the challenge I found myself thrown in to as I began my two year fellowship with PeacePlayers International (PPI) in Durban, South Africa. PeacePlayers is a sport for development organization that uses the game of basketball to change perceptions, bridge divides and develop leaders. It was founded in 2001 under the premise that children who play together can learn to live together. We have four different locations around the world including: Northern Ireland, Greece, The Middle East and South Africa.

Now to clarify, it’s not like I was thrown into the jungle with a basketball to work with a bunch of kids who had never played or heard of the game before. The sport is certainly on the rise across South Africa, especially with the recent launch of the professional league (The Basketball National League). Unlike in the States however, where if you get your hands on a ball, chances are it won’t be too hard to find somewhere to play, the resources and facilities aren’t in place here in South Africa. In fact I wrote a blog for PPI earlier in the year about the need for a playground basketball culture for this exact reason. Many of the kids have never played or at the very least have never received coaching in the sport before joining our Primary School Program.

So here I was, a 25 year old, who has been dribbling a basketball for nearly as many years as I’d been alive, feeling completely inadequate to teach others how to do so. It took coming to the realization that I was going to have to throw out nearly every skill I had learned throughout my 20 years of basketball, and re-learn the game all over again.

Whether we realize it or not, the more we do something, the more natural it becomes. So for me, dribbling a basketball is second nature. It has become so natural that I don’t have to consciously think about it (until perhaps you put a good defender on me who is forcing me left in a full court press, but hey, that’s why we have point guards right?). It’s the same thing when shooting a lay up. In fact, my primary school kids are more likely to correctly tell you the sequence of footwork for a right handed lay up (right, left, jump, shoot) than me, because the sequence is so programmed into my brain that zero thought goes into it. I remember back to my high school playing days where I actually had to learn to “just play,” or shut my brain off in a sense, and just let the sub-conscious and my reactions take over. It was this realization and challenge that piqued my interest in how the brain works, especially in the subject of sports.

As the years have gone on, and the sports psychology field has grown, so has the interest in athlete’s brain activity. Players like Lebron James, Peyton Manning and Lionel Messi are lauded not only for their athletic prowess, but for their ability to understand the game and to think one, two or even three plays ahead of other peak performance athletes.

Neymar, the Brazillian soccer star, was the subject in a most recent study. After studying him, and a few of his Barcelona teammates, researchers found that Neymar’s brain activity is less than 10 percent of that of an amateur player.

“Reduced brain activity means less burden which allows (the player) to perform many complex movements at once.”- Eiichi Naito, a neurologist from Japan’s National Institute of Information and Communication Technology.

So most likely, if you were to put Lebron James, myself and one of our primary school participants through a range of basketball drills, our corresponding brain activity would range from nearly zero to off the charts. This is where the idea of practice was founded—to see if a player can train and discipline the body enough, that come game time, he or she won’t have to think about how to dribble that basketball or shoot that lay up. More importantly, you’ll have the confidence and the belief in yourself to do so. These lessons of discipline, self-confidence and hard work are ones that we teach here everyday at PPI, because when it comes down to it, these lessons go way beyond sports. They’re lessons that will help you whether you’re in the boardroom or the classroom, whether you are a banker on Wall Street or a primary school student in Durban, South Africa. These are lessons in the game of life.

PPI Attends the Forever Young Foundation’s Nonprofit Institute Training

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 12:30pm

Today’s blog is written by PPI’s Director of Finance, Human Resource and Administration, Taylor Brown. Taylor was granted the opportunity to attend a 3 day workshop that focused on setting up a successful future for nonprofit organizations.

Last month, the Forever Young Foundation (NFL’s 2-time MVP and Hall of Fame Quarterback Steve Young’s Family Foundation), in partnership with the Arbinger Institute and the City of West Jordan, Utah, put on a Nonprofit Institute Training, which focused on implementing the Arbinger Institute’s philosophies and methodologies in a nonprofit setting.

