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A blog by PeacePlayers International
Updated: 19 min 42 sec ago

What does it take to be a Champion4Peace?

3 hours 30 min ago

Donal Hegarty (front left) and the original PPI-NI Ambassadors group

Who are your champions? Team USA, for winning the FIBA World Cup? Germany, for winning the FIFA World Cup? Maybe even Northern Ireland’s own Carl Frampton, world super-bantamweight champion? At PeacePlayers International-Northern Ireland (PPI-NI) we have our own champions we call Champions4Peace.

A little over two years ago, Joanne and a former International Fellow, Meghan Houlihan, established the “ambassador” programme. The ambassador programme was a steering group, a youth council of sorts, that provided feedback on our current programming. The goal is to develop young leaders that can help bridge divide between Catholics and Protestants in their communities.

Early last year the programme began to evolve and the Champions4Peace (C4P) programme was introduced. We had between 15 and 20 young people, aged 11-18, in the one group. At Summer Jam 2013, Donal Hegarty received the C4P of the Year award for his dedication and participation in meetings.

In the Fall of 2013, we split the group and created Junior C4Ps (11- 14yrs) and Senior C4Ps (15-20yrs). Throughout the ’13-’14 term, we seen the participants from both groups complete leadership training, attend monthly meetings and get away on some fun trips, such as the Clare exchange and watching the Northern Ireland women’s world cup qualifier. At the Summer Jam 2014, Brooklyn O’Hare was crowned C4P of the Year, for her upbeat energy, enthusiasm, and dedication to the programme.

Brooklyn O’Hare winning the C4P of the Year Awards

This year the Junior C4Ps have grown as a group with 20 members from all sides of Belfast City. Our monthly meetings have been focused on arranging fundraisers, training in our three pillars (community relations, basketball and sport4change),  and organizing social gatherings and group discussions on the current issues in Northern Ireland. This group of young people have been working incredibly hard to fundraise for our upcoming Belfast2Brooklyn trip. In just under 3 months, they will have raised a total of £1,100. They have accomplished this by through running a Car Wash4Peace, a Sponsored Onesy Dribble Walk, Shoot Out Sweep, and Pie4Peace Challenge.

Junior C4Ps in Belfast’s Victoria Square during the Sponsored Dribble Walk

This past weekend we had two great sessions with our junior C4Ps, a meeting on Saturday in which we discussed Community Relations, and a social night with the Senior C4Ps on Sunday. On Saturday we had a great conversation about the Peace Walls in Belfast, how they felt about them, what they imagined it would be like without them, and if they wanted them to come down.

On Sunday night, 21 C4Ps both junior and senior gathered in Peace House to watch USA vs Serbia in the FIBA World Cup Final. They shared pizza, conversation, and support for Team USA. The Junior C4Ps continue to form bonds that cannot be replicated in any other programme. These kids have now made friends for life during this programme. Including friends that they would never have had the opportunity to meet if it wasn’t for Junior C4Ps and PeacePlayers. As a group they will continue to fundraise together for the aforementioned Belfast to Brooklyn trip. This trip of a lifetime will see the Junior C4Ps putting what they have learned through the programme into good practice, by running a Game of 3 Halves event for their partner organization and partaking in a cultural exchange.

Both Junior and Senior C4Ps watching the FIBA World Cup Final

 Joanne says that “I admire these kids, everything they do together, the opinions they have formed, the friendships they’ve been willing to have and the leadership qualities that are beginning to show. This is the next generation of PeacePlayers coaches and community leaders. I feel so privileged to be part of this programme and I know that coaches like Michaela Thompson and Ryan Stewart, who have been helping me with the Junior C4P group, certainly feel the same.”

Setting Goals for a Bright Future

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 2:57pm

Nearly 50 LDP participants from five different communities came together last Saturday for a day of basketball and life skills lessons.

The Leadership Development Program at PPI-SA has seen a huge boost in 2o14. The community of Umlazi launched a team in April with Lamontville, Wentworth, and Molweni all following suit, and now the LDP is thriving!

The LDP recruits students grades 8 through 12 (ages 14-18) to receive more in-depth basketball and life skills training, as they learn not only to live healthy lives themselves, but also to serve as leaders within their own families and communities.

Teens experience university, as tour guide and former PPI Coach Sbahle gives them a quick lecture at UKZN Westville.

Over the school holidays, PPI-SA staff laid out a plan to get practices up and running and scheduled games for our LDP teams to play against each other and other local high school teams. In Durban, boys and girls high school basketball seasons run at different times of the year, with girls’ taking place term 3 (August-September) and boys’ term 4 (October-November). So while our female LDP participants remain busy scrimmaging at local high schools this month, this past Saturday PPI brought together its male LDP participants for a “man’s day.” Five teams from the communities of Lamontville, Molweni, Umlazi and Wentworth came together at the University of Kwazulu Natal (UKZN) Westville Campus for a fun-filled day of basketball and life skills lessons.

Each team got the rare treat of playing at the beautiful indoor facility at UKZN Westville (one of four indoor facilities in all of Durban). However, the highlight of the day came after the games, as the teens received a campus tour from former PPI Coach Sbahle Mkhize. Each teen left with a glimpse of what it looks like to attend university, being exposed to different majors such as Sports Science,  Health Science, Engineering and Education. They also had the opportunity to sit in one of UKZN’s many lecture halls and tour residences and the library. The visit made a positive impact on all of the participants; Justin from Lamontville expressed, “It actually made [going to college] seem possible to achieve.”

Justin (left) from Lamontville and Sigethembe from Molweni had never met before today, but the two became fast friends.

After the tour, participants were split up into smaller groups composed of members of all five teams and walked through a “Bridges of Hope” activity. The purpose of this exercise was to encourage setting goals for the future – such as attending university – and thinking through how our present actions contribute to achieving these goals. Another participant, Sigethembe from Molweni, dreams of becoming an engineer; he said the activity was “educating and gave us skills on how to plan ahead and reach our goals.”

As an added bonus, by splitting the teens up into smaller groups across communities, many made new friends along the way, like Sigethembe and Justin. This event was the first of many as PPI-SA continues to further develop and hone its Leadership Development Program in its mission to bridge divides, change perceptions and develop leaders. Check back next week for the results from two of our female LDP scrimmages!

Introducing Heba El-Hendi, PPI – ME’s Newest Fellow

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 12:32pm

Meet Heba, PPI – ME’s newest International Fellow!

Hello PPI community! My name is Heba El-Hendi, and I will be an International Fellow for the Middle East program. I am absolutely thrilled to join the team and commit myself to the mission of PeacePlayers. You will be hearing a lot from me in the coming months, but to start off, here is some background information about myself.

