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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!
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.
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:
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.
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.
Monkeys on and around the court.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Fellow Ryan Hage interviews PPI-ME Project Manager, Heni. Her and her colleague, Jamie Walsh, are visiting Cyprus to get some much needed R&R for the week.
How long have you been a part of PeacePlayers?
I started volunteering at the age of 15 in Jaffa with a mixed team with former Middle East fellow, David Lasday. The second year I was a coach, and the third year I coached even more teams in Jaffa.
Why did you get involved in PeacePlayers?
Coach Vito, Basketball Operations Manager for PPI-ME, was my coach at the time and asked me to help coach in Jaffa. I came at first for the basketball, but soon realized it was much bigger than that. After a while, I wanted to get more and more involved and started to go to twinnings in Jerusalem on a regular basis.
Why did you take a break in coaching for PeacePlayers?
Every Israeli citizen is required to be in the army for at least two years, if you are a female. It was a great experience that taught me to self-reflect a lot on what I do well and what I can improve upon. It taught me to care for others and look out for them. I have a lot of friends now that I made in my time with the army that I will have for life.
How did you get involved in PeacePlayers after the army and what is your role now?
I spoke with our Managing Director, Karen, because I wanted to get involved in the program as quickly as possible. I love the organization and its mission. I started coming to events and my role quickly grew from there. I am a Project Manager and am in charge of 22 teams and the events in which they take part. From twinnings and retreats to mini-fest and Peace League, I am very busy planning the programming year. Also, I coach one team in Jiser, where the kids do not speak Hebrew or English. At first it was a challenge, but you find ways to coach through hand motions and other things. Basketball is the language.
Do you feel like PeacePlayers is making a difference?
YES. So many examples like the LDP (Leadership Development Program), the teams we have in the north of Israel, and all of our kids that have been in the program for a while. You see the way they start to look at each other. They do not judge each other as Jewish or Arab, but as basketball players and then as friends. Over the years, we have seen real friendships form where kids are having sleepovers and dinners on a regular basis. PeacePlayers gives them the opportunity to meet and they take it from there. It is amazing. It’s small differences that happen at first, but those small differences turn into big differences. You can see attitudes change and they are not only becoming better basketball players, but better people.
Today’s blog is written by PPI-ME fellow Jamie Walsh.
The past week and a half will stay with me for the rest of my life.
I certainly feel that way about my entire experience working for PeacePlayers in the Middle East, but I was not expecting to be here during a time of war. While tensions are always high in this region, now it seems like everyone is especially on edge, not sure what’s going to happen on a day-by-day basis. While many locals are unfortunately accustomed to the chaos, I went through an array of emotions, including distress, sadness, and eventually guilt.
Even though I was extremely prepared by coworkers of what to do in case the sirens go off, the first time it happened I was understandably shocked and frightened. Growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, this kind of situation is foreign to me in every possible way. However, I will say that what you see on the news is quite different from what it feels like to actually be here.
Once I got a little more used to the situation, the sadness eventually set in. I couldn’t help but constantly think of the kids in the program and how they were doing and feeling. No matter what side you are on or what your opinions are about the matter, there is no denying the fact that civilians on either side of the conflict should not have to live this way.
Last week, I wrote a blog pertaining to the fact that PPI-ME was still meeting and still a family despite the current conflict. I had tears in my eyes while on the phone with two of the girls, Toot (Israeli) and Aysha (Palestinian), interviewing them about their opinions and feelings regarding the situation. They both echoed similar thoughts: how could people do such horrible things, and how could people hate so much without even knowing anyone from the other side? Their maturity and depth at such a young age is truly one of the most remarkable things I have ever experienced. Whether it is because of the environment I was raised in or the differences in the types of challenges I faced, I don’t remember being nearly as aware or wise as a teenager. They truly inspire me and give me hope that one day more people will be able to see the world as they do.
Due to the contentious situation, the staff here felt it was best that I continue my work in Cyprus until things calm down a bit. While I completely understand their reasoning, I couldn’t help but feel a little like I was abandoning my family in the Middle East. I will never be able to put into words how much I love the people in this program and how much this place has truly become “a home away from home” for me. I continue to keep in touch with the staff and participants on a daily basis, and in many ways this situation has made the bonds between the PPI family stronger than ever. I am thinking of them every day and of all the other innocent people who are forced to live in this conflict while anxiously awaiting to return to my family in the Middle East.
