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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.


Thu, 08/14/2014 - 10:53am

This week Ella Harper (9-year-old daughter of PPI-NI Managing Director Gareth Harper), shares with us some video footage she captured at the Belfast Interface Games (BIG) camp held at St John’s GAC in West Belfast. Building on the success of the prior two years, the B.I.G. this year included three days of summer camps in North, South, East and West Belfast. Around 85 children ages 9-13 received training from professional coaches skilled in Gaelic football, rugby and football. Following the summer camps, all participants took part in the flagship Game of Three Halves where they competed against groups from other parts of Belfast in these three sports.Below, Ella and her sister Alana (10 years) share their experiences of their fist BIG camp.

So girls, how was it?

Ella: It was great fun! I was a bit nervous at the start, but I really enjoyed helping my dad out with the games and meeting and playing games with my new friends.

Alana: It was the same for me at the start, but when we got to the gym and started playing, I got stuck right into it.  We were put onto new teams and had to come up with a new team name – we were called  “the Mighty Seamus’s Ducks.”

What was your favourite part?

Ella: I really liked the 4 ball passing game. It was hard to start with, but we got the hang of it.  The game helped me to learn the names of my new teammates.  I also learned how to pass a rugby ball, I have played Gaelic before but never rugby, so that was cool. My team was called  “the Haribo Heads.”

Alana: I really enjoyed playing all the sports and meeting new people. I also enjoyed hanging out with my dad.  The Sports Jeopardy Quiz was great, even though I didn’t get too many of the questions right – I answered “Brian O’Driscoll” to everything.  We also played a cool game called “Empires” – we got to know who everyone’s favourite celebrities where, my dad confused everybody by picking Ozzy Osbourne.

PPI Board Member RC Buford a Step Ahead on Gender Equality

Mon, 08/11/2014 - 12:06pm

Hammon speaking to the press about her new role as Spurs Assistant Coach

Today’s blog is written by PPI Development and Communications Intern, Max Mancher

There has been plenty of drama surrounding this NBA offseason. The biggest stars in the game were flying around the country trying to figure out the best move for their future. As such, the teams that had money to spend were working hard to bring the biggest names in the game to their city as they looked to contend for a title in the 2014-15 season. And while teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dallas Mavericks and Chicago Bulls have been very successful on the court, maybe the most significant offseason signing will not be suiting up for their team come opening day.

The San Antonio Spurs are the reigning NBA champions. For the past 15 years, the Spurs have been atop the western conference standings with all indication of staying there. Yet it is this team, led by visionaries such as Greg Popovich and RC Buford, that has made the biggest moves this summer. And no, I am not talking about their signing of pass first big man and former Most Improved Player, Boris Diaw. For even this lucrative $22 million signing pales in comparison to the implications of the Spurs newest coach and former WNBA star, Becky Hammon.

After having spent a good deal of time helping out with and observing the Spurs’ practices while recovering from an injury, the Spurs front office felt that she was qualified for a position as assistant coach. “I know Coach Pop has made it very clear to me that I’m being hired because of my basketball IQ and because I’m qualified,” she said. “He says it just so happens you are a woman.” And why should it not be this simple?

It should also not come as a surprise that it was RC Buford’s team that made such an impactful signing. RC who has been the General Manager for the Spurs since 2002 after 5 seasons as team

GM RC Buford (left) and Coach Greg Papovich (right) were instrumental in bringing Hammon over to the Spurs

president is exactly the type of executive that one would expect to make such a move. Buford has long been involved with PeacePlayers International, sitting on the Board of Directors while also staying actively involved with trips to visit PPI – Middle East and South Africa.

Moreover, throughout his involvement with PPI, Buford has been an advocate for PPI’s efforts surrounding female participants and gender equality. PPI places special emphasis on bridging the gender gap in athletic participation in divided communities. Given the fact that a strong link has been found between girls’ participation in sport and higher academic achievement and future professional success, PPI aims to bring athletic opportunities to girls who wouldn’t have access to them otherwise.

This provides some context for how this situation was handled by everyone working with the Spurs. It was casual.

Hammon has simply shown that not only does she have a great basketball mind, but that she is able to teach and coach players extremely well. And while this one signing will not radically change the

Hammon talks basketball with Coach Papovich

game of basketball overnight, what this signing does is increase the meritocracy within the NBA, regardless of gender. And while the change may be gradual, women will hopefully now feel more confident pursuing positions that they are qualified for, regardless of who traditionally occupies that role. This is why the signing of Becky Hammon is so significant.