I was born to Palestinian parents in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, where I spent the first eight years of my life. The year 1999 marked extreme change because my family and I immigrated to the United States. Home for me is a topic that is difficult to explain in a quick blurb because I have spent much of my life in different locations. Clinton, Utah, is the place I have lived the longest, and it’s where my immediate family currently lives. However, much of my extended family lives in the Middle East, including in the Acre area of Israel and in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, which is actually where my parents grew up.

I can easily say  the best four years of my life were spent at Emory University in Atlanta where I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology. While at Emory, I connected with people from diverse cultures and backgrounds, which furthered my motivation to travel. I had the opportunity to strike a balance between travel and education by studying abroad in both Morocco and Israel. After I graduated, I continued living abroad, spending a year in Morocco teaching English to university students through a Fulbright fellowship.

Heba (far right) poses with campers at the Seeds of Peace Camp this past summer.

During my time studying abroad in Israel, I learned about PeacePlayers International through a past volunteer and fellow, Jack Randolph. At that time, I would have never guessed that two years later I would have an opportunity to work for PeacePlayers. After my study abroad in Israel, I became even more interested and devoted to peace initiatives. For the past two summers, I have worked with Seeds of Peace as a camp counselor for youth coming from the Middle East and South Asia. Seeds of Peace introduced me to the importance of empowering youth with the skill set and experience to listen to the ‘enemies’’ narrative while engaging in activities to build humanistic connections.

I am looking forward to continuing this line of work with PeacePlayers International – Middle East. I am excited to learn more about the organization while witnessing the power it has in bringing youth together. I’ve always thrived in settings involving interactions with youth, especially through mentorship, and I am enthused to have this opportunity with PeacePlayers. The Middle East has always been a place of interest and a place I have felt connected to. During my time in the Middle East, I hope to connect to the region in a new, meaningful way through my work as a PPI International Fellow.

My Hope: Inspiring Others to Follow Their Dreams

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 1:15pm


Christiana (left) has been a part of PeacePlayers – Cyprus for 3 years and looks forward to one day becoming a coach.

Today’s blog is written by Christiana Miltiadous, one of PPI-Cyprus’ Lead 4 Peace participants. Christiana, a Greek-Cypriot from Nicosia, has been with PeacePlayers for 3 years and has become a great mentor and role model for younger participants of the program

I’ve been with PeacePlayers for 3 years; I’m really blessed and lucky that I joined this organization. I heard about PeacePlayers 3 years ago, when coach Thanasis and Gunnar visited my teams practice and spoke to us and informed us about PeacePlayers. I liked the idea of playing together in peace and trying to unite. I got really excited when I heard about them and I immediately went home and asked my parents if I could join and they said yes. The first time I attended a PeacePlayers event was at the 2012 summer camp.

Christiana (second from right) with WNBA player, Kelly Schumacher, and her Lead 4 Peace teammates at the 2013 PeacePlayers Summer Camp

It was such an amazing experience watching everybody cooperate with each other and play basketball together and be friends. I also really liked that they invited basketball players and coaches from the USA and Israel, to help us improve our basketball skills.

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.

At school they teach us that the Turkish-Cypriots are different from the Greek-Cypriots, but we are in fact all the same, we have the same interests and same passion: basketball. Ever since I joined PeacePlayers, I inform people about the amazing program and its mission.

I believe that PeacePlayers is a great organization, with great people that inspire you to follow your dreams no matter how crazy they sound.

Christiana (right) with Ayse, a Turkish-Cypriot, playing together during a twinning in the UN Buffer Zone

I don’t have a favorite thing about PeacePlayers but the things I liked the most are the twinnings we have, the winter and spring tournaments, the summer camps and the Lead 4 Peace project. Also the amazing experience we had travelling to Norway for 9 days this last June, after the Norwegians visited Cyprus in March.

Because of PeacePlayers I have made new friends from both communities and we hang out together on weekends and during holidays.

I just want to thank my new family with PPI-CY, which gave me these amazing opportunities and experiences. They make me a better person and also a better basketball player and they inspire me to follow my dreams.

I hope to remain with PeacePlayers for a long time and hopefully be a coach in the future and inspire the young people to coexist in peace and follow their dreams.

PPI-NI Achieves Milestone with 32 Twinnings

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 3:00pm

Catholic and Protestant students from Holy Cross Primary School and Wheatfield Primary School play sports together.

For many children around the world this month marks the end of summer and the start of the school year. For most, the act of getting to school is a relatively simple one: walk, bike or get a ride. Not too much to think about.

Thirteen years ago, for the children of Wheatfield Primary School and Holy Cross Primary School in North Belfast it wasn’t that simple. Students walked to school amid a torrent of abuse that no child should have to experience. The extreme nature of the situation caused headlines around the world. Once again Belfast was in the news – for all the wrong reasons.

Students from Holy Cross Primary School and Wheatfield Primary School prepare for the Super Sports Day competition.

While the outside world remembers these events as a scar on the landscape of Northern Ireland’s history, we at PPI-NI remember them for a different reason. These events were the impetus for the very first primary school Twinning. When PPI-NI brought together the Catholic and Protestant students from these two schools for a day of basketball and community relations conversations, we started something that would change this city in a fundamental way.

Through the Twinning program PPI-NI provides schools with an effective way to help bring together children from both sides of the historical political divide. Rather than simply being a diversionary sports programme, schools have access to trained coaches who can also deliver an effective community relations curriculum.

Over the past 13 years PPI-NI has strived to improve the Twinning programme. From ensuring that logistics run smoothly to the selection process for coaches and improving the curriculum, the Twinning programme in NI now runs like a well-oiled machine. From those humble beginnings has come a proven, effective tool to teach children how to manage the conflict that is a part of their lives on a daily basis.

We at PPI-NI are proud to have worked with 32 schools to deliver 16 Twinnings during the past academic year. While 22 of these schools are located in Belfast, we have begun to work with 10 schools located outside of the city in the towns of Ballymena, Bangor and Lurgan. Through all of our programmes PPI-NI worked with around 2400 children last year. Thanks to sound management practices, these 8-week programmes cost on average a mere £100 per participant to deliver.

The integrated team comprised of Protestant and Catholic students from Wheatfield Primary School and Holy Cross Primary School are Super Sports Day champions for 2014!

What about Wheatfield and Holy Cross today? PPI-NI has made a long-term commitment to these schools and has engaged them in Twinnings for each of the past 13 years. In 2007 PPI received an award from ESPN based partially on the work it has done with these two schools. In that same year the schools participated in the Game of Three Halves for the first time, where the children played Gaelic football, rugby and soccer on integrated teams; something unthinkable a decade earlier.