This week, Coach James reflects on what was one of the most peaceful 12th of July celebrations Northern Ireland has seen for some time.
Usually during this time of the year, Belfast and other areas of Northern Ireland are hitting national and international news for all the wrong reasons, with images of factions from both sides of the historical political divide rioting, often with the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) in the middle trying to mediate and keep the peace .
This year, however, Northern Ireland experienced the quietest ‘Twelfth of July’ celebrations the country has seen in a long, long time. There was no fighting, no rioting, no petrol bombs, and no water cannons (a common sight on the news in previous years).
Politicians have been talking to communities, including many young people, in the build up to the ‘twelfth’ and reported that everyone was calm and collected, wanting to keep things as peaceful as possible. Communities in Northern Ireland finally didn’t take part in violence with the usual ‘us versus them’ frame of mind. Talks were held between politicians and community leaders, and everyone came out the other side in one piece!
This all begs me to ask – After rioting and violence have broken out during this time of year for so, so long, how did this calm come about?
PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland (PPI-NI) has been working with children in areas that are most affected by this division of opinion for over ten years now. Children who once began with PPI-NI as 7-year-old primary 4 pupils are now nineteen and twenty years old, ages that would have fallen in the demographic group with the highest percentage of arrests according to last year’s riots.
Year after year, PPI-NI brings in more and more young children from different communities with the aim of ‘Bridging Divides / Developing Leaders / Changing Perceptions.’ Our ethos is that ‘Children who play together can learn to live together.’ This year, PPI-NI saw around 3,000 participants (ages 7-17) come together through our programs. With our proven conflict management curriculum from the Arbinger Institute, and by using basketball as a tool to instill the lessons taught through the curriculum, I think it’s safe to say that PPI-NI is certainly making a difference in a lot of children’s lives.
Of course, there is still a lot of work to be done in tackling the challenges that continue to exist, but it is heartwarming to know that PeacePlayers is playing a part in this process.
Is the calm experienced during this year’s 12th of July celebrations the first sign that those who have learned to play together are beginning to learn to live together? I honestly can’t wait to find out.
In this week’s blog, PPI-SA fellow Bryan Franklin looks back at his 2014 World Cup experience.
As sports fans everywhere take a much needed break from one of the most exhilarating World Cups ever, I can’t help but reflect back on what the past few weeks have taught us about the incredible power sport carries in our culture. It’s the power not only to bring people together, but to teach life lessons in the process.
If I’m being honest, I’m not a huge soccer fan. My interest in the sport consists of watching the above mentioned event every four years, reading an article or two on ESPN about the US qualifying campaign and playing an occasional pick-up game with people much more skilled than I. Yet the World Cup has this mystique about it. Something that just draws you in, so much so that for every game the U.S. National team played (many of which were at 10PM or later here in South Africa), I found myself surrounded by other Americans cheering on our team.
With the late start time, one may have thought we would have been alone in watching many of these games, but that was far from the case. Each time I gathered with fellow fans, there were individuals from all over the world there with us. In the U.S. vs. Ghana game, I watched in a house just outside Durban filled with international students from 5 other countries. For U.S. vs Belgium, I found myself at a lodge in the Sossusvlei Desert of Namibia, which had one of two TV’s in a 50+ mile radius, and individuals from Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Namibia, South Africa and
of course America gathered to watch the game. Later that week, my friend and I attended a soccer festival in Windhoek, Namibia, and while the diversity was not nearly as strong, we found ourselves playing a soccer game of our own with 4 Namibians during halftime of the Argentina vs. Belgium quarterfinal matchup.
The lessons this World Cup provided didn’t stop there however. Examining the play itself, which was one of the most competitive in recent history with 50% of the knockout stage matches going to extra time, I can’t help but appreciate how important the team concept was. In a World Cup where big names such as Messi, Robben, Neymar and Suarez ruled the headlines, the winning team was one with no easily identified best player. Such a balanced attack allowed for the collective talent of the team to shine through. It was a story very similar to the one that played out in the NBA Finals just a few weeks back. That concept of being part of a team, of striving for something bigger than yourself is one that we teach everyday here to the youth of South Africa. It’s a concept that may be best taught through sports but applies to nearly every area of our lives long after we’re done playing.