To the Spurs, they have hired a coach that they believe will put them in the best position to compete for another championship title but it is very clear that this decision goes well beyond the x’s and o’s. It is no coincidence that such a hiring was made by a team put together in large part by RC Buford, a man who has demonstrated his commitment not only to gender equality but to sports as a catalyst for change.


Spurs GM, RC Buford coaches a young PeacePlayer.


For more information on Becky Hammon:

Becky Hammon Press Conference

Player and Coach Reactions


Cyprus Summer Camp!

Fri, 08/08/2014 - 11:42am


Fellow Ryan Hage writes a little bit about the big PPI-Cyprus Summer Camp to accompany this fantastic video recap of the camp made by Tessa Ramsay, a volunteer for the week at camp. 

We just wrapped up our biggest event of the year, the summer camp, and it was a GIGANTIC SUCCESS! It is not only a basketball camp, but an opportunity to bring together 64 Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot youth for six days. They live, eat, breath, and play basketball together while forming friendships that will last them a lifetime.

PeacePlayers had some very special guests this week with former NBA sharpshooter, Pat Garrity, and former WNBA player, Evan Unrau. They both brought an unbelievable passion and energy to the camp that the kids fell in love with. Also, we were lucky enough to have Robbie Lemons, last weeks guest blogger, as a volunteer to give some young life to the coaches.

Overall, it was an amazing week and the video gives just a little taste of all the great events and games the kids got to take part in. Special thanks to the US Embassy and Jotun for supporting the PeacePlayers – Cyprus Summer Camp.

How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard

Thu, 08/07/2014 - 1:25pm

Hanging out after one of our many MiniFests in Jerusalem

This will be my last blog as an International Fellow for PeacePlayers International – Middle East before I head back to the States. It’s hard to believe the time has finally come to say goodbye when it seems like just yesterday I was trying authentic Middle Eastern hummus and falafel for the very first time. These days many call me a “hummus snob,” as I know all the good spots to eat and have been known to turn my nose up at hummus that isn’t up to my newly formed standards. Whether it’s the food, the people or the program in general, this place has truly become a home to me, which is why it is so difficult to leave.

PPI staff having fun during this year’s SpringFest

Initially I applied to be a PPI fellow because of my desire to make a difference. I wanted to feel like I was giving back and hoped that in the process I would also grow as a person. However, now that all is said and done, I can honestly say the people here have given me more than I could ever possibly give them. I am forever grateful for the life lessons I have learned just by being a part of PeacePlayers. Most of the people here will never know the extent to which they have changed my life. Looking back, it was all of the little things together that slowly changed my outlook on life and gave me a new definition of true happiness. I could sit here and write hundreds of stories about how giving, selfless and positive the participants and staff of this organization is.

Jack, Heni, Samantha Dols of the World Lens Foundation and I catching the sights of Jerusalem

I remember I was eating dinner one night at the house of three of our LDP members in Beit Safafa, an Arab neighborhood in Jerusalem. I told one of the girls, Aysha, that I liked the new phone case she had just gotten earlier that day. A minute later she left the room and came back with the phone case wrapped in a pretty package and handed it to me. I tried to tell her a million times that I didn’t want to take it, but she wouldn’t accept no for an answer. It may not seem like a big deal to many people here, but this moment is ingrained in my mind, and it is only one small example of the countless selfless acts I experienced here regularly. To be around people on a consistent basis that have little to no attachment to material things is something that I hope stays with me forever. The people in this program have showed me the true meaning of “the finer things in life,” and for that I am forever grateful.

Acting silly with the LDP

On a final note, I have witnessed first-hand just how many people have been affected by the work of PPI. This program has changed the hearts and minds of so many Israelis and Palestinians, and I have absolutely no doubt that it will continue to do so. Especially during these tough times, programs like this are needed more than ever. I am so fortunate I got to be a part of an organization that is doing something so admirable, that is changing the world for the better, one person at a time. No matter where life takes me, a big piece of my heart will always belong to the Middle East and my PeacePlayers family.