We’d be lying if we said that all of the sectarian problems in Belfast have vanished. Clearly they haven’t. But as we gear up for year 14 its important to note that we have made a difference, our reach is growing and we are determined to help improve life for the people of Northern Ireland.

Two Collingwood Clowns: Jade Shanice and Jordan Holtman

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 7:22am

Jade Shanice and Jordan Holtman doubling up on their triple threat

Both of these superb triple threat stances belong to students of Collingwood Primary – a public school located in the undeserved and predominantly African suburb of Wentworth. PPI-SA is one of the few after school options available to students there. PPI-SA International Fellow Benjamin Constable talks life and basketball with two of Collingwood Primary School’s finest participants: Jade Shanice and Jordan Holtman.

No matter where I’ve coached, I tend to gravitate toward calling kids by one simple term – “clowns.” Sure the first time you lay the term on them, an odd facial expression arises. Probably suggesting something along the lines of:

Did that huge kiwi coach just insult me?

What was so clown-like about jump stops and triple threat?


Did I hear him correctly?

One athlete has even checked her face for face paint the first time she heard it.

However, those confused expressions always turn to smiles when they realize no-one is immune to the nick name. As the expression becomes cliche, eventually absorbed into the athletes identity within the context of the player coach relationship, kids even start calling me the sacred term – “Hi Coach you clown!”

I’d even make the bold suggestion that the term enables the athletes to learn. The learning environment becomes safer as athletes become less afraid to make mistakes. Why? Because, well, everyone’s now a clown, and all clowns do is make mistakes right? If you are going to credit clowns with something, they definitely aren’t afraid to try new things.

I must admit, while preparing to coach at Collingwood Primary School, it had crossed my mind whether this term would be appropriate:

Could clowns exist in circumstances like South African townships?

Would there be anything funny or rapport generating about calling kids who come from such hardships, “clowns”?

Collingwood’s tireless school rep Mark Giles, (know as Mr. Giles by the clowns) working to ensure his students are always safe and engaged after school

Well, like most rhetorical questions posted in this blog, the answer revolves around the same idea – of course, regardless of socioeconomic background, youth both grow and respond to mentor-ship in the same manner. To grow into happy, motivated created human beings it’s imperative that our youth are safely engaged by a diverse range of mentors. Whether it’s a hero like Mark Giles, PPI’s school rep and Collingwood teacher, or just some “clown” from PPI.

So, long story short, there’s a clown in all of us I guess. Here’s a quick conversation with two of my favorite “clowns” from Collingwood Primary School:

Jordan and Jade clowning around before practice

How long have you played basketball?

Jade: 8 months.

Jordan: 8 months, but 8 great months!

How long have you been part of PPI?

Jade: 8 months, so PPI is basketball pretty much.

Jordan: 8 months.

What is your favorite part of being a PeacePlayer?

Jade: I get to have fun and compete. It gives me a chance to play again teams that live in places I’ve never been.

Jordan: I get to play basketball. I love learning, especially how to shoot.

What have you learnt about being part of PPI-SA?

Jade: How to respect others, listen and learn, and how to be polite.

Jordan: That you must respect others for them to respect you. Respect your coach, team, everyone.

Jordan Holtman practicing his form

How has PPI helped you off the court?

Jade: My netball shooting has improved and I’ve learnt you have to listen first before you do something.

Jordan: How rules in basketball are really similar to rules in life.

What are your future goals/what do you want to do when you grow up?

Jade: An air hostess or archeologist.

Jordan: Soccer player or basketball coach.

Who is your favorite basketball player?

Jade: Coach Kyler (ouch Coach Ben)

Jordan: Michael JORDAN (obviously)

Summer Update – PPI-CY Staff Celebrates Jale’s Wedding!

Fri, 09/05/2014 - 10:34am

Jale with her new husband, Semsi!

International Fellow Ryan Hage recounts some of the Summer’s moments following the annual PPI – Cyprus Summer Camp including attending Managing Director Jale Canlibalik’s wedding party!

The month of August is always a time for rest and relaxation for the PPI-CY staff. After months of planning, and then a week of summer camp, the staff is completely exhausted. Quoting myself, “It was literally the most tiring week of my life, but also one of the best and most fun”.

Steph, Jale, and Ryan at the Henna party!

Just a few days after the camp ended PPI-CY Program Coordinator Stephanie Nicolas and I had the honor of attending our Managing Director’s henna party. A henna party is a tradition that is held before the wedding to celebrate their union. Needless to say, it was a first for me and I could not have been more pleasantly surprised. The food was amazing and there is a traditional dance that takes place. Jale gets very dressed up in a traditional dress and is presented to the crowd. It was a cultural experience that I will always remember! Congrats to Jale and Semsi!

Park Guell in Barcelona

After such a hectic couple of weeks, the staff took a little vacation to enjoy Cyprus. Going to one of the many beautiful beaches was a daily occurrence for all of the staff. Stephanie even made a new friend, Curious George, a donkey that put his head in her car while driving by. And I traveled to Barcelona for a few days to take in the sites and enjoy some Spanish food. Paella and tapas were eaten frequently.

Overall, the staff had an amazing couple of weeks and are now back in the office planning for the upcoming year. We could not be more excited for all of the events and fun we will have!

Curious George!

PPI Friend Brad Bessire Shares Parting Words after Four Years at USAID West Bank/Gaza

Fri, 09/05/2014 - 10:30am

Brad picks olives as part of his work with USAID.

In addition to American Fellow Jamie Walsh, another great friend of PPI – ME recently finished his post in the Middle East. Brad Bessire served for four hears as the head of the Democracy and Governance Office at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID, which as part of a wide range of services, also supports PPI – ME. Among other areas, the Democracy and Governance Office oversees all USAID-funded conflict mitigation projects using people-to-people methods to bring an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Brad has been a frequent visitor at PPI – ME activities and even got on the court with our kids from time to time.

Brad has spent 14 years with USAID, including posts in Kazakhstan, Cambodia, Afghanistan, and short tours to Iraq Yemen and Bolivia. Before coming to USAID, Brad was a human rights lawyer, first representing Native Americans in Washington, DC, but it was a job in Cambodia that made Brad start to think globally, after which, he “never looked back.”

For the past four years, Brad has led the Democracy and Governance office at the West Bank/Gaza branch of USAID, which supports the development of Palestinian institutions necessary for a future Palestinian state by promoting the rule of law, increasing civic engagement, and enhancing respect for human rights. Brad said that “working in Israel and Palestine has been an amazing experience, and I am in awe at all of the people working so hard to make a difference. I am honored and blessed to have had the opportunity to work on CMM [conflict mitigation and management] programming, and helping grow the portfolio to include people working on issues of common concern has been a highlight of the tour.  Expanding it to have more partners has helped strengthen what we do. “

Brad (far right) plays basketball with PeacePlayers kids in the Mesashe region.