Michael Merchant, an Arbinger Consultant and the Executive Director of the Anasazi Foundation (the organization for which Arbinger’s novel “Anatomy of Peace” was based off of), facilitated the training. Training attendees included Taylor Rippy (the Conflict Consultant for the Arbinger Institute), the head of the police department, fire department and public works department of West Jordan Utah, social venture capitalists, nonprofit consultants, and nonprofit leaders who run programs all over the globe.

The first two days of the workshop focused on three main questions pertaining to the topic of self-deception: 1.) How am I a problem for others? 2.) How can I be more helpful to others? and 3.) How can I help things go right? The latter two days of the workshop focused on Revolutionizing Organizational Performance using the Arbinger’s principles/topics which concentrate on teamwork, collaboration, aligning individual along with team goals, and measuring performances.

PPI looks forward to applying these lessons throughout the organization over the coming months, and would like to thank everyone that attended the workshop for their participation and contributions! The group will have monthly calls moving forward to help hold each other accountable for their implementations while sharing thoughts, ideas, and lessons learned when putting things into effect.

Finally, a huge thank you to Michael for his incredible facilitation skills and sharing information that will be valuable for all of us working in the nonprofit sector, both in our personal and professional lives.


Be the Change You Want to See!

Fri, 10/03/2014 - 11:26am

Meet PeacePlayers International Northern Ireland Champions4Peace participant Lauren Bracken!

PPI-NI International Fellow Nasiphi Khafu from South Africa interviews Lauren Bracken and asks her what International Peace Day means to her.

Lauren is a graduate of PPI-NI’s Cross Community League and is now an active participant in PPI-NI’s Champions4Peace programme. Lauren has also just started working with PeacePlayers as a coach in training who’s supporting PPI-NI’s work with younger participants.

NK: Lauren, tell me a little bit about yourself.

“My name is Lauren Bracken, I am a student at Workforce Training Centre and I study childcare. I started my

Lauren (in red tights) participating in 2010 spring jam.

involvement with PeacePlayers International- Northern Ireland 8 years ago, when I was 11 years old.

NK: Lauren why did you want to get involved with PeacePlayers?

I chose to be part of PeacePlayers because I looked up to the people who coached me when I was younger and always thought it would be fun to be a PeacePlayers coach one day. PeacePlayers has thought me that everyone is equal regardless of their differences and I’ve become more open minded to those around me.

NK: What does international Peace Day mean to you?

PPI-NI Coaches and Champions4Peace participants forming body shapes to commemorate “Peace Day”

International Peace Day to me means a day for everyone to put aside their differences and get along with one another. To contribute to peace in Northern Ireland, I joined PeacePlayers in order to give back and promote the organization in my community.  I would love to see more organizations in Northern Ireland creating more peace by bringing Protestants and Catholics together just like PeacePlayers.

International Day of Peace is annually celebrated around the world on the 21st of September and marked its 30th anniversary this year. The theme of this year’s Day of Peace was the “Right of Peoples to Peace”. In recognition of International Day of Peace this past weekend served as part of PPI-NI’s ongoing coaches training programme, where we played one of our favorite games at PeacePlayers – “Body Shapes”. After having spent some time with our coaches going over our curricula for the year and making sure they are ready for the Twinning and Belfast Interface League (BIL) Programmes, we felt inspired to create some human art. We made a “basketball” and a “peace sign” with our bodies.

We were delighted and privileged to be joined by some Junior Champions4Peace (C4P). The training as well as the

Participants having fun while creating signs with their bodies.

celebration of the International Day of Peace provided us with an opportunity to show them what they can become while allowing them to be inspired by our senior C4P’s and coaches like Lauren. The senior coaches really enjoyed having these future leaders around. They were more than willing to share with them their experiences at PeacePlayers and to show them how things are done.

Hearing everything that Lauren had to say has reminded me of my three heroes; Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi. Each of these inspirational leaders contributed and dedicated their lives to peace building. There is so much being done by various organizations to build peace in Northern Ireland, and after my first few short months here, I can already sense that there is definitively hope for a more peaceful future for Northern Ireland. I am convinced the young people that we work with will have an important contribution to making this place even better.