PPI Lands first Kiwi

Tue, 08/05/2014 - 11:15am

Kathy and Kerry Constable celebrating Ben’s graduation after a long flight from New Zealand

For the second time in three months PPI-SA is welcoming a new fellow to the team. Benjamin Constable, who originally hails from Christchurch, New Zealand, replaces Kyler McClary who returned back to the States in June. Ben brings a wealth of coaching experience as well as a propensity for dunking on people. In this week’s blog we get to know Ben:

Name: Benjamin constable

From: Christchurch, New Zealand

College: Gettysburg College/ the American University in Cairo/ Northwood University

Basketball Achievements/Accomplishments:

Academic All-American Nomination

Captain of New Zealand U18 Team

Dunking on 2 out of 3 of my USA “host brothers” (DC watch this space)

Last play of Benjamin Constable’s college career. After completing the ensuing And 1 free throw, he went to the bench with a chronic ankle sprain

Favorite BBall memory/experience?

Attending the world Adidas nations camp in New Orleans 2007 always stands out. The amount of diversity at the camp was huge, with players from all over the world coming together. It was also my first interaction with PPI and because I had been coaching since I was maybe 12 years old the idea that Basketball can change lives really hit home.

Also, it’s a great feeling any time I put on a new team’s basketball Jersey.  Each time it kind of symbolizes a check point along the road and makes you think about where you are and where you’ve been. Pretty pumped to suit up for the PPI doves!

Favorite Basketball player:

Manu Ginobili

Who is one of your role models and why?

Besides Mum and Dad who spend their time relentlessly giving back to my community back home, I’d have to say the UN’s “battering ram” Helen Clark, former New Zealand Prime Minister. Her body of work would impress anyone, but she’s an icon of breaking social norms for the betterment of society. She was the first female to be elected Prime Minister, and that pretty much says it all.

Helen Clark

Favorite Book?

Capital in the 21st Century by Thomas Piketty

What interested you about this position?

PPI’s Fellowship presented an opportunity to not just see, but become immersed in a novel culture. From my experiences, this is the fastest way to learn and grow. The fact that I can keep my hands on a basketball just makes it a dream come true.

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

Learning how South Africans view the world and hopefully picking up a bit of Zulu.

Which safari animal are you most excited to see?

Bryan Franklin running wild

Favorite inspirational quote?

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness

-Mark Twain

PPI Fellow Recognized by Alma Mater

Mon, 08/04/2014 - 10:00am

International fellow Jamie Walsh surrounded by PPI-ME participants

From time to time, our international fellows are recognized by their former universities for their work with PeacePlayers. This is an excellent way to bring awareness to the organization and spread word about the great work PeacePlayers does. Recently, PPI-ME fellow Jamie Walsh had an article written about her in La Salle Magazine. Jamie graduated from La Salle University in Philadelphia in 2010 as both basketball team captain and the women’s all-time leading three-point scorer at the school.

Jamie is a recipient of the Arn and Nancy Tellem Fellowship and helps run PPI-ME’s Leadership Development Program for participants who have demonstrated outstanding leadership potential, helping to build next generation’s leaders. These participants practice on integrated teams, volunteer as assistant coaches in their neighborhoods, participate in coach-training activities, and lead neighborhood community service projects. Jamie also coaches participants and helps organize events for PPI-ME.

To read the article about Jamie in La Salle Magazine, follow this link: Jamie Walsh – La Salle University.

First Impressions of PPI-CY Summer Camp!

Sun, 08/03/2014 - 10:08am

Robbie with some of our PPI-CY participants

Today’s blog is brought to you by Robbie Lemons, a recent Stanford graduate, who just finished playing basketball collegiately and is volunteering for the week in Cyprus. 

Hello! My name is Robbie Lemons, and I’m a 22 year old from Sacramento, CA. This past spring, I graduated from Stanford University, where I studied economics and played on the basketball team. Following graduation, I was discussing my summer plans with an assistant coach of mine, and he told me about PeacePlayers International. I took a deeper look into the organization and learned about their mission. This mission resonated deeply with me, for the potential of athletics as a diplomatic and unifying force has always captured my interest. So, fast-forward through a number of calls and emails, I finally came into contact with Gunnar Hagstrom in the DC office, who subsequently put me in touch with Cyprus fellow Ryan Hage. He told me about the summer camp that the Cyprus program was putting. Eager to learn more about the program and get some hands on experience with athletic diplomacy, I asked if I could volunteer, and he, as well as the other PPI-Cyprus staff members, were gracious enough to comply.