On a personal note, Brad added that “seeing kids come together and break down the learned stereotypes has been a highlight – whether in basketball, soccer or kids’ camps.  Getting to know everyone’s personal story has been great.”

Like everyone working to make a difference in the region, the past couple of months have made an impact on Brad as well. “The last few weeks have been pretty depressing, but the work that the CMM partners are doing gives me hope.  I have talked to many people after the Gaza conflict and they are more convinced that they are doing the right thing.  I wish we could fund more programs of this type.”

We wish Brad lots of luck in his new post at USAID headquarters in DC.

PPI-NI CAN Project Closes the Summer with the Game of Three Halves

Wed, 09/03/2014 - 11:26am

CAN Day Celebration

In May, PeacePlayers International-Northern Ireland put together a tender to work with Carrick, Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Councils (CAN). PPI-NI does not have programmes running in any of these areas so this was a great opportunity.  Our tender was successful and the CAN partners agreed to contract us to deliver our project over the summer months when the children are on holidays.  The project is supported by PEACE III through the CAN Peace III Partnership.  The main idea of the project was to bring children from around the Borough Councils together in a fun and safe environment using sport as the medium.

Holy doing all she could to get the ball

This was not a smooth sailing ride for PPI-NI as we have not worked in the area before.  As such, we needed to build some relationships and trust with various groups and individuals before we even began the programme. In addition, recruiting participants from both sides of the community, over such a vast area, and trying to get them to come out of their comfort zones to meet with participants from other areas was also hard. When we initially tried to bring the children together we had a very low turnout.  Gradually  it got better, but not without considerable investment in time and energy from our Operations Team Leader Debbie Byrne and Sessional Coach Ryan Stewart.

PPI-NI coach Niamh Burns who is also a Senior Champion4Peace working on a winning plan with her team.

Phase one of the project brought 15 young people (14-18 year olds), 5 from each of the Borough Councils, together to complete our Open College Network (OCN) course in “Understanding Diversity Through Sport” (Level One). With the  skills and confidence gained through attaining their OCN qualifications, these 15 young people were able to play a key role in supporting PPI-NI facilitators in organising the Carrick, Antrim and Newtownabbey Cross Community League (CANCCL)  – phase two of the programme.

The CANCCL was a 6 week basketball programme that established integrated sports teams with participants (aged 9-13) from across the cluster.  The finale was our Game of Three Halves (GO3H), which brought together all the participants from the CAN areas to play Gaelic football, rugby, and soccer provided by our partners in the GO3H (Ulster GAA,  Irish Football Association and Ulster Rugby).  PPI-NI coaches delivered basketball training and facilitated a ‘fourth half’ of community relations through sport conversations and exercises, while the young leaders (14-18 group) played a key role as mentors to the younger group. The success of the project was evident on the last day.  The kids really gelled over the summer and they were now working together, getting to know each other and having a great time. In a short space of time we were able to bridge divides, change  perception and develop leaders using sport.

Closing off with a big PPI-NI Chant!!!

We have to give special thanks to our partners from various areas who helped us with the project and recruiting participants and of course to the CAN Peace III Partnership for their patience and support. And yes, the what might have seemed like a “challenging” project was indeed a CAN!


Participant Spotlight: Aphiwe Mbatha & Ntuthuko Makhathini

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 1:59pm

Excelsior Primary School huddling up after a recent practice

Excelsior Primary is a public school located on the border between Lamontville (a primarily  African community) and Chatsworth (a primarily Indian Community), two highly underserved areas around Durban. For the past 8 years, PPI-SA has been one of the few after school options available to kids there. In today’s blog, PPI-SA International Fellow Bryan Franklin introduces us to two of Excelsior Primary School’s finest participants: Aphiwe Mbatha and Ntuthuko Makhathini. 

As I walked onto the Excelsior Primary School court just outside Durban in Lamontville, South Africa I didn’t quite know what to expect. The school’s normal coach was unable to be there for the month of August, so I was set to fill in for the next few weeks. As I gathered the kids on the baseline and began the long and slow process of an American trying to learn and correctly pronounce their names (one of the most enjoyable moments of practice for the kids by far), two leaders quickly emerged. In classic lead by example form, Aphiwe and Ntuthuko (American pronunciation: Tatugo) helped not only to organize their teammates that day, but in the practices to follow we’re consistently at practice early, the first to volunteer and always there to encourage.

Aphiwe shooting around before a recent practice

How long have you been a part of PPI?

Aphiwe: 2 years

Ntuthuko: 2 years

What is your favorite part about being a PeacePlayer?

Aphiwe: I love practicing with my teammates and it helps me to stay active.

Ntuthuko: It’s fun to play basketball and I like that we get to play games against different schools.

What have you learned from being part of PeacePlayers?

Aphiwe: I’ve learned to play basketball. I have also learned to respect other people and how important that is.

Ntuthuko (left) warming up with his Excelsior teammates with a fun ice-breaker before their game against Bhekaphambili Primary School

Ntuthuko: I now know how to learn from my mistakes, and not let them get me down.

What are your future goals?

Aphiwe: I want to be a Chemical Engineer. My brother is studying mechanical engineering. He brought home a book with the different types of engineers and I got to read about each one. Chemical Engineer sounded the most interesting so I researched it some more online. That’s what I would like to be.

Ntuthuko: I want to be a basketball coach. I really like playing the game and when I get older. I would like to teach kids like me to play too.



Pursuit Connect 4 More

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 7:58am

PeacePlayers is teaming up with Pursuit Sports Group to host a Connect 4 Fundraiser at Penn Social on Friday, September 5 from 6:30-8:30! Our goals are to raise funds for our youth programs and have some fun at the same time. Tickets are a $10 donation and will be available at the door. The $10 includes your tournament entry, networking reception, and complimentary appetizers (served during the first hour).

The tournament is a classic 4-in a row game with a classic grid, so bring your “A” game as strategy drives competition. The tournament will also have appetizers, raffle prizes, and drink specials!

Please come on over after work to join us and our supporters for an exciting evening of networking and attempting to be crowned the Connect 4 Champion! If you’re in the DC area, we hope to see you at Penn Social this Friday!

A Fresh Take on PeacePlayers

Sat, 08/30/2014 - 5:00pm

Coach Tessa and Coach Ryan during PPI-CY summer camp

Today’s blog is brought to you by PeacePlayers volunteer, Tessa Ramsay. Tessa is a high school English teacher who spent the summer helping out PPI-CY.