Lauren along with her friends, peers, and colleagues at PeacePlayers are doing what Mahatma Gandhi said; “To be the change you want to see in the world”.

Meet our new coach Lauren!

Recruiting Future Leaders

Thu, 10/02/2014 - 9:38am

Coach Meriam leading a drill for the new participants.

Before the League games and Twinning program begin, PeacePlayers Middle East devotes their time to expanding its community by recruiting new participants. This September, we visited multiple Jewish and Palestinian communities in the Jerusalem area in attempts to recruit youth into the PPI family!

Whether it was the Kiryat Anavim school, Ein Rafa school, or Keshet School, the young kids that were coming out to play were very thrilled and very engaged in the activities. At each school recruitment trip, the PeacePlayers staff started out by introducing themselves, sharing a little bit about what PPI – ME is all about, and invited the youth to come play basketball during their break.

During the break, the staff ran typical practice drills including knock out, touch down, and layup games. Duha, a current coach and a graduate of the Leadership Development Program, said “Most of the students that come out really enjoy the activities. We love and enjoy coaching them.”

Group Huddle: We Are….PeacePlayers!

This year PeacePlayers began its typical recruiting schedule after the region went through a very difficult time. This made the continuation of the coexistent work done at PeacePlayers even more important. Instead of teaching to fear the unknown, PeacePlayers is granting youth the opportunity to have real face-to-face experiences with members from the “other side” through basketball.

Duha was pleasantly surprised to see all of the kids coming out and playing, especially because of last summer’s events. “ The kids were curious to know what we will be doing during this year,” said Duha. For many of the youth joining PeacePlayers, this will be their first meaningful experience with youth from the other side of the conflict. PeacePlayers-Middle East aims to bridge two divided communities, Palestinian and Israeli, in hopes of changing perceptions, building leaders, and breaking down the walls of fear and hatred.

How Will You Prepare for This Upcoming Season?

Wed, 10/01/2014 - 10:43am

Coach Ryan training our youngest future leaders.

International Fellow, Ryan Hage, gives us an update on the PeacePlayers-Cyprus team as of October 1st and shares his excitement fort the upcoming 2014-2015 season. 

Summer is officially over and there are a lot of mixed emotions among all of our current players and coaches. Of

First practice of the year at English School of Kyrenia

course, no one wants to see the great summer weather end, but that bad feeling is immediately replaced with a sense of excitement for the upcoming season! Some of the teams have already begun practicing for upcoming games, while others will start training next week.

Coaches have already met to go over last year’s programs. We always want to observe what worked well for us last season and what improvements we can make to the program for the new upcoming season. These amazing coaches are the reason we have such a successful program year in, year out, and we are extremely lucky to have them.

Our newest intern, Rebecca, hard at work!

In other news, we had a new intern join us this week, Rebecca Clay! Rebecca comes all the way from Norway and is a part of our Lead4Peace program that started back in March with our friends from the Norwegian Nesodden Basketball Club. She had a break from school and chose to spend her time with her new Cypriot friends. She also has been volunteering her time during the day in the PeacePlayers International- Cyprus office helping out in any way possible. Thanks for your help Rebecca!

Rebecca is a great example of what PeacePlayers is all about, making friendships with people from different cultures that speak different languages. It truly shows that basketball is a language that everyone in the world speaks fluently.

From the Court’s of South Africa to the Island of Cuba

Tue, 09/30/2014 - 1:23pm

Anele currently located in Cuba to study medicine.

In 2007, a youthful Anele Nyadi joined PPI-South Africa’s programme. Since then she hasn’t looked back. Although she’s traded in the basketball for a stethoscope, and the concrete courts of South Africa for Cuba, she still looks back at the lessons she gained from PPI. Here’s a short memoir from Anele Nyadi describing her time with PPI and the influence it had on her.