Coach Evan Unrau with the girls

Now, a few months later, it’s the third day of camp, and I’m writing this blog from the rolling hills of Agros, Cyprus! My experience thus far has been amazing. The staff members, along with celebrity coaches Pat Garrity and Evan Unrau, have been awesome as they work to develop basketball skills and social skills that promote peace and cooperative behavior. The camp is run with alternating lessons in basketball and peace. We start with fundamentals in the morning, followed by class during the day, and games in the evening. The campers have approached each day with remarkable energy and enthusiasm.

Coach Pat Garrity explaining a drill to the players

What has stricken me the most is that it is next to impossible to distinguish the Greek-Cypriots from the Turkish-Cypriots. All of these kids just seem like your typical campers at a summer basketball camp from any part of the world. Amazingly, I haven’t perceived a drop of North/South tension during my time at camp. What an unbelievable testament to this organization! Between the lines and throughout the hotel rooms, laughter and fellowship dominate, and contentious Cypriot relations are completely absent.

Working with one of the summer camp participants

My observations here in Cyprus, albeit limited, have helped affirm to me the power of athletics in uniting people. It seems that athletics offers a gateway, or a kick-start, to the creation of relationships that otherwise would not occur. To me, it seems that basketball provides an opportunity for these kids to see just how similar they really are. For without that initial catalyst, that realization would likely never occur. Therein lies the beauty of PeacePlayers International. It uses basketball to expose misconceptions about the “other side.” This program helps the kids realize that their similarities far exceed their differences, and that violence is not the solution, but the problem. Basketball can open the door for improved relations, fostering trust and promoting a safe, cooperative environment for the future.

I haven’t had much time in Cyprus, or with PPI, but I have already learned a lot. I’m extremely thankful to PPI-Cyprus for allowing me to tag along this week, and I look forward to participating in the future!

A PeacePlayer’s Voice Rises Above the Hate

Thu, 07/31/2014 - 4:51pm

Hadas (second from right) enjoys a celebratory meal with fellow All-Star champions.

This week’s blog is written by Hadas Prawer, a member of the Leadership Development Program and the Jerusalem All-Stars.

Hello, my name is Hadas, and I’m a Jewish 17-year-old from Jerusalem. Two weeks ago, I was reading International Fellow Jamie Walsh’s blog, and I started thinking that we, the participants of the program, should be sharing our thoughts and feelings as well, especially with everything that is going on with the conflict right now. That’s why I decided to write this week’s blog.

I’m in America right now for soccer camp, and all I can think about is what is going on back in the Middle East. I know everyone already knows about the war that is happening, but the thing that bothers me the most is what is going on between the people in my region. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to see the hate between both sides, and it’s true that there will always be extremist groups that will try to spread the hate, but the question is why do we let them affect us so easily? If you look on any social media site you can see racism and hate from both sides towards each other, and that is what bothers me the most. But there’s a little light of hope in the middle of all this hate (at least for me), and this light is called PeacePlayers.

Hadas and three of her fellow All Stars celebrating after a big win.

Here’s an example:

Besides basketball, I also play soccer for A.S.A. Tel Aviv (a team that only has Jewish players), and my team got to the national championship game against Sakhnin. For those of you who don’t know, this team is from an Arab village in northern Israel. A few minutes after the game started, I saw a group of people coming into the stadium, and I was surprised to see a group of my friends from PeacePlayers coming to support my team and I. Now try to picture it: a Jewish team playing against an Arab team. You are Arab, but your friend is playing for the Jewish team. My friends cheered for me. What would you do in this situation? In some places in the world, this might not seem so crazy, but where I’m from, most of the time Arabs and Jews don’t exactly cheer each other on at sports games. When they cheered for me, I was so proud to be a part of PeacePlayers. I was so happy that I got to know these girls, and that without a doubt, these girls changed my life. Anyone that was watching the game was so surprised. I think it sends a message, loud and clear, that our friendship is stronger than any war, and we will continue to be friends forever. Our friendship is there to show the world that there’s another way, a better way.

Hadas (second from left) at this year’s Peace League at the American International School in Even Yehuda.

The message I want to pass on is this:

It doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t matter what you are, always support the people you care about. Dare to say out loud, “We refuse to be enemies, we refuse to hate each other.” I can say it, and I am saying it. And I bet, if you ask anyone that is a part of PeacePlayers, we would all say the same thing: “We are PeacePlayers, and we are against the hate and racism. We won’t let our society dictate to us who to hate and who to like. We are PeacePlayers, and we refuse to be enemies, no matter what. We are PeacePlayers, and we are here to prove that there’s a better way for all of us!”