Since the writer of this blog is usually someone from inside the PeacePlayers organization, I have the opportunity, as an outsider, to shed some light on what the adults in this organization do. It is unlike any of the PeacePlayers staff members here to praise their work or brag about themselves; instead, they use their voices and ink cheering on and advocating for their kids, which is one reason why it is such a successful program. So here is a look at the adults who proudly wear the PeacePlayers-Cyprus logo on their shirts.

An intense game of 1 vs. 1

Back home in New York City, I am a high school English teacher. At the PPI-CY Summer Camp, I observed the interactions between coaches and players and was amazed at how deeply and naturally the coaches cared for their players. I kept thinking to myself, “these coaches would be great teachers,” until I eventually realized that they of course are teachers, ones that truly love their students.

Just like skilled basketball players, the PPI-CY coaches are always thinking of the next move—how can we make sure this player is more involved, how can we guarantee that this player feels safe, how can we reach more children to build this family? One coach kindly and privately reminded another of the specific struggle of an individual player to keep in mind when running practice. Then another coach proudly and publicly shared the triumph of another player’s awesome behind the back pass to the winning lay-up of a game. Two coaches even brought their two-month-old baby to camp so they could be there for their other kids.

Coach Bahar with our newest PPI-CY player, Maya!

As an educator, I’ve heard the word “patience” a lot. I must have patience with my students, with the budget, with myself. But this word had a new meaning here. I always assumed that you “had” to be patient, but these coaches seem to “want” to be patient. With three languages to attend to at camp, everything takes longer to be completed. That’s three sets of directions, three lists of expectations, three attempts at the same joke. The coaches take their time because they love what they do and they believe in what they do. What’s more impressive is that the players are patient, too. They listen attentively to the wisdom their coaches preach. And believe me, adolescents don’t just listen because they have to; they listen because they want to. They eagerly hang on the words of their coaches because they respect them. They adore them, really. I saw players save seats for their coaches in the camp cafeteria, and the coaches gladly plopped down next to them and started joking around. They shared music and tricks, they played late night pick-up basketball together, they did funny handshakes.

Coach Adam showing the participants the perfect defensive stance.

The humor and goofiness that was alive at camp is important to note because it was the enthusiasm of the coaches that really hooked the players. While so much about PeacePlayers is of course about finding peace, this solution cannot be attained if there is no connection. The coaches, with all of their careful planning and contagious excitement, were the reason the players felt comfortable enough to laugh together at the same silly trick their coach did, to start talking, and to begin sharing thoughts and ideas.

It’s clear that the one of the only ways to guarantee any change is to inspire those after you to carry on the mission. Even in just a week at camp, I saw how the Leadership Development Program (LDP) members absorbed the energy of their coaches and passed that on to the younger players. One LDP participant played a silly one-on-one game with a younger camper, and that younger player walked around camp the rest of the afternoon beaming with pride. Another LDP teenager volunteered to translate at a practice since they were a coach short for the afternoon. The LDP teenagers stayed up right until curfew to hang out with one another, just like their coaches did on the other end of the hotel lobby. These young leaders are taking what they learning, turning around, and teaching it almost immediately; it was a pleasure to see. It can take a lot to inspire adolescents, and the PPI-CY coaches make it look easy.

PPI-CY would like to thank Tessa for all of her help this summer! You will always be a part of the PeacePlayers family!

PPI – Northern Ireland Holds Belfast Interface Games Flagship Event – the Game of Three Halves

Thu, 08/28/2014 - 9:48am

PPI-NI participants getting ready to start the Belfast Interface Games at Seaview stadium

PPI – Northern Ireland Operation’s Team Leader Debbie Byrne reflects on the Belfast Interface Games (BIG) Flagship Event – the Game of Three Halves, a fantastic night for PPI-NI.

On Friday August 8, over 80 young people from North, South, West and East Belfast came together at Seaview Football Stadium in north Belfast for the annual PPI – Northern Ireland Belfast Interface Games (BIG) Flagship Event – the Game of Three Halves. It was a brilliant experience for the children to play in such a great venue with their parents cheering them on enthusiastically on the stands wearing colors that represented each side of the city! Not only did the children play Gaelic football, Rugby and Soccer against the other sides of the city but the children danced, chatted and became strong friends as they moved from station to station. North Belfast ran out as eventual winners but the experience of everyone on the night was that they felt they were part of something very special and positive.  The children recognized that they had been involved in something bigger than themselves.

Friendships are key to this event

Over the last few years the Belfast Interface Games and the Game of Three Halves have helped to develop young leaders who are better equipped to confront the issues that continue to divide Northern Ireland. The segregation of schools and communities continue to foster traditions of intolerance whereby parade-related disputes and rioting, criminal activity, intimidating displays of flags and murals, and youth-led violence remains commonplace. It is hoped that through participation in cross-community sporting programmes like the BIG camps and this Flagship Event, young people will develop positive personal relationships and therefore be less likely to engage in sectarian-fueled violence in the future.

Ulster Rugby stars Nick Williams and Jonny Murphy taking pictures and signing autographs with PeacePlayers participants

We are very thankful to the US Department of State and the Department of Foreign Affairs for support our work in this area. The event was facilitated in collaboration with the Governing Bodies for Gaelic Football, Rugby and Soccer. The Ulster Council of Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), The Irish Football Association and Ulster Rugby donated their coaching time for free. Belfast Bus Company provided the buses free of charge and Seaview provided the venue at a vastly reduced rate: The US Consul on their Twitter feed said:

We’re proud supporters of @peaceplayers Interface Games & its finale @CrusadersFC this Friday @irishfa @UlsterGAA @UlsterRugby #unsungheroes

— US Consulate Belfast (@USAinNI) August 5, 2014

For two weeks leading up to the games, PPI-NI children have participating in our BIG camps to prepare for the big day. One of the key elements, which helped to make the night such a success was the help of many, volunteers – young and old. Hannah Byrne (daughter of Debbie Byrne) a volunteer on the night and at the BIG camps said, “the night was a brilliant experience! I enjoyed working with the kids and I had a lot of fun.”  Niamh Burns who is a PPI Coach in Training and a Senior Champion for Peace said that, “Volunteering for the BIG camps and the Flagship event was a brilliant experience!  It was amazing seeing the children working together and playing sports they have never played.  This is something I would love to do in the future.”

We are very thankful for all our supporters, partners and funders who made this night such a wonderful occasion, and a special thanks to the wonderful PPI-NI staff!!!

…and of course BIG would not be big without some element of basketball.

First Impressions – Four Quarters: Benjamin Constable’s First Month With PPI-SA

Tue, 08/26/2014 - 9:23am

It’s been four weeks since I landed in Durban, South Africa, the perfect amount of time to describe my experiences through a shameless basketball metaphor. Four quarters (or weeks) with PPI-SA International Fellow Benjamin Constable:

Benjamin Constable coaching New Orleans’ youth during his first experience with PPI


You could say I had a little more time to loosen up and stretch before starting in Durban. My first encounter with PPI was in 2007 during the World Adidas Nations Camp in New Orleans.  I looked like this (Thank goodness the bowl cut is now gone).

