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Today’s blog is written by PeacePlayers International Mitzvah supporter, Reed Lipman. Reed is a rising senior at Riverdale Country School in New York.
When I first started supporting PPI, I did not realize the profound effect it would have on my life. My name is Reed Lipman and I have been involved with PPI since my Bar Mitzvah, when I asked my friends and family to donate money to PPI in lieu of gifts. I knew that this was a “nice” thing to do — mostly because everyone told me that it was generous to give my gifts to a charity. But really, what did I know? I was 12 years old, living a sheltered life in suburban New York.
Later that year, I began to understand. I took a trip to Israel and spent some time with PPI where I hung out with Jewish and Arab young female basketball players.
These young women would never have met if they didn’t play in PPI’s mixed basketball league. Off the court, they came from different backgrounds, practiced different religions and lived in communities that didn’t interact. But on the court, these girls were teammates and much more. I began to see that the friendships and bonds being formed through basketball is what PPI is all about.
After this first trip to the Middle East, I wanted to continue to support PPI. Living in New York, I knew I could best support by fundraising and creating awareness, so I organized two parent-child golf tournaments that were both successful and a lot of fun.
In the summer of 2014, I traveled again to PPI in Israel hoping to touch base with the kids and the people who ran the program. Now a junior in high school, I helped run a twinning between a Jewish and Arab school and was an assistant coach during practices for one of PPI’s boy’s teams.. During the visit, I met Khaled Zaki, who joined PPI when he was a young man and has since graduated from PPI’s Leadership Development Program (9 years later!). Talking about our love of basketball, our schools and our friends, I realized we had a lot more in common than I ever thought we would. But Khaled also told me about the dangerous neighborhood he was from and about the conflict between the Jewish and Arab people in his area. It was eye-opening that someone so close to my age was so aware of political conflict and the dividing lines between communities of people who live next to one another.
Last year, the tables were turned when Khaled and 30 of PPI’s young leaders came to Washington, D.C. and New York during a US State Department cultural exchange. During their trip, I organized a basketball clinic and then invited the whole group over to my house to hang out, play games, and eat dinner. It was so much fun having them at my house playing ping-pong, air hockey, XBOX and listening to music. We all realized that even though we come from such different places, we have the same interests and talk about the same things.
What started out as a Bar Mitzvah project has turned into an experience that has opened up my mind to different cultures, social conflict and how kids everywhere can unite through simple things such as sports. I am grateful for the experience I have had with PPI and I am excited to carry on the relationships I have developed with PPI’s players and coaches in the Middle East. I hope other kids take the time to get involved with PeacePlayers and get to know some of the children whose lives have been changed simply because they were given the chance to play basketball.
To find out how you can get involved with PeacePlayers International CLICK HERE!
Earlier this month PeacePlayers International – South Africa hosted The 25th City Wide Tournament with the theme of “Celebrating the Youth of South Africa”. Each year PPI-SA hosts two tournaments, in June and October bringing together every Primary School Participant. While the October tournament allows youth to play with their teams against other schools in a winner take all style event; in June children are placed on mixed teams and play with youth from other PPI Schools throughout. It is incredible to see the progress throughout the day. At first participants are nervous and hesitant to play with youth they have often times never met before, but by the end of the event countless new friendships have been formed
and relationships built.
This year’s tournament had a special feel to it as well. Every year South Africa celebrates Youth Day on June 16th. The day commemorates South Africa’s Youth’s actions in the Soweto Uprising in 1976. Following the announcement stating all advanced subjects in school would be taught in Afrikaans (The language of the Apartheid Government), over 3,000 students and teachers took to the street in a peaceful protest. They were met by heavily armed police vehicles, tear gas and eventually live ammunition. The heroism of the youth on that day lead to a revolt that spread across South Africa and garnered international attention, exposing the brutality of the Apartheid Government. The day not only celebrates the actions of the youth but also the power the youth have to help change and shape their communities.
In the spirit of celebrating diversity and the youth, PPI-SA partnered up with Coaching for Hope, a programme, which uses football to create better futures for young people in West and Southern Africa and its grantees, like Whizz Kids United. In total, over 450 children from 8 different communities came out to celebrate youth through sports.
The event started with a performance from community activist and Rapper, Mhligo; and ended with each PPI Primary School presenting what youth day means to them to the crowd. In addition PPI staff member Sbahle Mkhize and coaches Thando Msweli and Gabriela Goccovah were recognized for completing the HSBC Women Empowerment through Sports Programme.
Check out the video below for a quick recap of the event. PPI-SA would like to give special thanks to the South African National Lottery for the underwriting of the 25thth City Wide Tournament, and to Coaching for Hope for their contributions.
Earlier this month, two of our interns, Reed and Jake (high school students from New York), took the day off of work to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In this blog, they reflect on what they learned from the experience.
During World War II, Hitler and his Nazi regime devised a plan to cruelly annihilate the Jews of Europe. Their tactics involved using stereotypes and already strained relationships between many Jews and non-Jews, to rally the people behind an atrocious, uninformed idea to create the ideal Aryan society.
As young Jews ourselves, we feel it is important that we honor and remember all of the 6 million Jewish people who lost their lives during the Holocaust. But we must do more than just remember; we must work to put an end to today’s conflicts. Visiting the museum while interning at PeacePlayers, an organization that is helping youth overcome fear, hate, and violence, helped us realize once again the importance of teaching peace.
At the Holocaust museum, we stood in a model train car that carried many Jews to Auschwitz. The carriage was small, and when we stood in there with 8 other people it felt claustrophobic and uncomfortable for us. As we read that the Nazis would force over 100 people into these cars for multiple days, the feeling of fear those people must have felt overwhelmed us. We learned that when trips were made during the winter, many froze, and during the summer, many died of suffocation in these cars. Actually standing in the model train helped us better understand the brutality of the Holocaust and the pain and suffering many Jews experienced.
It also made us think about all the suffering that is still being experienced around the world and the pain many people endure on a day-to-day basis. We reflected on the millions of homeless people living on the streets. It made us think about all the conflicts and fighting around the world. It made us realize how lucky we are to live in a peaceful part of the world with all of the resources we may need. It made us realize that we should appreciate our lives and try and help others. It made us realize that change is necessary.
This week’s blog is written by one of PPI-CY’s most enthusiastic leaders, Christiana “Mush” Miltiadous. Mush had an outstanding season and is really coming into her own both on and off the court.
Hello readers! My name is Christiana Miltiadous, also known as Mush, and I am 17 years old.
I have been playing basketball since 2012. When I first started I knew the basic rules, but not how to actually play the game. I always loved sports, but when I started basketball I became more passionate about sports and particularly about basketball. Years ago, I wasn’t really in a good place. I had a really short temper, I preferred to just stay alone and listen to music. I wasn’t a good student. I almost stayed back a year. But when I started basketball everything changed! I met a wonderful coach that kept motivating me even when I didn’t believe in myself. He kept encouraging me and kept saying if you want something you need to try your best and you will achieve it! He helped me become a better person on and off the court. That’s exactly what I did! My grades started getting better and my confidence increased; especially when I joined PeacePlayers – Cyprus. I have met some incredible people who inspire me to be the person I am today. I’m very grateful for that. They taught me a lot of things such as to have respect for the other person in every aspect of life and that everyone is the same no matter their country of origin or religion. We are all a team! A FAMILY!
This year, I saw a big difference in my basketball skills but also with my academics. My school team won the Pancyprian Championship and we were given the opportunity to play against Greece. My PPI family came and supported me at the match, shouting my name and writing it on a banner. On top of that, my town team won the U18 Cup Finals and the Championship.
This year I played my first match with the senior women’s team. I was the second leading scorer and I was seen by the national team coach. He invited me to try out for the national team. Unfortunately, I wasn’t picked but that didn’t stop me from keeping up my hard work and practicing everyday so I can achieve my goal.
Besides the basketball improvement, I improved my study skills; as a result I was on the honor roll with a GPA of 19.167 out of 20. This made my family, coaches, friends and myself very proud.
The lesson I was taught is that it’s not easy to achieve your goals, but with hard work and determination you can achieve anything you want even if they might sound crazy.
I just want to say a big thank you to everyone that helped me in different ways and supported me through everything, my family, friends, and my coaches at PPI. A BIG THANK YOU goes to coach NIKOS MASHIAS, for believing in me when I didn’t and helping me not only with basketball, but in my personal life. He always said “you can do it! Just try!” and he motivates me every day!
The journey has just begun!
Our Leadership Development Program (LDP) members aren’t just good at playing basketball….they can also cook! During the LDP kickoff event back in December, LDP participants gave suggestion of what events they wanted to see happen and Master Chef was a top priority for them. This week, they proved their skills in a PeacePlayers-run Master Chef competition.
In a nutshell, Master Chef is a cooking competition to see who is the best chef. For this LDP event, we wanted to make it a special cultural experience, so we had each Master Chef group prepare their meal in a house of an LDP member. We had four houses hosting our four LDP teams: two Palestinian and two Jewish homes. What was wonderful about the LDP Master Chef was that each team collaborated on the traditional dishes they wanted to make together. This, of course, was a competition so they kept it in mind to think about the presentation, creativity, and taste.
I want to put things in context here — In divided Jerusalem, between East and West, it’s almost unheard of to have youth from both sides interact regularly and build meaningful relationships. It’s even more uncommon to visit each other’s home. It’s beautiful to see our PeacePlayers members open their homes to their friends and transcend the divides found here.
Neta, a Jewish Israeli member of PeacePlayers for 5 years from Moshav Ora who hosted a team at her home said, “We are always talking about each other’s cultural foods, so it was nice to finally taste it!” The team at Neta’s house faced some challenges and had a couple last minute cancelations so it was essentially Neta and Aysha, from Beit Safafa, creating their entire main dish and dessert in two and a half hours! And let me tell you, they pulled it off flawlessly. “It was special for me to invite Aysha into my home, and even though if was not the first time, this time it was very special because we created something together and I saw how great our relationship is even off the court. Our great relationship on the court eventually led to an even better relationship off the court. We worked great together!”
The reality TV show Master Chef is full of obstacles for the chefs to overcome. The same goes for PeacePlayers…except ours weren’t necessarily planned. Duha, a Palestinian member of PeacePlayers for nearly 9 years from Bait Safafa, hosted a group of LDP members at her home. As they were preparing maqloba, wraq dwali, and a side salad (all traditional Palestinian cuisine), the electricity just goes out! They had to go outdoors and prepare parts of the meal using the remaining sunlight. Yet, their dish was phenomenal! Maqloba, literally meaning upside down, is a dish of rice, chicken, eggplant, and cauliflower all cooked together. At the end, the dish is presented by taking a tray placing it on the top of the pot and then flipping the pot. Their side dish was warq dwali, which is stuffed grape leaves. For Duha, “it was fun to learn how to cook these traditional foods. I really enjoyed how we all split the work between us and worked to a common goal. Even more so, we had to trust each other to do our best in our work.”
The atmosphere as all the teams arrived to the hall with their food was amazing! Everyone there was excited to present their food, and their hard work, to the judges and to see what their friends had made. I can say personally, it was an eclectic meal that left me with a wonderful food coma. I was more than surprised by the professional level of our LDP members! Let’s hope we do this again next year!
It could be argued that monitoring and evaluation is not the most exciting topic in the world. There is not much glamour in identifying the key “indicators,””outcomes,” “outputs,” “activities,” and other M&E jargon of an organisation, let alone throwing all of that data into a meticulous and lengthy spreadsheet. But when it comes to long-term sustainability and internal learning about your organisation, it could be argued that few things are as important.
The process can be a bit confusing, especially when the topic of quantifiable, qualifiable data is brought up, or an argument erupts about having a goal with “too many changes,” but when facilitated successfully (S/O to Julie Younes – PPI Director of Monitoring and Evaluation) it can be a transformative and progressive tool to help your organisation learn, develop and grow. At PPI-NI we are all about sharing knowledge and, as timing would have it, we were recently able to take some of our learning and apply it to our own programming, as well as to the clubs and organisations in our community.
Last week, PPI-NI put their learning into practice. After delivering a successful Game of Three Halves to over 200 children and young people Tuesday and Wednesday, PPI-NI representatives delivered a “Club Together” programme with eight clubs from different communities in the Portadown, Northern Ireland area. The goal of the day was to bring clubs of varying experience and community backgrounds together to share ideas and knowledge. Facilitators Joe Smith (PPI-NI International Fellow) and Ryan Stewart (PPI-NI Fast Track Coach) took the clubs through the topics of leadership, inclusion, club development and club management. The day was highly successful and culminated with all clubs, new and old, putting in place an M&E plan to bring back to other members of their respective organisations.
PPI-NI also wanted to make sure we began practicing what we preach. After the first day of training, Project Coordinator Joanne Fitzpatrick began applying the learning to the Junior Champions 4 Peace (C4P) programme, starting with the problem statement and theory of change. With the ultimate goal of the Junior C4P programme being “to fully equip the young people of the C4P programme with the skills and knowledge to be the next generation of PeacePlayer coaches and leaders in their communities,” Joanne then explored the outcomes, activities and outputs. These outputs (the tangible products of program activities) allowed her to develop a memorandum of understanding (MOU) and action plan for the Junior C4P programme. The M&E knowledge that Joanne gained through the training allowed her to apply more structure for the C4P programme moving forward, allowing for a better, more valuable experience for the kids.
PPI-NI will continue to constantly improve not only ourselves but those around us. As the great Mahatma Gandhi said, “Live like you will die tomorrow, learn like you will live forever.” When taking this mantra to heart, there is no stopping your path to improvement!
At PPI, we are always interested in learning more about basketball culture in other countries. Last week, we were able to talk to Byron Richards, who played for the Essex Leopards of the National Basketball League in England during the 2014-2015 season.
PPI: What was your experience like as an American living in a foreign country?
BR: It was certainly an adjustment. There are a lot of things as far as culture shock that comes along with living in a foreign country that’s difficult for any American. I think that I really adjusted around my second season and grew into a real rhythm as far as living over there.
PPI: Where do you think basketball in England is headed?
BR: I feel like it’s headed in a positive direction. Basketball is not only a great sport, but it’s an avenue for children of all ages to really funnel a lot of their creativity and their personality. Where I am from, kids living in rough neighborhoods were really essentially saved by staying so involved in the sport, and I feel like many places in London this is certainly the case and can be the case elsewhere in the UK. I also coached kids in England, and seeing how quickly they respond and how excited the sport gets them was always refreshing.
PPI: You were able to visit PPI’s sites in Northern Ireland and Cyprus. From an outsider’s perspective, what did you think of each program? What did you like the most about each site?
BR: I find both programs just thrilling. As a cartoonist and comic book writer, I’m clearly a fan of superheroes. I often jokingly compared my two friends in both sites to superheroes in many ways, but the truth is the work being done by Peace Players is definitely comic book-worthy. Both of those Northern Ireland International Fellow Joe Smith and Cyprus International Fellow Jessica Walton could probably tell you I could speak for hours on how proud I am to know them. In Northern Ireland, I saw much more of the actual PPI-specific work as well as many of the scenic landmarks. Learning about the struggles in the country and its history first, and then getting to really see it for myself was surreal. It was rewarding for me, as an outsider, to see two kids from different sides of the city high five or pass to one another, so I could only imagine the feeling for my friends who helped bring about such unity.
PPI: What do you think of the concept of PPI (sports for peace)? Do you see sport for development organizations growing in the future?
BR: I think it’s an incredible idea and I’m really glad that something like this exists. Plenty of people speak about there being issues in the world. This sort of organization is actually doing something about them, and from my first-hand experience, not necessarily seeking any form of notoriety or applause for it. Simply put, it seems they do it for the betterment of others, and that’s just awesome. I can definitely see there being a ton of growth in this field.
PPI: What’s your favorite thing about the game of basketball?
BR: I think it’s the mix of singular creativity, with the embodiment of numerous creative individuals linking together. I’m a heavily creative person, and the possibilities basketball has presented me have always amazed me. Be it a new move, a new game, a new friend, a new team or even a new country – the creativity and the possibilities make basketball something I will always love.
Today’s blog post is written by Rachel Goodman, an intern at PeacePlayers International’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.
When I was about 3 years old, my parents enrolled me in dance lessons. But unlike a lot of little girls, ballet didn’t interest me much. When the instructor would ask us to plié or work on our leaps in front of the class, I refused. But there was my father, at every lesson, to help me along — doing pliés and leaping across the studio in front of my fellow preschoolers. To this day, my old dance teacher talks about how my father was the best dancer in my class.
So dance wasn’t for me; but basketball definitely was. When there was no league for girls my age, my parents had no qualms about signing me up for the boy’s league.
At first, it wasn’t smooth sailing. The other players and even coaches and parents questioned a girl’s place on the court. They expressed “concern” about my safety and ability to keep up with the boys. Yet, there was my dad assuring me that I could change their minds.
Even after a long day of work, he would come out to our driveway and help me work on my game. He showed me the power of hard work, perseverance, and sticking up for what I know is right. He helped me to succeed in that basketball league and in every other aspect of my life.
When I think back on my childhood, so many of my memories center around sporting events with my dad. Whether it was those nights in our driveway, the first time he took me to a Dallas Mavericks game, or just sitting on the couch watching SportsCenter.
I am so thankful to have a dad who has always encouraged my love of sports because I know there are little girls across the world who are not as lucky. In some of the places where PeacePlayers works, a basketball court is no place for a girl. That is why I am also thankful for all the fathers that let their little girls participate in PPI’s program. By doing so, each and every one of them is teaching their daughter that they have the power to change perceptions and be anything they want to be in this world.
To my dad and all the other great ones out there: Happy Father’s Day!
Debbie Byrne, PPI-NI Operations Team Leader, reflects on monitoring and Evaluation workshop facilitated by Julie Younes, the Director of Monitoring and Evaluation, from our headquarters in Washington, D.C.
One of my favourite quotes that a friend of mine often reminds me of is, “If you aim at nothing you will surely get it!” Last week, PeacePlayers International Northern Ireland (PPI-NI) delve into the world of Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E). It was a great opportunity to get together and make sure that not only are we using the same terms when it comes to M&E but also that we are all aiming at the same thing!
Julie Younes (from our D.C. office) facilitated the training with the team in Northern Ireland. Julie joined PeacePlayers International this year as the Director of Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) after serving as a Fellow in the Middle East from 2008 – 2010. She has already held similar workshops with the staff in other PPI sites.
Monitoring and Evaluation of sport-for-development interventions is of high priority. The relatively recent recognition of the use of sport as a tool in development requires thorough assessment. Sport can add value for the development of individuals, of organisations and of whole communities irrespective of the level of development in that community. Despite this broadly shared conviction, there is still a lack of substantiated evidence to support the purported potential of sport. Effective, transparent and (if possible) comparable M&E must therefore take place to further determine the inherent benefits, risks and limitations of sport and physical activity.
Having a person dedicated to this task is a huge benefit to PeacePlayers internationally. I hope that we can not only make PeacePlayers more effective but also be a voice in the sport for development field to back up our conviction that sport can be a powerful tool for change. Thanks for working with us Julie!
Today’s blog is written by Development and Communications Intern, Nathan Smith. Nathan is a rising senior studying journalism at Elon University in North Carolina.
Motivation is an interesting thing. Why do we do what we do?
When I was a kid it was simple, very black and white. I did what I wanted to (when my parents said it was okay) when I wanted to do it (unless it was a school night). But the older you get, the more important motivation becomes. Without motivation, it becomes increasingly difficult to succeed at what you seek to accomplish.
Now imagine that instead of finding the motivation to go clean your house, or to start working out, you have to find the motivation to fight for a cause that goes against what your family and friends believe in, what your tradition says is wrong. This is what the children in our programs do every single day, working towards what they believe in in areas of conflict all over the world.
At PeacePlayers, the motivation to succeed is all around us, and we see it every day.
We see it in Romy and Malak, two young women who found friendship in the midst of conflict, sticking with PeacePlayers longer than either thought they would after finding each other.
We see it in young men like Siyanda, who has become a leader in his community through his work with PPI – South Africa. Even after dealing with his father’s death at a young age and living in an uncompleted home, he has been able to help children face challenges through basketball.
We see it in Northern Ireland, where hundreds of Catholic and Protestant children are coming together to form a new generation of peace.
Motivation doesn’t always come from within. PeacePlayers is working with thousands of kids who are growing into ambassadors for change throughout the world. These are the leaders of tomorrow, the people who could change the world given the right preparation. We want to prepare them. We want them to know that they are capable of monumental change, of bringing peace and love to areas that have only known hatred and violence. They’re the reason we come to work every day ready to do our best. They are our motivation. When you have that in your corner, let’s be honest: what can’t you accomplish?
PeacePlayers-Middle East has made it through another year packed with programming. The year is winding down with only a few more Twinnings left. A Twinning is essentially a joint practice for youth from two communities, one Jewish and one Arab. The Twinning communities are usually relatively close in proximity to each other but have little to no communication or interaction before joining PeacePlayers.
Most of the teams have said their “see you laters” as summer break approaches. As a project manager in the North, I’ve seen some amazing things happen in the Twinnings between Tamra and Nahariya, as well as Meiser and Kfar Saba. Tamra and Nahariya are both in the north, while Meiser is in the Menashe region in the center of Israel and Kfar Saba is about an hour north of Tel Aviv.
No one expects there to be instantaneous friendships from the first, second, or even third Twinning. Getting familiar takes time, but once two teams begin to see each other regularly, they begin to take it to the next level. From my experience, the Meiser and Kfar Saba Girls’ teams have almost been an exception. Right off the bat they were ready to learn each other’s names and have fun together. What I noticed about Kfar Saba and Meiser was that while the girls were intimidated at first, it took only a few players who led by example to make the others come out of their shell. By the third Twinning, I noticed several girls from both teams trying to speak to each other using the little Hebrew and Arabic they knew. It was amazing!
Not only were they trying to communicate together using words they picked up from Twinnings, but while they were waiting on the side for their turn to participate in drills they were even playing together with games they invented. While it’s sad that there will be a few months without these Twinnings, I look forward to starting another year and seeing what they can achieve!
By keeping the same Twinning partner year after year, PeacePlayers ensures that true friendships form. Our Twinning season will start again sometime at the end of October so stay tuned!
This week’s blog is written by International Fellow, Jessica Walton. Tuesday, PeacePlayers-Cyprus staff joined the Home for Cooperation (H4C) in celebrating their fourth anniversary. PPI-CY’s office is located at the H4C in the UN Buffer Zone here in Nicosia.
The Home for Cooperation, located in Nicosia, UN Buffer Zone, is a bicommunal space specifically fostering and promoting cooperation and open dialogue between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities. PeacePlayers-Cyprus is one of several non-governmental organizations based at the H4C. On Tuesday, we gathered with our neighboring organizations to celebrate the H4C and all of its achievements and efforts since it opened its doors in May 2011.
At the core of H4C is its goal to break the common perception of the Buffer Zone, by supporting and facilitating its transformation from a “dead zone” into a zone of cooperation, community, and liveliness. Here at PeacePlayers-Cyprus we do this through our bicommunal events like Twinnings. Other H4C organizations offer language courses, classes, trainings and events open to the community.
Taking part in the celebration were official representatives from both the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities, various staffers from local NGOs, educators, Foreign Service representatives, and families from both communities. We enjoyed good music, activities and games, and excellent company all aimed at bicommunal cooperation. In addition to celebrating the past, we look forward to the future projects and achievements members of the H4C will celebrate at next year’s anniversary festivities.
Hi, my name is Rachel Goodman and I am one of PeacePlayers’ Communications and Development interns this summer and I’d like to tell you a little bit about why I am here.
In a little over a month from now, the 2015 ESPYs will air. Each year, someone receives the Arthur Ashe Courage Award — the most important award of the night in my opinion. It is awarded to an individual whose contributions transcend the world of sports. The first recipient was North Carolina State University Head Basketball Coach Jim Valvano in 1993, who lost his battle with cancer just 8 weeks after receiving the award. I must have been about 12-years-old the first time I saw the video of the famous speech he gave that night. If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend you do — but at its core, his speech advised how to battle adversity and make the most of every day we have. Even all these years later, Jimmy V’s words have stuck with me:
“If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”
Despite a body ravaged by disease, he looked strong up on that stage — like he was back in the NCSU locker room giving one of his dramatic halftime pep talks. Hearing his ESPY speech was the moment I truly realized the power of sport to create positive change in this world; that a ball on a court can mean much more than what appears on the surface.
Currently, I am a junior journalism major at the University of Texas at Austin participating in the Texas Program in Sports and Media (TPSM).
The program seeks to create a community on campus that explores how the microcosm of sports relates to and influences society at large.
Each student in the program must find a sports internship that suits their interest. I didn’t need to think twice; surely, there was an organization out there that combined my two passions: basketball and social justice. And with the help of the good people over at Google, I quickly stumbled upon the PeacePlayers International website.
Reading through PPI’s pages discussing their programs and curriculum, I couldn’t contain my excitement. When I read that PPI and two of their Northern Ireland coaches received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award in 2007, I thought back to that first time I heard Jimmy V’s speech.
Everything had come full circle for me; this was an organization that I could see myself being part of.
PPI’s programs around the world are making young people laugh, think, and cry seven days a week, 365 days a year. Children from opposing sides — whether that be in Northern Ireland, Cyprus, South Africa, or the Middle East — are building friendships, learning what makes them equals and how to spread that mindset throughout their communities, and together crying tears of victory and defeat both on and off the court.
In my short time with PPI, I have already begun to see just how enormous and far-reaching the effects of their programs are and I am so excited to have the opportunity to work for this incredible organization.
I think it’s safe to say that Jimmy V would agree with me when I say that PPI has certainly created something special.
This week’s post by PPI-ME fellow LaToya Fisher is about the importance of persevering no matter what. Within PeacePlayers, it’s important for players and staff to keep pushing and overcome adversity when things get tough. The power to press on is a trait often found in great athletes and leaders.
Have you ever seen the picture of the two guys that are using a pick to dig through the dirt and one is super close to reaching the diamonds and gives up and the other one looks very determined and keeps going? Well, that’s EXACTLY how I felt last week when I was about to climb Masada.
First of all, fellow Courtney Boylan and I woke up at about 3am to get dressed and start driving. It’s pretty hard to motivate yourself at 3am to go climb a steep 450 meters (1,476 ft) above sea level. I barely liked getting up for basketball preseason workouts and now I’m voluntarily going hiking?! I just kept thinking about the awesome sunrise I would be able to see once I reached the top.
Our drive there was filled with up tempo music to get our blood pumping and wake us up. The scenery along the route was amazing and only made us more excited about what we would see at the top. Finally we arrived at the national park and paid the fee to get in. We found the signs pointing toward the Snake Path and began on our journey.
If I’m honest with myself and everyone else…I was out of breath just walking to the Snake Path and it wasn’t even THAT steep. I knew that wasn’t a good sign. As we started the climb it wasn’t too bad. I was cracking jokes and looking up at the beast of a fortress wondering how I was going to make it to the top. Eventually, not too far into the hike, the trail stopped being fun and fascinating and started to become really tiring. As I saw some people making their way back down I was envious and wanted to switch places with them so badly. As we continued to walk I got quiet, the incline became steeper, and my breathing heavier. I began to wonder if I decided to turn around…how long it would take for Courtney, who was a nice length ahead of me at this point, to notice that I started walking back down. Luckily when those thoughts started to creep in I was closer to the top than I was to the bottom. I gave myself a pep talk, sucked it up, started singing songs in my head and made it to the top not too far behind Courtney.
The sun shining over the Dead Sea was amazing and to our surprise there was an entire fortress filled with facts, original structures, and tons of history that we had no idea would be there. BONUS!!! Needless to say, I was quite happy at that point that I decided to suck it up and keep climbing because in addition to a beautiful sunrise I got a free history lesson. We stayed at the top for about an hour or so just walking through the different parts and reading about the structure. We made our way back down and drove back home and made the most amazing brunch on earth. We also basically did nothing for the rest of the day. We earned it!
Although this was just a silly climb, the experience and insight was exactly what I needed. Working for an organization like PeacePlayers you want everyone to instantly become best friends, you want all of the twinnings and activities to be perfect, and you want to make a huge impact right away. In reality, things are not always easy, people do not instantly become the best of friends, and stuff doesn’t always fall into place like it should. That’s no reason to give up and throw in the towel; that’s actually when the work begins. With consistency and perseverance, the obstacles and tough times fade and it becomes easier. So at that moment when you want to give up, press on because it usually means something greater than what you imagined is in store and closer than you think!
PeacePlayers International is big on basketball. It’s definitely something we do. When we aren’t working to bring people together through sport, at the end of the day, we’re still hoops junkies like the rest of you. This week, PPI’s Communications Intern, Nathan Smith, shares his thoughts about the NBA Finals and a thrilling Game 2:
We’ve all heard it before: defense wins championships. But to be honest, we tend to ignore it. I mean, you can’t win unless you score more than the other team, right? Offense is flashier, prettier and let’s be honest, more fun. But if you watched Game 2 of the NBA Finals last night, defense was the name of the game, and the team that defended the best took home the win.
When the Cavaliers lost Kyrie Irving for the rest of the NBA Finals after Game 1, we can all be honest with ourselves. We wrote the Cavs off, and didn’t hesitate in crowning the Golden State Warriors NBA Champions. Teams don’t tend to succeed without two of their three best players, and it seemed that after this latest catastrophe, the Splash Brothers & Co. would reign supreme.
A funny thing happened in Game 2, however. The Cavs won despite their lack of stars, winning in Oracle Arena against a team that waslost twice there during the regular season. How did they do it? Defense. Pure and unadulterated defenseStephen Curry drives by Matthew Dellavedova in Game 2 of the NBA FInals.
The Cavs held a team that had been shooting nearly 46 percent from the field to shooting below 40 percent. They held the Warriors to 10 points below their playoff average, and 17 points below their regular season average which led the NBA and limited Steph Curry to 19 points on 5-of-23 shooting. The biggest play of the game wasn’t Matthew Dellavedova’s clutch free throws to put the Cavs ahead with seconds to go, but his defense of Curry in the waning moments that ensured a Cleveland victory.
Matthew Dellavedova, to be honest, is an inferior offensive player to most of his Cavaliers teammates. But he’s the catalyst for a defensive team that has transformed their playing philosophy in the span of one game. LeBron James said it himself in the post-game press conference. Calling his team the “Grit Squad,” James said, “If you’re looking for us to play sexy, cute basketball, that’s not us right now.” And it’s not. But what’s wrong with that?
The Cavaliers before Irving’s injury were that team. His injury forced a team to go from flashy to gritty; from showing off their offense to throwing everything they had on the other side of the ball. Everyone counted the Cavs out when another star player went down, but for basketball purists, for those who remember the days of hard fouls, hustle plays and what physical play really meant, this series was just getting started.
This weekend, PPI-CY Program Coordinator Stephanie Nicolas prepares to depart for Bradenton, Florida to participate in her second UNOSDP Youth Leadership Camp.
The United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace hosts various youth leadership programs to support young people dedicated to providing their communities with projects aimed to promote efforts like ‘Sport for Health,’ ‘Sport for Persons with a Disability,’ and ‘Sport for Gender Inclusion.’ Through an array of partner organization presentations, leadership tasks, group discussions and other play-based activities, camp participants work on their own personal development as people, players, leaders and coaches.
This year, our very own Program Coordinator, Stephanie Nicolas is headed to Bradenton, Florida for one of this year’s Youth Leadership Camps! Camp participants just like Steph come from all over the world for this incredible three week experience. The camp will be held at IMG Academy, one of the United States’ leading sports academies for tennis, golf, basketball, baseball, soccer, lacrosse, football and athletic and personal training. IMG has trained amateur and professional athletes who have gone on to win national tournaments, world championships and Olympic medals.
The entire PPI-CY office is so proud of Steph for being selected to attend UNOSDP’s camp this June! Steph will make an excellent participant with all of her experiences and accomplishments here at PeacePlayers-Cyprus. We can’t wait for her to get back so she can share everything she’s learned. Congratulations, Steph! We’re so excited for you.
The effects of PeacePlayers International’s programs are far reaching – well beyond the borders of the courts participants play on or even the countries they come from. Cara Tolmas, a rising senior at the University of Michigan, says her recent experience as a volunteer for PPI – Middle East in Israel continues to influence her. Below, Cara reflects on that experience, and how it altered her perspective as a Jewish student taking part in the Israeli-Palestinian debates happening on her campus.
In the PeacePlayers’ gym, basketball unites everyone. Outside of the gym you can hear the loud hustle and bustle of Jerusalem. Inside that gym, it is loud with peace – the sounds of a diverse group of people just coming together to play some basketball. Isn’t that what it’s all about?
After volunteering as an assistant coach with PeacePlayers at the Palestinian-Israeli school in Jerusalem, I began the next chapter of my life at the University of Michigan, bringing with me the simple experiences of playing basketball for coexistence and peace. When I first arrived on Michigan’s campus, I was pretty shocked at the level of tension regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It almost felt like there was more tension on campus than when I was actually living in Jerusalem volunteering directly with the Palestinian-Israeli school.
At Michigan, I joined I-LEAD, a group that is devoted to understanding both sides of the conflict. Because of my work with PPI, I know there are seemingly trivial things we can do to ease the tension on campus. We could celebrate the similarities between our cultures with a joint Mediterranean food sale, truly listen to our differing experiences with cooperative panel discussions, or even just make an effort to befriend those from the “other” side that we meet in classes.
Maybe I just had an exclusive perspective because of my volunteering.
However, I’d like to think it wasn’t just something only those involved with PPI could see, rather it was just a different perspective that the students at the University of Michigan and the whole world needs to see more of. I know that Palestinians and Israelis playing basketball together may not seem like it can make a significant difference but I’ll tell you otherwise. Not only are those kids in that gym now exposed to each other in a way totally unrelated to the political tensions, but I, personally, along with all the other volunteers, are now exposed to a new perspective that we can learn from and take with us wherever we go.
Peace is possible. I saw it right there in the gym.
Over the last week PeacePlayers was very excited to hold two of our most popular events! First came ‘The Super Sports Day’ on Wedneday, May 27, and then the ‘Summer Jam’ event was held Saturday, May 30. What made it even more exciting was that we had students and coaches all the way from DePauw University (in Indiana, USA) to help with interacting with the children and coaching them in basketball. The children got an excellent opportunity to be coached by Bill Fenlon, who has been Head Men’s Basketball coach at DePauw for 23 years.
On Wednesday, the Super Sports Day brought together 190 young people of different backgrounds from Catholic and Protestant primary schools across Belfast. The young people had a great time exploring culture and identity by participating in four different sports (basketball, rugby, football and Gaelic football) as well as team-building games. The day was clearly a huge success, with the children being able to develop their skills and knowledge in sports which they may never have experienced. They were coached by volunteers from the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), Ulster Rugby, Irish Football Association (IFA) as well as the DePauw students, giving them a great insight of each code from people who represent their sport at a high level. The day was a great success with amazing enthusiasm from everyone involved.
A few days later on the Saturday the big event that the children and coaches look forward to all year took place…..SUMMER JAM! This is what the last few months had been leading up to, with coaches from PeacePlayers hosting twinning sessions for every side of the Belfast Interface League in order to prepare for the big day. The children came together Saturday to represent their side of the city as they gathered at Lisburn Racquets Club to show off the skills they had been developing over the last 3 months.
Walking through the door there was an immediate buzz about the place. The music (provided by DJ Topper) was blaring and the kids and coaches all practiced together before their matches with their faces painted and wearing colour-coordinated clothing to represent their teams. There was a great turnout by PeacePlayers coaches and volunteers, DePauw Students and representatives from The Study USA Project all doing a brilliant job at getting the children excited and motivated for a day that they would never forget. Even when their teams weren’t playing, you would see the children all dancing and having a ball. Once the basketball finished there was even more riotous behaviour as coaches led dancing to songs like ‘Rock The Boat.’ The day ended with the winning teams receiving their medals and individual participants (specially selected by Coach Fenlon and Breda Dick) being awarded the coveted Spirit and Hustle awards.
Around 130 kids and 40 coaches and volunteers made this superb event possible. The amount of effort and preparation put into the whole event was astonishing, and PeacePlayers is very excited to return next year with an even bigger turnout.
PeacePlayers would like to acknowledge the fantastic fundraising efforts of the alumni association of the Study USA programme for supporting the Super Sports Day event and Coach Fenlon, his wife Gigi and the amazing students from DePauw University for their generous support of the Summer Jam tournament. PeacePlayers would also like to thank Comic Relief for its year round support for our Primary Schools Twinning Programme.
Events like these show how big an influence sport can be in bringing children from communities with a history of conflict together and get the chance to establish strong relationships and friendships with people whom they may never have had the chance to. “If you can learn to play together, you can learn to live together”.
Last week, PPI-SA partnered up with the Harlem Globetrotters, who delivered a special private clinic to 20 PPI Participants and five coaches. PPI Coach Sphelele “Microwave” reflects on the experience:
I had never heard of the Harlem Globetrotters before last week. When I heard that they were hosting an event for kids in the PPI Programme and that I was selected as the coach from my area to attend I was excited, but didn’t know what to expect.
After attending the event, I now know that the Harlem Globetrotters are more than just a basketball team. They are freestyle ballers, entertainers and motivators who travel around the world motivating youth.
Twenty Primary and Secondary scholars from across PPI Programme communities were selected to attend. It was cool to see Umlazi, Lamontville, Wentworth and the city all represented. I was one of five coaches that went.
The event wasn’t necessarily what I expected. It was held in a small hotel ballroom at the Sibaya Casino, but the two Globetrotters, Chris “Handles” Franklin and Anthony “Buckets” Blakes made the best of it. They started off telling us a little about themselves and doing some fancy dribbling with the ball. Then they got some of the kids and adults involved, bringing them up to try different tricks and compete in some fun games. The coolest trick of all was watching Buckets spin the ball on his finger and move it around his body in between his hands as he was speaking.
After that, Handles gave us coaches and the kids an inspirational talk, which I really enjoyed. He gave us four different points to remember:
- Get an education: Handles was incredibly passionate about reading and learning. He told us that even though he plays basketball for a living, he earned his Master’s Degree and encouraged the kids to work hard in school.
- Listen to your teachers and parents: No one can do it on their own. Handles advised us to listen to those in our lives that are there to help us, like our parents and teachers.
- Follow your dreams: Handles was incredibly passionate about pushing kids to follow their dreams. He told us a little about how he grew up wanting to play for the Harlem Globetrotters, and how all his friends told him it would never happen. He never let that discourage him, though, and has now been with the Globetrotters for 12 years.
- Be the best you that you can be: Buckets wrapped up the last point for us, pushing us to try our hardest in whatever we do.
I really enjoyed the event and it was even cooler to meet the two guys in person afterwards. I also think it was great for PPI’s participants on so many different levels. I can’t wait to see the Globetrotters live in Durban next month!
Hi, I’m Nathan Smith! I’m a Communications and Development Intern with PeacePlayers this summer, and I’d like to tell you how I got here to begin with. I was born and raised in College Park, Maryland into a basketball family. Every one of my siblings played (I’m one of six), and I played in high school at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland.
I remember the first time I knew that I wanted to be a writer. I was 12 years old, and was reading an issue of Sports Illustrated for the first time. I decided to read the magazine in order, so it I breezed through the stories until I got to the end. SI typically has longer pieces towards the back of their issues, long form journalism that is about more than just a sport, or just an athlete. They are stories about people who have faced adversity, towns and teams that have survived despite trials of great magnitude, and it tells stories that I never would have ever known about. After the first one of those articles I read, I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life.
I’ve always thought of sports to be more than just games people play. I’ve seen how sports bring people together in a way that nothing else can, and to me that is the most underrated thing about them. I’ve seen teammates who fight off the field praise each other on it. I’ve seen people with personality differences change when they had to come together as one. I’ve spent thousands of hours playing the game of basketball, but it was the camaraderie I created at DeMatha, and the family that developed from that,which I now remember and cherish.
No matter what’s going on in your life, whatever you have to deal with, you can ignore it when you flip on the television or go to a game. For a few brief hours, you can lose yourself in something bigger than yourself, something grand and majestic that takes you away, transports you to another world of bats and balls, last-second shots and game-winning touchdowns.
PeacePlayers brings sports into the real world – outside the gym, field or court. It uses sports, something people know and love, to show them that they can love others to just as much as they love the games and sports they care so passionately about. I’ve seen it first-hand from one of my older brothers, Joe Smith, who is currently an international fellow for PeacePlayers in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
It isn’t easy to bring sports into the real world. All too often, most sports talk involves superstar athletes or people with other-worldly talent. But they shouldn’t be the only story. Every single athlete on this planet, every single person in this world, has a story, a story unique to their situation, their struggle, their triumph. I’m driven to tell those stories, and this is a wonderful place to do that. I strongly believe that you can explain the world through sports, and that you can change the world through sports. I’m very happy to be helping at both.