The Need for a Playground Basketball Culture

Thu, 07/31/2014 - 10:48am

Albert Park in Downtown Durban is home to a beautiful outdoor basketball court which sits empty 95% of the time.

The court is surrounded; not by tall buildings, traffic lights or loud streets, but by rolling hills, broken school windows and barbed wire fences. This is playground basketball, South Africa style. Last week, ESPN profiled the dying legend of playground basketball across the United States. If this version of the sport is on the downward spiral in the US, it sits at the opposite side of the curve in SA, clawing like a lion to be let out of its cage.

Umlazi LDP participants Mthembu and Njabulo

The scene is set at Sukuma Primary School, where PPI staff are busy preparing for an LDP clinic. Mthembu and Njabulo arrive late, because they had to walk over an hour to get to the school on this particular Saturday morning. Unlike in the US where playground basketball was popularized because of the relevant minimal needs to play the sport, mainly a hoop and a ball, that’s not the case in SA. Mthembu and Njabulo don’t have a ball of their own, a court to  play on, or even shoes to play in, but that hasn’t diminished their passion for this incredible game.

Scene 2 is set at Albert Park – a park located in downtown Durban, right across the street from the Grand Chester and Park Gate apartment complexes, both of which have seen better days. The park is home to a beautiful outdoor basketball court built by PPI-SA and the NBA a few years back. Unfortunately, like many of its cousins in the US, Albert Park is no longer used for fear of violence.

Scene 3 is located on the other side of Durban. Hoy Park is home to no less than 10 outdoor basketball courts, 2 baseball fields, and 3 soccer fields. Yet, most afternoons the only people you’ll find at the park are security guards and maintenance workers. The city places a huge emphasis on keeping the park safe and clean. This means it is closed to the general public unless one makes a reservation, which is no easy task considering one must go through the parks and recreation department to do so.

Hoy Park is home to 10 outdoor basketball courts, which are closed to the public unless one has a reservation.

Despite all this, basketball has never been more popular in Durban. With the Basketball National League (BNL) in full swing, and Durban being home to two teams from the BNL, the sport is constantly talked about. At the same time, I can’t help but feel like the sport is having its legs pulled out from under it. With limited resources, PPI-SA serves 500 youth a year, using the sport as a way to bridge divides and teach life skills. Hundreds more participants sit on a waiting list to join teams.

Unfortunately, this isn’t enough. Unlike the States, migrating indoors isn’t an option.  If like at one time in the US, basketball and its outdoor courts are to become “safe havens” for people of all ages, it’s going to take a concerted effort from all parties here in South Africa. It’s going to take the city of Durban making it a priority to open up its public parks and policing those parks located in rougher neighborhoods. It’s going to take local professional players spending time giving back in the cities and provinces that raised them. And it’s going to take the continued work of organizations like PPI-SA teaching and coaching youth and raising awareness of the sport.

If all this were to happen, it would be a great first step in creating Durban’s own playground basketball culture, where the game of basketball becomes more than just an event where one team wins and one team loses, but instead a place where youth, professional players, and senior citizens alike can come together as one community over the shared love of basketball.

Summer Update-Camp is Almost Here!

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 12:37pm

Coach Tessa helping coach some of our younger participants

PPI-CY Fellow, Ryan Hage, gives an update on what is happening on the island the week before the biggest event of the year starts-Summer Camp!

It has been a crazy couple of weeks preparing for our annual Summer Camp. The biggest event of the year, it takes a lot of planning to coordinate events for 64 Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot kids for a whole week.

We will be hosting some very special guests for the week. Both Pat Garrity, former power forward for the Orlando Magic, and Evan Unrau, assistant coach at the University of Southern California, will be doing some coaching! They were both extremely gifted players and are respected coaches in their communities.

With camp coming up, we just had our last week of coaching at the Nareg School. Every Monday and Wednesday, Stefanie Nicolas, Program Coordinator, and myself had been coaching two different groups of children in the morning. From ages 12 all the way down to 4 years old, we had a blast teaching them the game we love.