Nelson Mandela’s birthday is this Friday. He would have been 96.
The world lost a great man this past December. Nelson Mandela was the first president of South Africa, admirably referred to as the father of the nation, and a Nobel Peace Prize recipient. Mandela was arrested in 1962 for leading a campaign against the apartheid government in South Africa and served twenty-seven years in prison. Upon his release, he worked to end apartheid, thereby cementing his name in the history books.
Up through the early 1990s, even sport was segregated in South Africa. Rugby and cricket were affiliated with the white population, and soccer was typically known as the black sport (basketball was not popular at the time, but its presence, as we know, continues to grow).
When he was elected to office in 1994, rather than attend a celebration hosted by one of the many local embassies, Mandela attended a soccer match. Richard Lapchick, present at the time, asked him “Mr. President, with all the diplomatic parties being held in your honor, why did you come here to the soccer match?” to which Mandela responded “I wanted my people to know that I know that because of the sacrifices our athletes made for so long, I became their president earlier than I would have without those sacrifices.”
Mandela recognized the power of sport. His nation hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Many people were outraged as Mandela was trying to garner support for the Springbok team, a team composed almost entirely of white players. However, when Mandela first stepped onto the field in the green Springbok jersey – a longtime symbol of division in South Africa – and shook each player’s hand, the crowd erupted in cheers, chanting his name. Mandela was able to unite the country through the power of sport, something even diplomacy failed to do. He also played an integral role in securing South Africa’s bid to host the 2010 World Cup.
We at PeacePlayers International recognize the power of sport to create peace and bring about social change. Sport can bridge divides and change perceptions, foster relationships and promote camaraderie. Despite what is going on in the areas around them, our players around the world continue to come together through the shared love of basketball. It’s a beautiful thing.
To quote Mandela, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.”
Thank you, Mr. Mandela, and Happy Birthday.
Fellow Ryan Hage, along with many other PPI-CY members, had the pleasure of attending former PeacePlayer-Cyprus fellow, Adam Hirsch’s wedding near Kyrenia this past week!
July 4th, America’s independence day, was the reason for celebration for most of our family and friends back in the States last week. But PeacePlayers-Cyprus had an even more joyous occasion to celebrate the beautiful Friday evening at Korineum Resort near Kyrenia. Beloved former fellow Adam Hirsch married his longtime girlfriend, Fatosh Arabacioglu!
Loved ones from near and far came for the celebration of the two’s union, including some of Adam’s best friends and family from not-so-close California. This being my first wedding on the island, I had no idea what to expect or what a Cypriot wedding would be like.
It became apparent very quickly that it would be a blend of both cultures, with a beautiful ceremony outdoors held in both Turkish and English. Adam’s Turkish was very impressive even though I had no idea what anyone was saying, haha. The live band gave a mix of current hits and traditional Cypriot music, with a team of Cypriot dancers coming out midway through the reception. This was obviously my favorite part because it was very well choreographed and unlike anything I have ever seen before.
Many associated with PeacePlayers-Cyprus came out for the affair, with many board members and the PPI-CY staff, former and present, in attendance celebrating the moment. I am always reminded how great the people associated with the organization are, which is what makes all of the great work we do possible. We were very thankful to be invited to this event and wish Adam and Fatosh many years of happiness!
If you have turned on the news lately you can see that currently things in the Middle East are not so peaceful, to put it mildly. This is a hard time for everyone with tons of emotions flying around. However, members of the LDP (Leadership Development Program) still found a way to come together even though everything and everyone else going on around them is is telling them to fall apart. The mixed group of Israeli and Palestinian teens met for a special Iftar (Ramadan breakfast) meal at sundown and then played basketball games for an additional two hours. The kids laughed and talked per usual, having fun and playing together like they always do. I asked some of the kids how they felt to come together like this in such difficult times.
LDP participant Toot commented, “I think it is very important that we all met despite what is going on around us because it shows that we not only can come together when things are easy, but also when things are difficult. This just goes to show how effective PeacePlayers is and how much this program has changed the way we think. We are putting our frustrations towards a peaceful path instead of feeling revenge and anger as other kids our age do. I wish everyone would realize that the other side is also human and they are just people like us. I wish every single person living in this conflict would realize we are all just people and we shouldn’t judge others just by what we see in the media.”
Another long time participant, Aysha Faqih, added, “What is going on in our countries affects our lives in a big way, but it does not affect how we feel about each other. No matter what happens, we love each other, and we have a bond that nothing can break. PeacePlayers has taught us that we don’t have to think and feel the way many others do, that we can look at the situation a different way and see everyone as people.” Many other LDP members echoed similar feelings in between games and chatting with each other about daily life. Everyone agreed that no matter how bad things may get here, and no matter how much harder this current situation becomes, we will all stick together and remember the important lessons PeacePlayers has taught us. We will remember that we can overcome any bridges or divides that are thrown our way because the friendships we have formed as a result of this program can never be broken.
Intern Olivier Pratter shares his experience with a primary school Twinning program in Northern Ireland.
So long, Saint-Pats and Ballee!
A few Tuesdays ago, I took part in my last twinning session in Ballymeena with Saint-Patricks and Ballee and bid farewell to a group that I had never expected to be so great! My long-time colleague, Coach Megan (I am taking the liberty to call her a long-time colleague after weeks of chitchat in her car between Belfast and Ballymeena), along with local coaches Alistair and Craig organized a full session of matches which were brought to full swing by a group that was, as they say in this part of the world, ‘dead on’ (Northern Ireland slang for ‘nice people’).
Jingle Ball was my first 2014 encounter with these players, who were still fresh from Holidays. “Olivia” (That’s what they call me – they still need practice outside the field to pronounce my name correctly – they use Olivia because it is the female equivalent to Olivier, my real name – I know it was said with good intention) ‘Whats the craic?’ ‘You are here!’ ‘Long time!’ they all screamed. Trying to imagine French Canadian delicacies, one participant asked me if I had snails on BBQ over Christmas. We greeted each other with the well rehearsed secret hand shakes that we had practiced weeks beforehand. I thought these handshake tricks would sink into oblivion over the holidays, but that was far from being the case! The children knew them better than I did! Boys and girls went for the ball regardless of the apprehensions they had over the first weeks of the Twinning. They mingled, talked and eventually formed a great group. Had I not known who belonged to which school, I could not have made any distinction between the students from Ballee and the students from Saint-Patricks. Together they engaged in the game, laughed, shared stories and joked with each other. No one was left out. It’s incredible to think that these children would have never met each other if it weren’t for PeacePlayers.
The energy levels during twinnings were great! Some participants were keener on chatting than others, but they all fully engaged in each of the matches. During one session, we had an incident where one player fell on another while attempting to take the ball from him, injuring his opponent’s knee. However, thanks to lessons from PPI-NI’s Anatomy of Peace and conflict management curriculum, both of the players were high-fiving each other and playing ball again. Team spirit at its best! I knew I was part of a great twinning when I first met the players from both schools, but I believe the many activities and workshops organised by PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland helped the bonds between participants reach such high levels. This isn’t just about basketball. It is about friendship and humanizing the ‘other side.’
In this week’s blog we catch up with former PPI-SA Coach and Area Coordinator, and new PPI-NI Fellow Nasiphi “Nas” Khafu before she departs on her new journey.
How did you first hear about Peace Players International – South Africa?
In 2006, I was attending Futura High School and met a friend who was playing basketball with PeacePlayers International (At the time known as Playing for Peace). I remember going to practice for the first time, never having played basketball before. I was 18 and here were these 13 year old girls who were way better than I was. But the coach was so great, and I loved the competitiveness of it, so I kept coming back. Unfortunately, I had to quit a few months later because my mom wanted me home to help out. Little did I know that, that wouldn’t be my last interaction with PPI.
My mom passed away in 2006, and my life changed. I had two little siblings to take care of, on top of school and work. But I had no other option than to keep moving forward. I finished my Matric and went on to study Sports Management at Durban Institute of Technology (DUT).
I was studying full time, playing basketball and waitressing, and still just getting by. I went days with little or no food. A few of my friends who I met through playing basketball at DUT recommended that I check out working for PPI. Here I was, a 19 year old having only played basketball for a few months, interviewing for a basketball coaching position. Even so, I knew two things: I loved working with kids, and I had the passion to learn.
That passion and willingness showed through in my interviews and shortly after I was hired as a PPI coach.
Tell us about your experience working with PPI.
I started in 2008 and my first post was as coach at Durban Primary School. I was so nervous, but continued to observe and learn from the PPI staff and other coaches. The next year I was named PPI-SA coach of the year, and got to go to Johannesburg. I had just joined PPI a year ago, had just begun playing basketball not long before that and here I was, the first person to fly in my family, and the first to stay in a hotel, it was amazing.
In the second half of 2009, I became the Durban area coordinator and oversaw 7 primary schools throughout the city. Here I was managing people I had looked up to since my time at PPI began, and All I could think is how am I going to do this? I got through it by not acting as a boss, but instead as a friend. It was my mission to help them find their passion and pursue their dreams.
The area coordinator position was also the first time I really noticed the diversity in wealth across the different schools and communities. One school had two swimming pools while at the other kids didn’t have lunch to eat. It showed me that despite their circumstances all these kids needed one thing; someone who cared about them and gave them time.
A few years later, in 2012, through PPI I was selected to travel to the United States with the U.S. Department of State’s SportsUnited exchange program. That was a dream come true! I was one of twelve coaches across South Africa selected for the trip, and one of just two girls.
The traveling and opportunities didn’t stop there. In July of 2009, I was part of the inaugural Laureus YES (Youth Empowerment Through Sports) Program, and was eventually asked to go to Barcelona to speak on behalf of the program.
What is it about basketball or sports that makes it such a great tool for working with youth?
Nelson Mandela once said: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.”
I couldn’t agree more. Sport fed me, it clothed me, it gave me accommodation, it gave me friends, it gave me family, it was my escape, I felt complete with a basketball in my hands.
I just want to show kids that nothing is impossible. I’m really passionate about people, and helping them find themselves… who they are, what they are and what’s going to make them happy. I love investing in people and helping people find themselves, because I look back and see all the people who helped me along the way.
I’m so excited to use sport as a way to do this.
What was it that attracted you to the PPI-Fellowship Position?
When I first joined PPI, I remember [PPI Staffer] Ryan Douwie was a fellow, and I always wondered why no one else form SA did it. I had been around long enough that I had seen fellows coming into SA for two years and how they came in as one person and left completely transformed. I’ve always been a dreamer, and so I wanted to be that next South African to become a fellow.
Last year an opportunity came up to go to Cyprus, but I was scared and didn’t end up applying. So when I got that second opportunity with Northern Ireland I wasn’t going to let it slip through
What are you most excited about with the new position?
I’m looking forward to learning about the Irish culture and bringing the loving African culture of Ubuntu, to Northern Ireland. I’ve never been a minority in my life. Coming from South Africa’s history of Apartheid, I think it will be very interesting to be a minority and get that perspective. I can’t wait to bring my experience from the program I’ve fallen in love with down here in SA to Northern Ireland.
Today’s blog is written by PPI Communications and Development Intern, Max Mancher
America celebrated Independence Day this past Friday. For many people, it was more than a day to watch fireworks and commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It was a day to make a difference. At a time when patriotism was high and people were excited to spend the day outside, it was the perfect opportunity to organize an event that would help others, and so many people answered that call.
While it is an American holiday that is normally defined by hot dog eating, watching fireworks and spending time with loved ones, Independence Day is becoming so much more. It is becoming a time to be proactive and give back to the community. And there is no shortage of ways in which this can be done. From going out and completing a run, to dialing for a phone bank, those who were able to help throughout the country were doing what they could for those less fortunate and this is a trend that will hopefully continue in this country.
On Friday the Ronald McDonald House charities raised over $1 million for sick children in communities all over the country. They went to work with a phone bank in order to collect donations. Throughout the country there were also countless events going on such as charity runs where families were getting out in order to raise awareness and funds for causes that they chose to support.
A man named Jeremy Lampert decided to bike ride about 400 miles over the span of seven days following July 4th. He is riding to raise awareness for a disease called Cri du Chat syndrome that has affected the child of a close friend of his. This is just another example of individuals getting out and doing their part. This holiday is changing, the way people spend the day is changing and one of the most prominent benefactors of this change in culture are children.
People and organizations can start to really make a difference in children’s lives as events like these become annual occurrences. PeacePlayers International wants to recognize all the hard work that has gone into the charity events organized all over the country. As an organization we realize the importance of grassroots projects that help those in need and these projects are especially important. The outcomes of such events are not purely financial. There is a mindset change that is occurring as more people decide to spend a part of their day giving back and donating their time. This is an invaluable shift that will have a significant impact on the future.
PeacePlayers thanks those giving all they can to help the community around them. On a day commemorating our country and the principles it was founded on, there is no better time to think of ways to make a difference and put those ideas into action. Getting into the spirit of July 4th is no longer just about wearing red, white and blue; it is now about getting out, and giving back.
PPI-CY Fellow Ryan Hage gives us an update on what is happening in the office during the first few weeks of summer.
As I write this blog, it is currently 106 degrees Fahrenheit and does not look to be getting any cooler in the coming days. It has been an eventful few weeks for PeacePlayers-Cyprus, with many exciting events for the organization and also the staff personally.
Leading off, we are in the midst of planning our big summer camp! It is the biggest event of the year and is the one week the kids and coaches look forward to the most. It takes a lot of preparation and planning to run such an event with 64 total participants, 32 Greek-Cypriot children and 32 Turkish-Cypriot children. Not only will they participate in twice-a-day basketball training sessions, but they will also be trained in PPI’s ‘Anatomy of Peace’ curriculum. It is a great week where relationships are built and memories are made.
Also, we recently said goodbye to our beloved fellow, Ashley Johnson. She was a vital part of the PPI-CY family, and her presence and dedication will be greatly missed. She will be remembered for a lot of things, but most of all, she will be remembered for her always-positive attitude. I never saw her get down on herself or others, no matter what the circumstances, and that was refreshing to see. Ashley is back in the U.S. getting ready to start her masters program at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service.
Finally, our very own Managing Director, Jale Canlibalik, got married last week! It was a beautiful ceremony in Kybele followed by a reception at a restaurant in Bellapais overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Congratulations to Jale and her new husband, Semsi!
Admist all of the regular twinnings, practices and events throughout the year, occasionally our youth get the opportunity to do something completely different. This year, our LDP (Leadership Development Program) completed one of their Social Action Projects with the ISCD (Israel Sports Center for the Disabled). The ISCD was established in 1960, originally designed for poliovirus victims. Today the center is used by people with an array of disabilites, with one of the main programs being therapeutic sports activity. Our LDP participants were given the chance to not only experience what life would be like if they were confined to a wheelchair, but also to meet and learn from an individual who has been with the center for several years.
Upon our arrival, we were immediately introduced to a 31-year-old man named Shimi. Shimi has been attending the center since he was 4 years old. Though he has physical disabilities which limit his ability to walk, Shimi has been able to accomplish so much! Not only is he a world champion in hand bicycling at the London games, but he even climbed Mount Kilimanjaro - an incredible feat for anyone! He spent a lot of time talking with us about what the center does and giving us details of his own personal story. Neta Daniel, 17-year-old LDP member, commented, “This was one of the most inspiring days of my life. Shimi is an incredible person who has made me look at the world in a different way. He inspired me to be more appreciative, and I also think that I want to work with people like him when I am older. His attitude on life despite everything was truly something that I will never forget.”
The participants took part in a game of wheelchair basketball after Shimi showed them the proper way to operate a wheelchair and taught them the rules of the game. They had a great time working with their teams to win the game, but they also learned how much people could accomplish despite certain obstacles they may face. LDP participant, Aysha Faqih, added, “Even though it was quite difficult to move around in the wheelchair, once I got the hang of it, I saw that these people can truly do anything that they set their minds to. I don’t know if I would be able to be so positive about it, but I will never forget how determined Shimi was, and he really helped me to see people with disabilities in a whole new way.” Aysha and Neta were not the only participants who were impacted by the day’s events. Everyone, including the staff, walked away with a new perspective on life, realizing that a positive attitude is the best accessory you will ever need.
This week, the blog covers the first ever PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland (PPI-NI) Summer Basketball Camp. This signifies a big step towards developing a competitive edge to PPI-NI’s basketball program.
PPI-NI has always used basketball as a tool to promote diversity and tackle sectarian issues that linger in some communities in Northern Ireland. It is used during our primary school ‘Twinning’ programs, Junior Belfast Interface League (Jr. B.I.L.) programs, and really anywhere else that we can fit it in! Basketball is seen as a neutral sport not affiliated with any community in Northern Ireland. It’s fun, the children love it, and it has a competitive aspect.
This past academic year, PPI-NI has seen the biggest leap in developing a competitive edge to our basketball program. We had visits from the Yale Bulldogs and DePauw Tigers whose groups worked closely with our participants, and we also saw the creation of the PPI-NI U13 girls basketball team - the first cross-community basketball team entered into the Basketball Northern Ireland Junior Leagues. PPI-NI is proud to say we have taken another step towards cultivating the competitive edge to our program, and that is the creation of the first ever PPI-NI Summer Basketball Camp.
“Everyone completed the week as champions,” said Coach Megan. “The kids came together and did a great job working as a team. They loved the competitions every day. I was amazed that my team, who didn’t know each other at the start, left as friends after only a few days of playing competitive basketball.”
Coach Casey added, “It was awesome! It was incredible to see the level of enthusiasm everyone had to learn more about how to play basketball properly. The camp provided a space for the relationships that were fostered in our Twinning programs to continue to grow. For example, Martin and Carter, who are from different schools but were on the same twinning team, walked to and from camp together everyday. The four teams at camp didn’t complain about being on teams with people they didn’t know, and they ate lunch everyday with each other. The feeling of team spirit created throughout the week was great to see. It’s great that the people of Belfast are seeing what can be done through the sport of basketball. The PPI-NI Summer Basketball Camp is something that could grow to be huge.”
PPI-NI would like to thank the parents of the participants involved this week for their support and to Grosvenor Leisure Centre for providing the venue.
Fellow Ryan Hage is in Norway with the Lead 4 Peace leaders taking in the sites and helping coach the young leaders of tomorrow.
The Lead 4 Peace program was started in March when a group of young leaders from Norway came to visit the island and take part in a weekend retreat in Agros. The retreat was designed to teach the kids about community service in order to have them create a project of their own. They were assisted in identifying a problem or need in their community, create a plan to solve that problem, and then put it into action. From cleaning the beach once a week to hanging out with the elderly, the young leaders were excited about helping their communities in their own unique ways.
On Saturday, 17 Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot Lead 4 Peace participants traveled together to Nesodden, Norway to help coach their week-long basketball camp while also taking seminars in coaching and conflict resolution. The ages of the camp participants are from 8-15 years old, with a lot of newcomers to the game. The Lead 4 Peace leaders were assigned to different ages and helped teach the newcomers the game we all love.
Not only have the kids been coaching every day, but also taking in Norwegian culture at its finest. They have tried traditional Norwegian food and are being generously hosted by the families of the Norwegian leaders. They also have had a chance to take the ferry to Oslo and see things like the Nobel Peace Prize Center and the famous marina. Furthermore, the leaders played a friendly international match between each other. It was an extremely close game throughout, with both sides making runs at crucial times. In the end, PeacePlayers-Cyprus squeaked out a win but both sides had a great time and played very hard.
The opportunity has given the leaders an opportunity to try coaching and teach younger players a game that they enjoy. It has been a great time for everyone involved and many players have said they would like to become PeacePlayers coaches one day! It has been an amazing trip that has given PeacePlayers-Cyprus a chance to take in a new culture and show Norway what our mission is.
Today we meet Brian Lemek, PPI’s new Director of Development. Brian has long been a part of the PeacePlayers family, and we’re excited and honored to have him working with us.
You were a fellow in South Africa during the first few years of the program’s inception. What was that experience like?
It was a lot of fun and an exciting time for PPI. We worked very closely with local leadership, and if we had an idea, the sources, and the time, then we could make it happen. We had a good group of guys out there – all there for the right reasons. We got to see a lot of the country and meet a lot of people. We were able to be creative in how we responded to the needs we saw in the communities where we worked. Thanks to email and Facebook, I’ve been able to maintain and rekindle relationships I made while I was there.
How’d you come to be a fellow with PeacePlayers?
I’ve known the Tuoheys forever. I helped Sean (Tuohey) with a fundraiser in Boston. It went really well, and two days later, I was hired. At the time we were called Program Directors, and PPI was called Playing for Peace.
What have you been up to between serving as a fellow in South Africa and returning to PPI as Director of Development?
When I returned from South Africa I was hired to work for a few years as a recruiter with Allegis Group in New York City. I was basically the broker between hospitals and blood banks and placed primarily lower-income jobs. It was really great work, and I am still proud to say I had over 200 people on the books at one point.
While assisting then Director of Development Alexis Harrigan, I was introduced to CCS Fundraising. After a few months of intensive interviews I was hired and moved from New York to Boston. CCS is an international non-profit consulting firm. My responsibility with CCS was management, strategy, and operations of capital campaigns for our clients. I am very proud of the work done during my time with CCS. I worked with some amazing organizations on some really important campaigns. The projects I’ve worked on have raised well over $100 million total. Also, in the middle of my career with CCS I went back to school and earned my Masters in Business Administration from Babson College.
And you started a family?
My wife and I have three girls. There’s lots of hair clips and pony tail holders and headbands and a dollhouse with dolls everywhere.
What drew you back to PeacePlayers and to this particular position?
I had always hoped I’d be back. I chaired the alumni network for several years, and I was always in touch and kept up to speed on the program. When Brendan (Tuohey) called me, I thought and hoped I would be a good fit. I’m proud of my career and that it’s taken me here.
I have always been impressed by PPI supporters, our board, our volunteers, the press we get, and the love of our model. I am encouraged by some of our recent innovations such as SPIN (Sports and Peace Innovation Network). Also, the fact that ownership of the programs is really reliant on the locals demonstrates a mature organization. That shows leadership and trust. There will be some serious growth in the coming years. Looking at PeacePlayers, I see a great idea, great leadership, and great vision. Those are the tools any company, for profit or not for profit, would love to have.
What do you hope for the future of PeacePlayers?
I want our reach and our effectiveness to be so great that when people think of sport for development, they think of us– that is my hope for the future.
Peace Players International South Africa entered 2014 with a renewed focus on building strong relationships with the schools it partners with each year to deliver its program. In March of 2014, PPI-SA hosted a symposium for the principals and school representatives or “school reps” who manage the relationship between PPI and their given school.
That focus paid off this past week. This is the time of year where every school throughout Durban is in the middle of exams, which are followed by winter break. Unfortunately because of the unique scheduling of exam times, each year PPI-SA is forced to take a short break from programming. This is for a number of reasons, mainly to allow kids to focus on what’s most important, their schooling, but also because during exam time each student has a unique schedule so working around all 24 team member’s schedules is nearly impossible. That didn’t matter to the school reps from Sukuma Primary School of Umlazi and Carrington Primary School of Durban City. Ms. Bulose (Sukuma) and Ms. Vilakazi (Carrington) who met for the first time at the symposium earlier in the year, and again at the 23rd City Wide Basketball Tournament, who decided to organize an extravaganza of their own.
On Wednesday, June 25th Carrington Primary’s Boys and Girls PPI basketball
teams and girls netball team traveled to Sukuma for a friendly afternoon of basketball and netball matches. These are the type of afternoons that PPI-SA staff dreamed about coming out of the symposium earlier this year. It is with this type of support from our schools, that PPI can continue to impact the lives of hundreds of children throughout Durban each year. We would like to give a special thanks to Ms. Bulose and Ms. Vilakazi for their incredible support which extends beyond their job title and even our programming schedule! It is events like these that allow PPI-SA to bridge divides, change perceptions and build leaders. We cannot wait to see what the second half of the school year holds!
For the past three years, Pete and Aviva Sisitsky of Rye, New York, have sponsored the twinned teams of Kiryat Anavim and Ein Rafah. This month was their first chance to meet the teams they have had such a major role in cultivating, as they took part in the most recent MiniFest in Jerusalem. Pete and Aviva’s three children, Kyle, Summer and Cole, also got into the fun, especially Kyle, who at 7 years old was the same age as the players at the event.
The Kiryat Anavim and Ein Rafah teams were among the revelers at MiniFest, which also included twinned teams from several communities in East and West Jerusalem. In addition to basketball drills, kids mixed it up with soccer games as well as team building and conflict resolution curriculum activities, which all took place outside. But perhaps the highlight of the event was the kung fu warm-up and workshop where kids learned the basics of the martial art.
The Kiryat Anavim and Ein Rafah twinned teams have a special name to reflect how special they are to the Sisitskys. When Pete first “adopted” these twinned teams, he asked that they be given the names “Mike Jones Highlanders” and “George Leftwich Lions” after his own high school basketball coaches. Three years after first getting involved with PPI, the Sisitskys were certainly excited to meet the kids on the court, and we are excited to see the Highlanders and Lions continue to thrive in the years to come!