But PPI’s mission looked the same – use basketball to impact lives. It was extremely obvious how basketball had the power to to engage, challenge, and grow youth in New Orleans. Since then, I’ve had 7 years of following PPI’s progress, and finally have an opportunity to step onto the court for PPI.

1st Quarter:

For the most part, the first quarter was a blur, the defense was swarming (by defense I mean jet lag). Some days there were 12 hours of sleep, others none. Yet, as any good teammate realizes, the first quarter is about getting everyone involved, even the new guy on the team with defense all over him. And good gracious is Bryan Franklin a good teammate. He had everything lined up, from teaching how to say hello in Zulu, to how to update this blog, Bryan set screens to get me open left, right, and center. I saw everything from the bright beach front, to the bleak townships. It was a blurred but eye opening first week.

Benjamin Constable coaching his first day at Collingwood Primary School

2nd Quarter:

The 2nd quarter was time for PPI to put on the full court press. There was really no other option. With the Primary School Programme (PSP) starting up in Durban, and Basketball Without Boarders (BWB) – Africa beginning in Johannesburg the same quarter, we needed to be everywhere.

Although the majority of the week was spent in the back court up in Johannesburg, a highlight was definitely the first day coaching Collingwood Primary School. It was shocking driving into the local township and seeing the hardships the majority of the students experience. But all the poverty wasn’t evident in the students – always smiling, always asking questions, and always abundantly eager to learn.

Half Time:

After a full quarter of relentlessly full court pressing, we needed to recover. And what better place to do that then in Drakensberg. “Where??” Many people are probably asking. Well, somewhere between Durban and Joeburg is Drakensberg Mountain. And, although the scenery could be described with words, this shot of Bryan Franklin really tells most of the story:

Bryan Franklin enjoying the half time break

Not a bad place to take a half time drink break.

3rd Quarter:

With the defense backing off and a full week half court pressing in Durban ahead, there was finally time to get stuck into the programme. This quarter was my first opportunity to see one of PPI – South Africa’s biggest plays in action – the extravaganza. We had prepared for months for this event that would bring 100 players from four primary schools together, and as we walked into the Umlazi Indoor Stadium there was a wee problem – one of the two courts was completely covered with building supplies and debris – not the most basketball friendly conditions.

Before I set into a full panic attack, I turned to the rest of the PPI staff, and they appeared to be pretty unphased. Mtu, our finance and HR manager, turned to me and said “these are the things you have to learn to accept in South Africa, you just need to be ready to adjust to anything.”

And adjust we did. Somehow a schedule that involved playing 12 games in 2 hours on 2 courts, was managed with one less court. Even looking back now, I’m curious to how we pulled it off. But that’s the kind of challengers faced in a nation where social structures are fractured and basketball is a minor sport. Sometimes resources will instantly become unavailable, sometimes an entire team will not turn up to practice because they hear their coach was training players from another school, but always it seems people are ready to role with the punches. It certainly is a new way of having to approach a game.

4th Quarter:

After I had come to accept the unpredictability of South African court time, the 4th quarter came pretty easily. I just wish a game of basketball went for more than 4 quarters… Oh wait this game has 100 more quarters to go!

NBA Shooting Legend Pat Garrity Coaches at PPI-Cyprus Summer Camp

Fri, 08/22/2014 - 5:20pm

Former NBA sharpshooter, Pat Garrity, coaching at the 2014 PPI-Cyprus Summer Camp

This week’s blog is brought to you by Pat Garrity, former NBA sharpshooter, who played professionally for the Phoenix Suns and Orlando Magic for ten years. Pat and former WNBA player, Evan Unrau, were VIP’s at PPI – Cyprus’ Summer Camp, which brought together 64 Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot children together to play basketball and build friendships. During the week-long camp, Pat shared an unbelievable amount of knowledge and passion for the game with our participants and coaches.

Pat leads PPI’s participants through a variety of basketball drills

In August I had the wonderful opportunity to participate in PPI-Cyprus’s annual Summer Camp. I’d gotten to know about PeacePlayers through a friend who also serves on PPI’s board. Through him, I met Brendan Touhey, one of PPI’s Co-Founders. During my career in the NBA, I had the good fortune to participate in a number of programs around the world that use basketball as a bridge to connect young people and develop leadership. The experiences all left me with long lasting relationships and terrific memories. Basketball has always been the centerpiece of my life. Since retiring from the NBA in 2008 and no longer able to do what I once used to on the court, I’ve found that teaching kids the game is the next best thing. So when Brendan called me earlier this summer and asked if I’d be interested in helping lead PPI’s summer camp in Cyprus, I gladly accepted.

I worked with a group of Turkish-Cypriot and Greek-Cypriot coaches whose love for the game was outmatched only by their talent in teaching and mentoring teenagers.

Pat with the senior boys team

Prior to arriving, the only thing I knew about basketball in Cyprus was that a former teammate of mine on the Orlando Magic, Darrell Armstrong, had played there in the days before he broke into the NBA. His career in Cyprus didn’t last long, though. He had to return back to the US early after his team’s gym was burned down by rival fans upset about the outcome of a game. After dinner one night, I mentioned the story I’d heard from Darrell to Michalis, one of the camp coaches, wanting to know if in fact it were true. Though he was only 12 at the time, Michalis remembered the game and told me about it in great detail. His ability to recall the episode in such detail illustrated an impression I’d formed early on in my interactions in the first days of the camp:  people here love basketball! As the week went on, this was evident not only in the outstanding coaches who helped lead the camp, but also in the passion and knowledge of the game possessed by the kids who participated.

Pat Garrity with U.S. Ambassador Koenig

For a week, I along with Evan Unrau (who just joined Stanford’s women’s staff; congrats Evan!) and Robbie Hummel (who just finished his playing career at Stanford), worked with a group of Turkish-Cypriot and Greek-Cypriot coaches whose love for the game was outmatched only by their talent in teaching and mentoring teenagers. In the mornings, we led 64 participants through fundamentals, and in the evening, the kids put what they learned into action in 5-on-5 games. On one of the nights, Evan, Robbie and I, with the help of some of the older campers,  led a coaching clinic for local coaches. Off the court, the PPI staff conducted a full regiment of sessions aimed at teaching leadership, tolerance, and cooperation. And of course, there was plenty of time for the pool and meals during which the kids could just hang out, uninterrupted by adults, reviewing their latest posts on Instagram, and more importantly, forming bonds which might otherwise never have been formed were it not for programs like PeacePlayers.

At the end of the last on-court session, we had a huge water balloon fight. The last night we had a dance, with a DJ, lights and all, and celebrated all the hard work that the kids, Ryan Hage (PPI-Cyprus’ International Fellow), Stephanie Nicolas (PPI-Cyprus’ Coordinator) and Jale Canlibalik (PPI-Cyprus’ Managing Director) put in to making it such a success.

Basketball has provided me a great deal, ever since I picked up the game in 4th grade. I’ve had a chance to play for some of the best coaches in the game and against the best players in the world. Basketball has taken me to China, Africa, India and throughout Europe. And as anyone who’s been around the game will tell you, it’s the relationship based on a common love of the game that form the longest-lasting memories. My time in Cyprus with PeacePlayers was no different.

Many thanks to all who made my experience with Peace Players possible. Thank you to US Ambassador John Koenig and the U.S. Embassy in Cyprus for supporting the program and taking the time to visit. Along with Evan, Robbie, Ryan, Stephanie and Jale, a special thanks also to the Hasmet, Andreas, Orhun, Bahar, Costas, Michalis, and Nicos who in addition to their contributions to the camp dedicate so much of their time year-round to continue to build the program and put PeacePlayers mission into action. And finally, a big thank you to the 64 campers for their wonderful attitudes, open-mindedness and effort. I hope what you learned this week fuels your improvement, not only in basketball but also as leaders on your team, in your schools and in your communities. I hope our paths can cross again someday!

PPI-SA and SAPREF kick-off Third term

Tue, 08/19/2014 - 1:46pm

PPI-SA Participants from Collingwood and Sukuma Primary Schools pose with SAPREF Representative Londiwe Myeza and PPI coaches and staff at last Friday’s Extravaganza

This past Friday PeacePlayers International – South Africa kicked off its third term with an Extravaganza at the Umlazi Indoor Sports Centre. These bi-monthly events bring together 4 schools across two communities. Kids participate in life-skills and ice breaker drills to get to know one another, before coming back together with their teams for an afternoon of basketball games. Last Friday’s Extravaganza included nearly 100 boys and girls from Collingwood and Assegai Primary Schools of Wentworth, and Sukuma and Mthethweni Primary Schools of Umlazi.

At this particular Extravaganza PPI was joined by a special guest, Londiwe Myeza of SAPREF. SAPREF which is the largest crude oil refinery in Southern Africa, recently came on board as a sponsor of PPI-SA, donating 50 basketballs. Londiwe joined us for her first Extravaganza to present the balls and spend some time with the kids.

Slowly but surely the kids start to get the hang of the ice-breaker Walk the Plank

The event kicked-off with fellow Ben Constable walking the kids through a New Zealand original ice breaker called “Walk the Plank”. In this particular ice breaker, kids are asked to dance around the court. While dancing they’ll receive commands like “Life Preserver”—in which three kids must cross arms in a circle—or “Life Boat 5”—where 5 kids must make a straight line at half court. Anybody who incorrectly executes the command is out until we get down to one winner. As an added twist, as the players are receiving commands they must come together in groups with children from other schools to help facilitate interaction.

After this quick and fun warm-up, each team played two games against the schools from the other community (i.e. Collingwood Primary faced off against Mthethweni and Sukuma Primary Schools), before breaking half way through for the presentation by SPAREF.

Players and coaches alike were sad to hear the final whistle blow as the games came to a close. However, the fun didn’t stop there. When the buses got stuck in traffic on their way back to the arena to pick up the kids, something amazing happened. The boys and girls didn’t just automatically retreat to hang-out with their teammates, but instead continued interacting with players form a different school. In one corner of the gym there was a dance circle, where Mthethweni and Assegai took turns being the center of the show. In another, players from all four schools lined up to cheer on Fellows Ben Constable and Bryan Franklin in an impromptu dunk show. Finally, outside in the parking lot, Collingwood and Sukuma primary school participants sat down and shared some post-game snacks. For everything that happened Friday afternoon—from basketball games, to basketball donations, from winning to losing, and plenty of cheering in between—it was these small moments afterwards that proved the event a great success.

PPI-SA would like to give a special thank you to Londiwe Myeza and SAPREF for their generous donation and support of the program.

Fantasy Football for a Cause

Tue, 08/19/2014 - 9:06am

Nearly 40 million people compete in fantasy football leagues every year for a combined total of $2 billion in prizes. However, for many, fantasy football isn’t about the prizes, but the camaraderie and friendly competition. The prizes are just an added bonus.

Entrepreneur John Ellis and Assistant GM to the Texas Rangers Thad Levine competed in the same fantasy league for years when they got an idea – what if the money people use to enter a league was put towards charity? Imagine the millions of dollars that could be raised for nonprofit organizations.

Ellis and Levine recently founded Meaningful Wins which allows fantasy football players to compete in leagues for the charity of their choice. Leagues are first set up on commercial platforms such as NFL.com, ESPN.com, and Yahoo.com just as usual. After doing so, they can then register on MeaningfulWins.com. Each league player then receives an email asking them to register, pay their entry fees, and then choose a charity to play for, upon which completing this information they will receive a tax-deduction receipt. At the end of the fantasy season, the winning player’s charity receives the money!

While any charity can be selected and benefit from this process, Meaningful Wins features ten selected charities, PeacePlayers International being one of them. We are honored to be a featured charity of Meaningful Wins and encourage all of our supporters and friends to register their fantasy leagues on MeaningfulWins.com and choose PPI as their charity.

Everyone loves playing fantasy football, so why not play for a cause?

An Epic and Fleeting Experience: Basketball Without Borders

Sun, 08/17/2014 - 2:37pm

Fellow Bryan Franklin looking over the top 60 young talents from Africa.

Basketball Without Borders Africa is a four-day event that occurs annually in Johannesburg, South Africa, bringing together some of the continent’s top players. PPI-SA fellows Ben Constable and Bryan Franklin were fortunate enough to help out with the program earlier this month.

If you read this blog, you already have an appreciation for sport’s natural tendency to bring people together. However, few sporting events demonstrate this to the degree of the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders Program. If you asked Chris Clunie, former PeacePlayer and current Senior Coordinator for the NBA’s International Basketball Operations, if Basketball Without Boarders Africa ticked all three boxes for Peace Players International (Bridging Divides, Developing Leaders, Changing Perceptions), the answer would be a confident “yes.”

Fellow Ben Constable poses with several Basketball Without Borders team members.

And how could it not? Rarely can you gaze onto a court containing 60 of the best African players from 20 nations all while talking to a Zambian Coach about how the influx of South Sudanese refugees to Australia will change the youth basketball landscape. Then walk onto a court to be dunked on by a seven-footer from Senegal, save a little face by high-fiving Dikembe Mutombo on your way off the court, and then quiz Clarisse Machanguana on her foundation in Mozambique.

The concentration of basketball wealth at Basketball Without Borders is staggering and motivating, but what stands out to people who work in areas of social development, who understand that growing the game is a continuous unrelenting process, is how epic, yet fleeting the event is.

There is definitely an awareness within the NBA as to what needs to be done to grow the game in regions like South Africa. Coach Lionel Hollins summarized it pretty well in an interview regarding BWB’s work:

There are seed programs in Senegal, there are seed programs in South Africa that African NBA players and African scouts have implemented, and now you have to teach coaches in order to have them teach the players. That’s where the talent gets stronger and the interest gets higher. But the players need to start playing younger. Most African players are not playing until they’re 15, 16, 17 years old, whereas American players are starting to play at 8, 9, 10 years old, which gives them quite an advantage. When you don’t have a lot of facilities, there’s not a lot of opportunities for formal leagues to be played.

There seems to be a disconnect between the resources the NBA provides and the most efficient way to develop the game in young basketball nations. BWB does a phenomenal job in creating a temporary spectacle once a year, providing an ambitious goal for young African players to work toward, a Mecca for people in the African basketball scene to network. Yet, what is still lacking is incentive for coaches to work at the most junior levels, professional development for coaches at the most junior levels, and consistently accessible facilities for athletes. As we look ahead, we know that this is what is needed to continue growing the game we all love across the African continent.

In The Name of Basketball: Evan Unrau Bridges Divides at the PPI-Cyprus Summer Camp

Fri, 08/15/2014 - 11:15am

Evan Unrau with PeacePlayers coaches and members of the Leadership Development Program

Today’s blog is written by former WNBA player, Evan Unrau. Two weeks ago, Evan along with former NBA sharpshooter, Pat Garrity, flew to Cyprus for the PeacePlayers Summer Camp. Each year the camp brings together 64 Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot youth for six days of basketball training, conflict resolution, and leadership development.

Evan with the winners of one vs one finalists

My name is Evan Unrau, and I have recently returned home to Los Angeles after spending a week in Cyprus as a PeacePlayers – Cyprus VIP for their summer basketball camp.  As a Division I collegiate coach and former elite athlete, I have devoted my life to the game of basketball.  I have been blessed with the chance to play and coach at the highest level and have developed a philosophy about my involvement in the game – it’s all about people.  Sport has the unique ability to unite people across ethnicities, religions, socioeconomic backgrounds and other qualifiers.  When the opportunity arose to partner with PeacePlayers International and assist with their summer camp in Cyprus, I jumped at the opportunity.  I hopped on a plane and made the 14-hour journey to Cyprus filled with excitement and a bit of uncertainty as to  what lay ahead for the next 10 days.  To my delight, I was met with one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  PPI-Cyprus fellow Ryan Hage met me at the airport, and we began an adventure for the ages.  In my days leading up to the camp, I was introduced to my fellow VIP partner, former NBA star Pat Garrity.  Pat is a highly accomplished man on paper, but the real life version is so much better.  Pat has a passion and intellect for the game of basketball that is rare to come across.  Together we toured Cyprus and were treated to its wonderful cuisine and sights and were introduced to a team of PPI staff members whose passion for their cause is truly beautiful.

Evan and Pat with US Ambassador to Cyprus, John Koenig

The day of camp came, and we took a bus to the hills of Agros where camp was to be held. The  views were spectacular!  It is here that we met other camp workers and many of the PPI players attending camp.  What a special group of people!  There was an air of excitement as our PPI camp journey was beginning to take form.   It was in sitting with the PPI coaches that the story of Cyprus and its embattled past began to take from.  A country divided between Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots, I began to meet the people living the present day struggle to become a country united.  The camp itself was scheduled to include sessions focused on leadership development, team bonding and basketball skill sessions.  Myself and Pat were in charge of the basketball component of camp, but it was outside of the basketball court where I found the true value of PPI’s mission.  In a room with PPI coaches and community leaders, we participated in activities aimed at joining the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot campers together and learned more about one another and finding a common ground.  With many of the players having the ability to speak English, we engaged with this wonderful group of kids and found ourselves talking and laughing a ton.  It was in these sessions that the power of PeacePlayers began to take form.

To my surprise, I was greeted with a group of kids that were already well versed in the game of basketball, which is a huge testament to the coaches of PPI.

Evan leading the girls team through a series of basketball drills

Basketball time!  I had no idea what to expect when planning my workouts with the PPI athletes.  What level of basketball talent were they?  What kind of drills and terminology had they been exposed to?  Would they look at me like I had 4 heads?  To my surprise, I was greeted with a group of kids that were already well versed in the game of basketball, which is a huge testament to the coaches of PPI.  With the assistance of PPI coaches and senior leaders as translators when needed, we worked hard and got even better!  As impressed as I was with the players on the court, my interaction with them on the walk to the gym and in the moments shooting around before and after practice really showed their personalities, and they are WONDERFUL!  I learned about where they are from, their families, what kind of music they like, who their favorite players are and why they are part of PPI.  As their stories unfolded, I began to truly understand the power of PPI’s initiative – that kids are kids and when you bring them together in the name of a cause, such as basketball, memories and relationships are formed which shed the burden of history that has been thrust upon them.

Evan with PeacePlayers coaches and young leaders who assisted with many of the practices

I can’t thank the coaches and organizers of PPI enough for letting me partake in such a wonderful event.  To PPI-Cyprus fellow Ryan Hage, thank you for your time and enthusiasm.  No one has more energy than you!  To Stephanie, you organized a well-oiled machine and provided the ultimate summer camp experience.  To Jale, who behind the scenes helped make a vision into a reality.  To the PeacePlayers coaches: Hasmet, Andreas, Orhun, Bahar, Costas, Michalis, Nicos, and Robbie, you guys are a basketball player’s dream to have coach them.  To the U.S. Embassy in Nicosia and Ambassador John Koenig who so graciously helped fund and take the time out of his busy schedule to attend the camp.  And finally, to all the campers,  THANK YOU!  I had the time of my life and am thrilled to add PPI-Cyprus to my ever expanding family in the name of basketball.

In case you missed it, check out this fantastic video recap of the camp made by Tessa Ramsay, a volunteer for the week at camp:

So Long, Jamie!

Thu, 08/14/2014 - 3:54pm

International Fellow Jamie Walsh is heading back to the U.S. tomorrow after nearly two fun and fruitful years with PPI – ME. We made a short slide show for Jamie to thank her for her hard work, dedication and spirit. We’ll miss you, Jamie!

Check out the slide show below.


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