One of our biggest PPI-CY helpers, Orhun Mevlit, came along with Stefanie and myself to have a PeacePlayers session with the Cyprus Friendship Program. It is an amazing program that brings around 40 Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot young adults together to learn about the history of the conflict in Cyprus. While learning about the history, they discuss how peace can be achieved through forgiveness. It was an amazing day and we are thankful to be hosted by such a fun group.

Also, we have a special guest, Tessa Ramsay, helping out PeacePlayers-Cyprus for the summer. Tessa comes from New York City and is a 10th grade English teacher with extensive basketball experience. Formerly a high school standout, she has also helped with numerous youth basketball camps and youth league teams. She is a very positive addition to the PPI-CY family for the summer and we are glad to have her!

We will check in next week to share how the first half of our summer camp is going!


Coach Ryan with his most serious group of players

Coach Stefanie with the Cyprus Friendship program doing a drill on teamwork

A Reflection on African Basketball

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 2:33pm

During my first action back on an American court this week coaching American kids, I have a bit of a yearning to go back to Africa ball.

Today’s blog is written by former PPI-SA Fellow, Kyler McClary

I left South Africa a little over a month ago now. I never wrote a proper “farewell” blog entry when I left like most every other fellow does when they leave their site and return home. I could have written about all the people I will miss, all the good times I had, the impact the program has had on me, or my overall take-aways from the experience. I could have also written about all my favorite memories from my two years in South Africa, but former fellow Kristin Degou wrote about all those when she left back in December and most of our time and experiences overlapped. I decided to let things simmer for a little while, get readjusted back at home, then reflect on my time in South Africa after I had been away from it for a bit.

Some action from camp this week. I can’t believe how skilled these kids are, but coaching here just isn’t the same.

This week is as good a week as any to reflect, as I’m back on the court coaching kids at a basketball camp in Oregon. The age group, 10-17, is very similar to the ages of the kids we worked with in South Africa, so naturally my mind has drifted back there about 1,000 times in the couple days that I’ve been here. I can’t help but to reminisce and compare. The kids here are good. They are well trained in fundamentals, with several years of organized play and proper coaching already under their belts, in addition to countless hours watching the sport on television and in person. They came decked out in all the latest basketball gear, brought cases of Gatorade and boxes of snacks to last them for the week, and even brought Xbox’s and Playstations to pass the time in their rooms at night while they should be, you know, sleeping. Yeah, this isn’t Africa. The basketball is way better here, the kids are better equipped, the structure is more organized, but this week so far has allowed me to realize all the things I miss most about basketball in Africa, PeacePlayers style. And here they are:

  1. Celebrations.

    Their school’s team probably made a 1st quarter lay-up or something.

    The kids here at camp have a variety of celebrations when the score, mostly subtle to not-so-subtle gestures and sequences that they pick up from the guys they see on TV. However, at some of our games in South Africa, a made lay-up in the 1st quarter could easily turn into half the school rushing the court, breaking out into dancing and chanting while we as the refs tried to clear everyone off the court so the game could resume. Nothing beats those celebrations.

  2. Low-scoring games.

    Yesterday, I dejectedly glanced at the scoreboard as my team was trailing 80-59 with 8 minutes to go in the game, and yearned for the 6-4 battles that used to take place among some of our primary school teams that were just learning the game. In Africa, no matter how bad your team was, you were almost always within a basket or two of tying things up or taking the lead. In addition, even a basket in the last minute to cut a 12-2 deficit to a 12-4 deficit could lead to one of the aforementioned school-wide celebrations. It kept things interesting, even when the games were not the easiest to watch.

  3. Monkeys on and around the court.

    These guys…

    Carrington and Summerfield were notorious for this. So far at this week’s camp, I have not seen any monkeys anywhere. This makes me a little sad inside. Squirrels just don’t cut it for me anymore.

  4. A different type of passion.

    There’s no doubt that these kids at camp love basketball, but they are also here because their parents signed them up, drove them down here, and dropped them off with enough money and supplies to last them three weeks, let alone 5 days. I loved going to sessions where the kids were there because they snuck out of the house without anyone knowing and walked a mile to the court because they wanted to play, knowing full well that grandma was going to be displeased by their absence upon their return home.

  5. Astronomical improvement.

    I’ve improved some kids’ jumpshots this week, adjusting their elbows slightly this way or that, given them a new move or two, and refined their good but slightly flawed defensive techniques. But nothing compares to taking a kid who doesn’t know a basketball from a soccer ball one week and seeing them dribbling down the court and swishing a jump shot a few weeks later, jumping around and grinning from ear to ear as they run back on defense.

    We were able to teach the kids so much in such a short amount of time, and our coaches were so passionate about their teams.

  6. The local coaches.

    The coaches here at camp do a good job, but at the end of the day it’s just another day of coaching in a nearly year-round basketball schedule. For many of our local coaches in South Africa, this is their first time getting a chance to coach a team on their own, and a friendly game between primary schools on a Friday afternoon might as well be the NBA Playoffs. The kids really feed off their energy and passion at the games, and makes them feel like they are part of something bigger as well.

  7. 3-Pointers.

    Here in the States, 3-pointers are cool. They give you 3 more points than you had before you took the shot, and people applaud you for making them. The younger the kid, the more excited they get about making a 3-pointer. In South Africa, when one of our primary school players made a 3-pointer, they treated it like one of the defining moments of their lives. Picture a March Madness buzzer beater to lift a 15-seed to a shocking upset over a 2-seed and the ensuing elation. I could make a One Shining Moment montage just of South African kids hitting 3-pointers over the past two years and it would be the best thing you have ever watched. Talk about a viral video…

That’s all for now, I’ve got some American kids to go coach. I’m having a great time, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t wish I had a squad of kids from Wentworth or Umlazi to run with at this camp. I feel too far removed from them already.

Journeying to the Heart of PeacePlayers

Mon, 07/21/2014 - 1:54pm

Grant and the PPI team in Jerusalem during his recent visit

Today’s blog is written by PPI Development and Communications Intern, Grant Youngkin. Grant is going into his junior year at St Albans High School in Washington DC.  He plays soccer, hoops and hopes to be involved with basketball in some way when he grows up.

I started out my summer internship with PeacePlayers not knowing what to expect. All I knew was that I was going to work for an organization that taught basketball in order to bridge divides between young people around the world. I spent my first couple weeks trying to grasp what went on behind the scenes, trying to understand what it would be like to be in the field, watching as kids just like me used the game I love to break down barriers and build friendships

Taking in the breathtaking sights of the Old City

Then I got that chance. Three weeks ago my family and I traveled to Israel for vacation. One of my favorite places that we visited was the Old City of Jerusalem. This experience made chills run down my spine because of the great history that took place in this city. All of the stories that I read about people conquering Jerusalem and constantly fighting over it finally really resonated with me.

During our time in Jerusalem I was fortunate enough to spend an entire afternoon with PeacePlayers. We ate together and broke the fast of Ramadan with the kids and coaches. I even got to play basketball with them. Although we spoke different languages, I was surprised at how easy it was to communicate with them. I learned how to understand people who I could not talk to directly. After all, basketball allows you to communicate without speaking. Everyone was very nice and welcoming and I truly enjoyed meeting these great people that live a very different life from me.

Watching the news and hearing personal experiences during my time in the region, I understand the great hardships and the constant tension and fear that all these families have to endure every single day of their lives. The ability of PeacePlayers to take these kids and teach them the sport of basketball is amazing given the challenging circumstances that these participants sometimes face. Not to mention, these kids interact with people of the “other side,” some who have been told never to do so. But now some of these “enemies” have become best friends, and I was able to experience firsthand the process of building these long-lasting friendships. This trip was life altering because I learned how impactful and meaningful PeacePlayers’ work really is.

Breaking the fast of Ramadan with the PPI team!


"It’s hard to live without my parents, but my PPI coach is always there for me. He’s really more like a brother."
Sihle Cele, Participant, PeacePlayers International – South Africa
"I 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
"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’m glad that Ronnie’s taking part in PeacePlayers…hopefully Ronny doesn’t have to go through what I went through at Ronnie’s age.”
Manny Macauley, Parent, PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland
"I was 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
"We typically use activities such as art and drama to bridge divides between the youth. We always knew that sport had the potential to do the same, but PPI - ME's sport day went way above and beyond...
Yael Gur, Project Manager, A New Way, Israel
"We find that the PeacePlayers program brings in life-skills in a non-threatening way, and is helping to educate children on the big issues of HIV…We also find that in the PeacePlayers program, we...
Pamilla Mudhray, CSI Manager, Sasol, South Africa
"When you get to know your teammates, it doesn’t really matter what their religion is."
Aoife Doherty, Participant, PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland
"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
"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
"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 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
"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
"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
"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