I became a part of PeacePlayers International in 2007 when I was in the 6th grade at Tobi. At the time the program was called Playing for Peace (PFP) and I played for the Leadership Development Program until 2010. I remember my first game with the team like it was yesterday. I was in the 7th grade and my sister’s team was short on girls. We ended up playing against the Umlazi team and it wasn’t a walk in the park. At that point, my friends Andile, Mancane, and Sbahle made me fall in love with the game of basketball. Go team Tiger!

Anele back in 2009 with team Tiger after a LDP life skills session.

This program groomed me into being a responsible, innovative, respectful, and humble girl. It also had a very positive effect on the way I think about myself. It taught me to love and value myself. The life skill lessons we interacted with every week taught me how to be a good person, care for others, become a leader, and share my knowledge with others. The coaches we had dedicated themselves to what they were doing and this wasn’t just a job to them. They weren’t only our coaches, but they were also our friends, uncles, and fathers. They loved us even though we were a lot of trouble sometimes. This alone taught me not to just do things because I have the ability to, but I need to have a love and passion for everything I do.

I am currently in Cuba practicing medicine. I love what I am doing even though it gets tough from time to time (Kuhlehla Ufudu), but the passion I have for my career is what gets me through those tough times. Most of the instructions are in Spanish, which is not a simple language at all, but I manage to pass every time. I’m at a stage where I know Africa needs me and putting on this white lab coat every morning brings me hope that in due time I will be there for Africa. Nothing brings me more joy than that.

What PPI-CY Continues to Teach Me

Sat, 09/27/2014 - 2:50pm

Lead4Peace Participant, Helen Partakki, representing PPI-CY at a NGO fair in Nicosia

Today’s blog is written by Helen Partakki, one of PPI-Cyprus’ Lead 4 Peace participants. Helen, a Greek-Cypriot from Nicosia, has been with PeacePlayers for over 4 years and has become a great mentor and role model for younger participants of the program

Hello ladies and gents who have just started to read this blog post and let me just say this is my first blog post ever! Isn’t this awesome?  Oh well, before I get into why I am part of all this and my story, I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Eleni Partakki, but people do tend to call me Helen. I am a 15 year old gal in the island of Cyprus with a love for basketball, reading, and volunteering. I’ve been called social junkie by day and book junkie by night. Throughout my life I genuinely loved learning about people and different cultures. I think life enthusiast describes me best.

Helen (far right) building friendships through PeacePlayers.

I have been attending PPI-CY events since I was 11, but I officially joined last March. I remember sending a Facebook message asking one of the coaches if I could attend. I didn’t really know what I was getting into, considering I heard negative and positive feedback about PPI-CY. I decided what better way to find out than just going to experience it myself? I really do live by the quote, “Don’t believe everything you hear. Real eyes, realize, real lies.”

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 organization. Being a part of that is the most satisfying feeling in the world.

Helen with fellow Lead4Peace Participants traveled to Norway together for an international sport and culture exchange.

Helen Keller once said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”. I participate in PPI-CY because playing basketball together can be such an incredible experience when you start to understand that you are a human being just like the person on the other side of the border. Also, once you take the time to talk to your teammate about their culture, that is when you really start to become great. In that moment you learn to respect every single individual, and for me, that is the best thing PPI-CY has taught me.

People outside the community of the PeacePlayers often ask me what my favorite experience is. Many expect me to include the word basketball in my answer, but sorry, not this time. What I cherish the most are the smiles that are being exchanged amongst the youngest of our kind, who even don’t speak a common language. They are so innocent and haven’t been bombarded with negative information yet.

At the end of the day, when you are all alone left with your thoughts, it is your decision what you really want to believe. Take a leap of faith. Do not let the ideas given to you by others affect the choices and actions you make. If I would have allowed that, I wouldn’t be a participant today.


"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"When you get to know your teammates, it doesn’t really matter what their religion is."
Aoife Doherty, Participant, PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland