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Today’s blog is brought to you by Jessica Walton, International Fellow at PeacePlayers-Cyprus. PeacePlayers-Cyprus hosted Nesodden IF during last week’s Leadership Development (LDP) Retreat.
Last Thursday, PeacePlayers-Cyprus welcomed friends from Norway (Nesodden IF) to Cyprus to participate in a week long leadership development retreat. Kids participated in a wide range of activities like Lead 4 Peace community service programming, communication/leadership presentations, high ropes course team building exercises and of course, basketball training!
The Retreat began in Pafos, where the kids explored the Pafos Archeological Park. After Pafos, participants arrived in Agros to begin their basketball training and continue leadership development programming.
Just like Twinnings, the LDP Retreat was a bicommunal event. Both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot youth came together to learn about the importance of becoming strong leaders at an early stage. Together they reflected on how they can grow both together and individually to see positive changes within their own teams and communities.
One of the most notable moments at the retreat was listening to each of the kids give their community service project presentations to their peers. It really highlighted just how incredible the kids really are. Through the LDP program both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot kids were able to not only learn about the process of becoming a leader, but then applied those skills to their own personal projects for the betterment of their communities. From holding food drives, to volunteering at animal shelters and coaching in their communities, our PeacePlayers-Cyprus young leaders have really grown into leaders. Listening to them present to each other was really special.
The retreat came to a conclusion in Limassol, where kids and staff participated in team building exercises like a high ropes obstacle course, testing our abilities to work as a cohesive unit and helping us conquer our fear of heights. Both PeacePlayers-Cyprus and Nesodden IF had a fun-filled, exciting week and were able to walk away from their experience as better people, friends and leaders!
PeacePlayers-Cyprus would also like to thank Adidas for their generous donation of t-shirts and basketballs, helping make our LDP Retreat even more successful for our kids!
“Why are you coming to S. Africa?”, the question came out in a mix of anger, annoyance and accusation.
“My brother is sick”, came the meager reply.
The setting was the South Africa-Swaziland border. After a four hour taxi (mini-bus) ride, I stood there half asleep watching this scene unfold. As the man in front of me, a native of Swaziland got interrogated in what must of been his third or fourth language (English) by a South African Immigration officer, I, the American was stamped and shuffled through without so much as a question.
“This must be the tenth Swazi who is coming to visit a sick brother in South Africa today”, shouted another immigration officer from across the room.
Little did I know that this one event would be a foreshadowing for what were to happen in the coming weeks.
Over the last two weeks, Xenophobia has been all over the news. Dating back to 2008, when riots and looting began in Johannesburg before spreading across the country, South Africa has a long history in its short time as a democracy. Recent events in KwaZulu Natal have set off a new string of riots, looting, and killings across the province. It has also shed a new light on the work that PeacePlayers does, specifically within SA. Sure we’re here to help bridge divides between different South African communities. At the same time, perhaps without even knowing at times, we’re bridging divides between S. Africans and refugees from different African countries such as Zimbabwe, Congo and Mozambique to name a few.
Below, PPI-SA staffers Sbahle Mkhize and Ntobeko Ncgamu talk about the recent events, their feelings and hope for the future:
The recent outbreaks in attacks against our fellow Africans are heartbreaking for me. It saddens me that Africans are fighting Africans. With the progression South Africa has made since apartheid, these attacks are moving us backwards. The same people who our fathers, uncles and brothers are attacking are the same people who protected Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and other great leaders when they went into exile in countries like Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Angola. The increase in crime, violence and substance abuse in South Africa is not due to the increase in immigrants and refugees. Blaming them is just the easy way out. The S. African Government needs to re-assess their reasoning and stop blaming harmless individuals who are trying to make a living for themselves. It’s scary that people in South Africa can even believe that crime has color! There needs to be a huge mindset shift in this country which in turn, will influence the people of this Nation. Phansi nge-Xenophobia!!!! (Translated: Xenophobia is wrong!)
– Sbhale Mkhize
I have seen and witnessed the craziness of my fellow South Africans first hand all because of Xenophobia. Watching and hearing about people getting attacked, beaten and sometimes killed just for being from a different country makes me sick. We are supposed to be the rainbow nation. It’s time that we as a nation stand up to discrimination like this. Xenophobic attachs are a crime and should be prosecuted!
Since joining PeacePlayers International – South Africa I have met a number of people from different countries and different parts of the world. Here at PPI, no matter where you come from we treat you like family. Part of our mission is to bridge divides, develop leaders and change perception. Our participants encompass our S. African tradition of Ubuntu (humanity, hospitality, love) everyday with the way they interact with their teammates, teachers, coaches and children from other communities. The PPI children and coaches are our hope for the future.
– Ntobeko Ncgamu
PeacePlayers International-Northern Ireland international Fellow Casey Tryon shares her 6 weeks experience of working with the Carrickfergus project.
PeacePlayers International-Northern Ireland wrapped up a 6-week programme in Carrickfergus working with Greenisland Football Club and St. Mary’s Football Club. The two clubs engaged in a programme in which 40 boys from the under 10 and under 11 teams came together to play football and take part in PeacePlayers community relations activities. For most people, Friday afternoon can’t come soon enough. They can’t wait to get out of the office and start their weekend. I would normally be one of those people, but over the last several Friday evenings, I’ve had more fun than I could have imagined delivering this programme with Coaches Hannah, Taylor, and Ben.
On the first night, the boys from St. Mary’s waited in the car park and came in as one group. Once inside, there were two distinct teams sitting in the clubhouse. You could see some hesitation on their faces as we split them into mixed teams and they had to separate from their teammates. However, it did not take long for them to get to know their new teammates. Choosing team names was a great catalyst in starting conversation and helping the boys get to know one another. There were definitely a lot giggles, but eventually they settled with “Chubby Cheerios” and “Sweaty Betty”. By the time week five came around players from both clubs were walking in together as they arrived chatting away. It was interesting to see how a love for football could so quickly bring the boys together, but also momentarily divide them. Football was the similarity that initially created conversation and the beginning of relationships, but during an activity on symbols in Northern Ireland a Rangers and Celtics jersey became a spot of contention. At first sight each jersey received both cheers and “boo’s” of which you could sense the emotion behind the praise or dislike for each team. However, a willingness to listen to each other led to a great conversation about how supporting different teams doesn’t mean you can’t be friends, and by the end some of them were even willing to try on the jersey of the team they didn’t support.
The enthusiasm and eagerness to work with new teammates and the PeacePlayers staff made the programme fun and enjoyable for all. There were a few times where we all had to pause the activity for a minute so we could control our laughter. As Northern Ireland continues to work to bridge divides it’s clear that coaches, youth leaders, and teachers are critical to the success of programmes like this. The four coaches from Greenisland and St. Mary’s had a tremendous impact on the success of this programme, and the attitudes of the boys were a direct reflection on their coaches. A big thank you to the coaches and players of both clubs for helping make this programme successful.
Nobody likes moving, but PeacePlayers International’s recent office move was made a little better thanks to a generous donation from The Performance Institute (PI) – a nonpartisan, private think tank seeking to improve public and private sector performance through the principles of transparency, accountability, performance and engagement. Thanks to some serendipitous circumstances, PI’s Director of Operations, Bruce Anich, was able to arrange the donation of a complete set of 7 office furniture desks to support PPI’s move from 901 New York Ave. to our new location at 1200 New Hampshire Ave. NW, Suite 875, Washington, DC.
“The PI donation allows PPI to use our funds directly on program participants and not on tenant improvements.” said Taylor Brown, PPI Director of Finance, Human Resources & Administration. “We had an opportunity for PI to donate excess furniture as we move out to our new training facility 3101 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA and the PPI donation allows them to increase their results by outfitting their new headquarters and applying what would be a cost to be directly apply these funds for the development of youth leaders.” said Bruce Anich, PI Director of Operations.
PI serves as the nation’s leading authority and repository on performance-based management practices for government. Their mission is to identify, study, and disseminate the leading management innovations pioneered by “best-in-class” organizations. Through their best practice research and strategic consulting services, interactive training programs for government and private sector managers, and our national conferences on pressing issues, The Performance Institute provides cutting edge expertise in the design, implementation and evaluation of strategies to solve operational and managerial challenges and enhance organizational performance.
A special thanks to Bruce and all the folks and PI for their support of PeacePlayers International, and our mission to unite, educate and inspire young people in divided communities through basketball.
PeacePlayers in Northern Ireland is very much in the business of creating the next generation of leaders within the communities that suffer most from the legacy of sectarian and political conflict. At PeacePlayers we call these young leaders Champions for Peace. Simply put, a PeacePlayers Champion for Peace is a young leader who, free of the baggage that so many of this and past generations carry with them, is ideally positioned to actively contribute to creating a more stable and peaceful society. Below PPI-NI Managing Director Gareth Harper shares a story that helps to place in context the challenge that remains but also the opportunity that exists to realise the potential of our young Champions for Peace.
The Adam and Dave Story
Adam said to his father Dave, “Dad, what’s a Republican?” Dave, a Protestant Ulster Rugby fan who has been supporting his son’s choice to play Gaelic football at his local integrated primary school, does his best to answer the 9-year-old’s question. Dave tells Adam that there are two main traditions in Northern Ireland. He explains that there are Unionists/Loyalists who see themselves as British and who are mostly Protestant, loyal to the British Queen and focused on supporting the place of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. He then explains that Republicans, who are mostly Catholic, believe that the whole island of Ireland should be one republic and that Republicans don’t recognise the existence of Northern Ireland but rather are supportive of a united Ireland. Dave pausing for a breath as he sees that his son looks a bit confused asks, “Where did you hear about Republicans?” To which Adam responds, “On the Simpsons…”
Our young Champions for Peace can hear and see things differently – they don’t apply the same almost reflex filters to certain words, names or indeed sports – they don’t see things through a lens that has been tainted by negative lived experience. Rather they can see things as they are now, they can see people as people. Be it the seven year old, who after a Twinning session, at home asks his parents “why do I go to a different school from my new friend that I met at PeacePlayers today?” or the 16 year old PeacePlayers Coach in Training that is facilitating a ‘Not on My Team’ stereotypes and prejudice discussion with children from Catholic and Protestant primary schools in her own community – both are Champions for Peace, both are challenging the status quo and contributing to a better more shared and integrated future.
For its part PPI-NI will continue to provide more ‘Out of the Box’ spaces where the youngest and those who are the most vulnerable in our society feel safe and empowered to continue to play a positive role as they engage with their peers from other sections of the community. PPI-NI and its ever expanding team of young Champions for Peace will work to strengthen the peace that has been built over time and ensure that the negative elements of our society are prevented from off-loading their baggage onto younger generations.
This week’s blog is about North Miami Beach-born coach Rebecca Ross who moved to Israel with her family in 1997. Ross has been playing professional basketball in the women’s first division Israeli league since she was 18 years old. She has been coaching young girls in basketball for a while, but this her first year with PeacePlayers International – Middle East. Here Rebecca talks about the her experience and the impact PeacePlayers has had on her.
Tell us a little bit about yourself:
I was born in the United States, moved to Israel with my family in 1997 from North Miami Beach. I started playing basketball when I was 7 years old. I’ve been playing professional basketball in the women’s first division Israeli league since I was 18 years old. I represented Israel as a player on the Israeli national team in many international tournaments. I’ve been coaching young girls since I was 16 years old.
How did you find out about PeacePlayers?
I knew about the PeacePlayers organization for many years but this is my first year working as a coach with the organization. I heard about it mostly from friends and other coaches.
What is your role in PeacePlayers?
I coach the young All-Stars team (a mixed Arab-Jewish team for 15-16 year-old-girls). We play in the first division Israeli youth league. Since most of my girls are relatively young, it’s there first year competing at such a high level.
What was your mindset prior to working with PeacePlayers?
Before I started working with Peace Players I never really knew any Arabs personally, even though I saw them all the time and lived with them, I never had a conversation with an Arab. I was basically taught to “hate” the Arabs, due to the environment I was raised in; the atmosphere was very tense between the Jews and Arabs particularly.
How has PeacePlayers impacted you?
I must say I didn’t expect my involvement with PeacePlayers to be so powerful and basically life changing. I met some amazing people, who all just want to live like normal human beings in peace. I just think that no matter who you are and where you come from, (in my case we were enemies) once you get to know someone personally, without any borders, there is no limit to where it might take you.
PeacePlayers has made a huge impact on me personally, due to the extreme right wing background I came from. It basically changed my whole point of view, not only towards the Arabs specifically but in general towards human beings. I’m happy I got the opportunity to work with PeacePlayers, I definitely feel that through basketball my young girls have a great opportunity to experience something special that will give them tools and help them in the future.
Even in knowing Rebecca for just a short amount of time, it’s easy to see she is a natural leader, warm, and very passionate about basketball and her role as a coach. She is always there for her girls after the final buzzer sounds and building meaningful relationships and learning. We are very fortunate to have her as part of the program in the Middle East and grateful that she took a chance and tried something new. This is what being a PeacePlayer is all about!
PPI – South Africa Coach Tramayne Adams did not grow up in Durban, but since moving to Wentworth in 2010 it has become home. As an eleventh grader at Umbilo Secondary School, Tramayne helped start PPI-SA’s Wentworth Leadership Development Program, hire Coach Yamkela (then Assegai Primary Coach), and recruit his peers to play. After matriculating last year, we knew we had to get Tramayne on board as a coach.
Meet Assegai Primary Coach, Tramayne Adams:
Hi, I am Tramayne Adams and I’m originally from Johannesburg but moved to Wentworth, Durban in 2010. I first heard about PeacePlayers International when I was doing grade 11 at Umbilo Secondary School where I was introduced to PeacePlayers by (former Primary School participant, and current Leadership Develop Programme Participant) Slindile Mbutho. At that time we didn’t have a LDP team in Wentworth, so I went to Coach Yam to see if we could start one. That was probably one of the biggest turning points for me. I played in the LDP program, helping to recruit participants along the way, for two years and I felt like I had grown as a person and I wanted to join the Professional Development Program (PDP) to continue growing as well as grow and empower other young people. That’s when I joined the PDP and went on to coach Assegai Primary School in Wentworth.
Being a coach has given me the platform to use the leadership skills I gained from being in the LDP. It was really easy to develop a close relationship with my team because we all live in the same area and I have a great understanding of the struggles they come across living in Wentworth. Developing that close friend relationship has helped my team open up to me not only as their coach but also as their friend and mentor. That has made it so much more easier for me to as a coach to connect with my team and get them to grasp the concepts and skills I teach them.
Looking back at the first term, one event stands out the most. On the 20th of March 2015 PeacePlayers hosted a basketball extravaganza in Umlazi. There were four schools that took part in this extravaganza, Assegai, Excelsior, Carrington and Cwebezela Primary Schools, approximately 100 kids in total. The aim of hosting extravaganzas is to get the players from the different ares to get to know each other, changing perceptions along the way. The first thing we do at Extravaganzas is walk the kids through an ice breaker as a way to get them mingling early on. When the other coaches and I were planning out the event I was the coach chosen to introduce an ice breaker in front of all the participants. Through the confidence that I gained from developing a good relationship with my team it was really easy to engage with the 100 or so children and bring them together as one, we felt like one big family. The feeling of seeing your team develop so well and play a good game of basketball keeping in mind the PeacePlayers Pledge is probably the most rewarding thing about being a coach for PeacePlayers.
This year has started off so well and I’m really excited to get to see the positive change in the actions, mindset and basketball skill level in every individual in my team.
Earlier this month, 7th graders from Peninsula Temple Beth El, a Reform Jewish congregation in San Francisco, came together to learn about PeacePlayers International as part of their B’nai Mitzvah Education. B’nai Mitzvah refers to a time when a boy or girl comes of age and is recognized by the Jewish community as being morally responsible for his or her actions. Today, B’nai Mitzvah is often a time when youth are encouraged to build their own community and do some hands on work with charities that serves several, diverse communities.
The 7th graders had the opportunity to learn about PeacePlayers from former Program Director, Brian Sigafoos. A graduate of Harvard University, Brian served PPI in Israel and the West Bank from 2006 to 2008. After PPI, Brian traveled to Dubai to help grow Duplays, one of the largest adult sport & social clubs in the world, and recently moved to San Francisco to start Playpass Sports, a mobile app for rec sports activities, leagues and tournaments.
Brian led the children through several basketball drills that focus on communication and teamwork, the same drills PPI runs in all of it’s sites around the world. After the drills, they discussed the values that came across in the drills, and learned more about how PPI is able to bring groups like Jews and Arabs in the Middle East, together through something as simple as basketball.
“PeacePlayers shows respect to all human life by bringing people together for their similarities and not differences. I learned that it is tough to cooperate with someone who you only have heard bad things about. I would feel extremely scared in a situation like that. I also learned that it is a lot easier to get along with people if you look at them for their personalities and not overall groups. Keep up the good work!” – Josh Moussa, 7th Grader
The next week, Peninsula Temple Beth El Youth Director, Meg Batavia, led the children in a reflection session, and had the children write special letters to PPI’s International Fellows in Northern Ireland, South Africa, Cyprus and the Middle East. Typically post-collegiate athletes, International Fellows serve as two-year volunteers who support local staff and coaches and act as neutral facilitators in the field. Each letter was written to a specific Fellow, and the children offered words of encouragement and gratitude.
We hope that as these kids continue to grow, they will remember the lessons learned from their two weeks with PeacePlayers and continue to see all people as people. A special thanks to Brian, Meg, and all the kids at Peninsula Temple Beth El for participating in this meaningful and fun project.
Creating socially aware and active members of the community is one of the goals of the Leadership Development Program (LDP). The LDP youth demonstrate this goal by planning, organizing, and implementing two social action projects to give back to their communities. This gives the LDP members a chance to practice their leadership skills by organizing the service project. They are the ones to decide when, where, what, how and why. This year for one of their two social action projects, the LDP decided to give a basketball clinic at a school in Jerusalem that serves Palestinian and Israeli children with hearing and speech impairment.
The LDP planned a basketball workshop for the youth, and they even demonstrated what a Twinning looks like by having the youth engage in Twinning relay races. Before playing basketball, one of the head teachers gave the LDP a tour of the school and spoke about how the kids there communicate. For many LDP, this was their first time learning some sign language as well!
During the basketball workshop, the LDP learned how to use non-verbal communication skills instead of relying on spoken communication. Across the court you could see the LDP and the youth engaging in sign language and expressive body language. This is similar to what a Twinning between Israelis and Palestinians looks like, especially between younger children, because of the lack of common language. Instead of relying solely on verbal skills, the youth both here and at Twinnings use the language of basketball to mediate communication.
Ibrahim, a Palestinian LDP, believes that he and his peers rose to the occasion and managed the volunteer project well. “This project had more difficulties than others because of the communication barriers, but we PeacePlayers showed that we can handle a challenge. The LDP want to extend our program more and more and one way we do this is by reaching out to other communities.”
Liam Hinchcliffe, PPI-NI Senior Champion 4 Peace (SeniorC4P) and a Coach In Training (CIT) shares his experience after team building weekend residential at Todd’s Leap.
My name is Liam Hinchcliffe. I’m 16, I am a Senior Champion 4 Peace (SeniorC4P) and a Coach In Training (CIT). I am a Catholic from West Belfast. I have been involved with PeacePlayers International- Northern Ireland (PPI-NI) since Primary 7 when my school St. Kevin’s was involved in a twinning with Glenwood. Last weekend Coach Joanne Fitzpatrick and Coach Nasiphi Khafu took the the Senior Champions4Peace group with two Junior Champions4Peace (Aimee AJ McMinn and Anna Hinchcliffe) to a Todd’s Leap for a team building residential.
It was not only fun and games; we completed an OCN in Diversity and Equality through Sport, learning a lot about what is diversity and equality, how they are (or aren’t) promoted in Northern Ireland and how we can help promote them. Aside from the OCN we took part in lots of adventure activities for team building, like a giant swing, climbing wall, bungee run, rodeo bull, off road driving, zorbing, and finally, the UK’s largest zipline, over 120 feet high. I, personally, am afraid of heights, so thanks to the encouragement and support from the group I conquered my fear. The weekend was the most fun I have had in a long time and I would like to thank PeacePlayers International-NI and the Belfast City Council for the opportunity.
From this weekend I have gained and developed new relationships within our group and beyond, bringing me closer to the people in our group and those coming through from the Junior C4P. PeacePlayers has offered me so many amazing opportunities like this one to not only better my skills but to truly be a champion in my community. I hope to continue to work gaining new relationships and experiences from these kind experiences and opportunities.
This past Saturday, PPI-SA hosted an all girls extravaganza for its Leadership Development Programme. Over 50 girls from 4 different communities across Durban, came together for a day of basketball and more. Hosted at the beautiful University of KwaZulu Natal – Howard College Campus, the event not only allowed participants to play on an indoor court (a rare treat in Durban), but to tour the campus and participate in an empowerment seminar lead by Nokuthula “Noks” Mnguni of Zoe Life. Events like these represent an important part of the Leadership Development Programme Curriculum as PPI aims to expose participants to different “next steps” after High School.
The day kicked off, at 8:30AM with the campus tour. In partnership with Student Dynamics—a Howard College club with the mission of providing information about career life choices for underprivileged youth—PPI participants, experienced what it’s like to attend a university class, study in the university library and eat at the cafeteria. For some participants, like Thabile of Brettonwood High School, the campus tour was the highlight of the day. “I enjoyed the quick look into what it looks like to attend University, and the freedom it comes with compared to high school.”
After the campus tour, participants went straight to a workshop led by Nokuthula “Noks” Mnguni of Zoe Life. As recently as 2012, PPI-SA partnered with Zoe Life to improve its programme. At that time, it was Zoe life providing trainings for PPI coaches on HIV/Aids. This time around Noks worked with PPI’s LDP girls on being confident communicators, identify role models and chasing their dreams. Ntamkigoyise from Molweni had this to say, “the [Zoe Life] activity showed me how important it is to respect one another, and our individual dreams. It also encouraged me to chase my dream of being a fashion designer.”
The event wrapped up with the girls “finally” as some put it, getting on the basketball court. Each team played two games, facing off against the same girls they just spent the morning getting to know. By the end of the day as the teams sat around eating lunch together it was clear the event was a success, new experiences had been had, new friends made, and all energy spent. PPI-SA would like to thank the Laurues Sport for Good Foundation for its support of its Leadership Development Programme, without whom events like this would not be possible.
This week’s blog was written by International Fellow Courtney Boylan.
It has been quite a long time since my first blog entry. I’m excited to be writing to you again and to share what has been going on here in the Middle East! At the center of all the wonderful things I have been able to experience here is my work with Peace Players. Working for PPI-ME has truly given me purpose, and I feel so lucky to be able to work with the other fellows, employees, coaches, and players.
Reflecting on my time so far with Peace Players, one of the teams that I have been able to spend a significant amount of time with is the Nahariya/Tamra All-Stars. I am able to see the girls at least once a week for a practice and in our short time together I am already starting to see some really remarkable improvements.
While working with their team, it made me think back to my four years spent playing basketball at the University of Michigan. I arrived at Michigan in 2008 with a new coaching staff and a chance to help build a culture of winning. One of the challenges in building a winning culture is creating team unity and togetherness. We had to find a way to bring players from all over the country, from different backgrounds, races, religions, and values to work together as a team toward a common goal. One of the things that really helped our team build chemistry was being together off the basketball court. In getting to know one another outside of basketball, it created a stronger bond between us both on and off the floor.
In my final season at Michigan, we made it to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 10 years. I still remember the feeling I had seeing Michigan flash across the screen on the Monday Night Selection Show. Our whole team watched together and immediately erupted with loud screams and tears of joy. I vividly remember hugging one of my fellow senior teammates for a solid three minutes straight, no joke. What was so gratifying about this moment was being able to share it with my teammates and coaches, and just know that all of the hard work we put in truly did pay off.
The creation of that team unity and getting to know teammates off the floor is what I’m seeing happen right now with the All-Stars team. This is their first season playing together, and they really are just starting to get to know one another. We recently went on an overnight retreat in the Upper Galilee, and the girls were able to spend two full days together. They spent every waking moment with one another; playing basketball, doing team building exercises, walking around the Kibbutz, playing games, and tons of time spent in their rooms talking, listening to music, and munching on snacks. In the practices that I have been to since the retreat, I am already seeing some very positive changes starting to happen. You can’t force team chemistry; it is something that happens over time, but the players have to be open and willing to make it work. I truly feel that the Nahariya/Tamra All-Stars are open and willing and it is so exciting to being a part of watching them grow together.
“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” – Henry Ford
What drew you to PeacePlayers?
After graduate school I knew I wanted pursue a career in international development. As a life-long basketball player and fan my dream was to find a job that would allow me to combine both interests. I eventually found PeacePlayers after a Google search. After looking over the website and reading about all of the amazing peace building projects PPI is involved in, I knew I wanted to get pursue a fellowship immediately. I was so excited when this opportunity to become a fellow arose!
What was your first week like in this new work environment?
My first week has gone by so quickly! I departed from NYC last Thursday and arrived to Cyprus on Friday. Saturday I jumped right in and participated in my first Twinning. It was amazing to get to be a part of a Greek Cypriot (GC) and Turkish Cypriot (TC) bicommunal event right off the bat. I had the best time playing with the kids and saw first-hand how basketball can really get GC and TC kids to play and work together towards common goals. I also had the chance to attend a couple of practices on the island, participate in a team building activity with PeacePlayers-Cyprus staff and watch a girl’s club team play in Nicosia. Overall, it’s been a phenomenal first week!
What is your vision for PeacePlayers-Cyprus as you begin your position as International Fellow?
I would love to get the opportunity to take a group of girls from our Leadership Develop Program to compete in a tournament overseas at some point during my time here with PeacePlayers-Cyprus. I think it would be an incredible experience to see the LDP girls competing together against other teams outside of Cyprus and their own communities.
Have you been able to meet a lot of the kids that participate in PeacePlayers-Cyprus?
The Twinning was an excellent way to meet the kids involved with the program. I also got the opportunity to participate in a practice on the North side of the island with a group of kids from the English School of Kyrenia. ESK showed me an incredibly warm welcome and the kids were so enthusiastic and excited to be playing basketball, learning and having fun together. This weekend I will also be participating in an exchange with a group of kids from Norway, as we host them here in Cyprus. I’m so excited to meet them and participate in some of the fun activities the PeacePlayers-Cyprus team has planned.
What is your favorite part of PeacePlayers-Cyprus so far?
Working with the kids has got to be the most exciting part of the fellowship. Their energy has been contagious during my first week and I can’t wait to work and play with them at our Spring Tournament and Summer Camp! I look forward to really getting to know them throughout my fellowship and seeing them grow and develop as people and players in the coming years.
On another note, Cyprus is an incredibly beautiful island. Although I have only been here about a week, I have met the friendliest and most welcoming people, seen some incredible views and landscapes and tasted some amazing food!
This week we continue our Introducing our Coaches Series. Over the last few years PeacePlayers International – South Africa has consistently had a shortage in coaches in Umlazi. Given it is Durban’s largest township and is home to four PPI Primary Schools recruiting new coaches was a heavy focus for PPI Office staff entering this year. Today’s blog is written by one of our first year coaches in Umlazi, Mbali (Slie) Gcabashe.
What school do you coach?
Emthethweni Primary School (Umlazi)
How long have you been playing basketball?
Since grade 6 (2008) at Austerville Primary School, until now (2015)
How did you hear about the coaching job?
My primary school coach was from PPI, and I was really inspired with how they coach and how they treat youth. They were friendly in such a way that I also hungered to become a coach one day and working for the same organisation. Thobani (PPI’s area coordinator) called me and asked me if I’m still interested in coaching.
How has your experience as a coach been so far?
GREAT!!! What makes it more awesome is that I love working with kids and they love working with me. Everyday after school I just can’t wait to go out and coach them. And what I have realized now is that when playing basketball, it’s not about winning, but its about having fun and uniting the people, more especially treating each other like family.
What is your favourite moment as a coach thus far?
My favourite moment as coach is when I see my kids playing a match against other schools. So far they make me feel proud as a coach, I can see that I am going somewhere with them. Even though it is my duty to teach them, but also, I have learnt to have confidence in myself and that I am capable in doing anything and make it successful.
Name three things that you have learned?
To have confidence in myself.
How to love one another and stick together as a team despite of losing and winning.
I have learned to socialize with people and get learnt how to share my skills with them.
I really hope that my kids simply improve at basketball. Most importantly I just want them to succeed in whatever they do and to treat life just like basketball, train themselves in order to reach victory. And my dreams for the future is to just have my own businesses one day, becoming a very successful woman and to be someone’s roles model, not forgetting to change the world and make a difference.
This past weekend, players from the North, including the Tamra-Nahariya All-Stars, and Nahariya and Tamra younger girls’ teams came together for a retreat in the Northern Galilee. With the backdrop of beautiful natural scenery, the young players came to strengthen their bonds and improve their basketball skills.
Tamra and Nahariya began their Twinning partnership almost two years ago. While they have made great progress at building relationships through the Twinnings and league play, they still needed some more concentrated time together to solidify those bonds. This goes to say that by the end of the trip the girls left the retreat knowing each other better.
Leading by example is a great mantra of PeacePlayers-Middle East. Constituting the first-ever Palestinian-Israeli league team in Jeursalem, the Jerusalem All-Stars have been playing together competitively for over four years, and most of them are part of the Leadership Development Program (LDP). Over the years, the Jerusalem participants have built mutual respect and true, genuine friendships. And because they have been through the process of PeacePlayers, who knows better than them on how to guide the younger PeacePlayers generations?
During the retreat, the Jerusalem All-Stars led team-building activities that focused on challenging the participants to work as a team and to cooperate towards a greater goal. Whether it was trying to fit through a rope course or balance a hula-hoop, the players rose to the challenges. Toot, an Israeli player on the Jerusalem All-Stars and a facilitator of the peace education activities, said, “Leading the activity for the girls reminded me of my first years in PPI. Like the younger All-Stars players, I struggled and I’m still struggling, with the same difficulties: language, cultural differences, and outside criticism. The most important message I wanted to pass on to these girls was to help them acknowledge their major power as a team and as individuals inside PeacePlayers.”
The social, group-building activities are important to the team because it helps them be better players on the court. Yet, having high level basketball skills is equally important, and this is where PPI – ME Basketball Operations Manger Vito Gilic came in. Throughout the retreat he led basketball trainings for each team, helping the players continue focusing and improving their form and abilities to play better together. In the end, the coaches, players, and staff felt that the retreat accomplished the goals set. Ben, one of the co-coaches of the Tamra-Nahariya All Stars team, said, “The retreat was very fun and contributed to the purpose of the team.”
This week’s blog is written by PPI – Northern Ireland Fast Track Coach, Cynthia Watters, about her experiences facing social divides and how things have changed since she joined PeacePlayers.
Like many seasonal coaches, I joined PeacePlayers when I was in Queen’s University. It was an extremely flexible part-time job that was more fun than work! Three years later, and I still love working for PeacePlayers. It has helped me in more ways than I realised it would when I began here.
Originally from County Monaghan, I had never heard of PeacePlayers until I moved to Belfast. I had never experienced a religious divide in society before, not knowing or caring the religion of my peers growing up. However, when I moved to Belfast it was clear that this lack of knowledge was something that my new peers couldn’t understand.
I met two boys in particular with very strong views, always arguing about their history. One of them was from Lurgan and the other from South Armagh, two towns that according to them, don’t get along. I found it very funny that I would be corrected if I said my friend was from Armagh, because he was from South Armagh. It made me wonder if I was wrong about my own hometown. Rather than Monaghan, was I really from North Monaghan?
I first found it amusing, how they would fight about everything and somehow relate it back to their political views. But eventually it got annoying. It was non-stop arguing, refusing to find a way to live in harmony. How could something that happened so many years ago affect them so much today that they automatically didn’t see eye to eye?
The longer I lived in Belfast, the more I began to notice how common this divide really was. But it was when I started working at PeacePlayers that I noticed the divide amongst primary school children, kids who didn’t even know the difference between religion and nationality. It was such a shame that children, who typically can easily make friends with other children, were encouraged to stick to their own and stay away from ‘the others’ when it was clear they had no idea why.
I have worked in PPI-NI’s East Belfast Interface League for three years now. We started with 4 players, but now we have over 40 that attend each week, with a 53 seater bus bringing us to training. The change in attitudes and behaviours that I have noticed in such a small period of time is incredible. Not only do they play basketball together, but they meet up outside of trainings and attend each other’s birthday parties. By continuing to challenge the unwritten rules of society, I truly believe that in the years to come, students new to Belfast will not have to be taught how to tell a Protestant from a Catholic, as it will no longer matter. The troubles in the past will be just that, the past.
In today’s blog, PPI-SA fellow Bryan Franklin reflects on a recent visit from a group of students from The University of Texas, McCombs School of Business.
The date was March 10th. March, but the madness hadn’t quite arrived, at least not in the United States. In a small Coloured township just south of Durban called Wentworth however madness was at full strength. But in a community known for violence and for anger often spiraling out of control, this was a positive type of Madness.
A group from the University Of Texas McCombs School Of Business had come to visit PeacePlayers International – South Africa, and with them brought a little March Madness of their own. For the kids of Excelsior Primary School of Lamontville and Assegai Primary School of Wentworth, it was as if they were playing in the NCAA Championship game.
This was the McCombs School’s second annual visit to Durban. Each year, a group of thirty MBA’s partner up with a number of different nonprofits across South Africa, PPI being one of them, to help with capacity building projects. For the group of six who volunteered to help out PPI, this meant providing assistance with our marketing strategy and how we communicate about our programme with different stakeholders.
While that work is helpful, the greatest benefit on PPI’s side comes from the interaction and attention given to our participants. The event kicked off with the three schools—Assegai Primary, Excelsior Primary, and Texas McCombs—participating in an ice breaker to get to know one another, bridging divides to the core. The energy surrounding the games that followed (Assegai vs. Excelsior Boys; Assegai vs. Excelsior Girls; and PPI Coaches/Staff vs. Texas McCombs) was palpable. Kids from both sides had not only their teammates but all of PPI’s 14 coaches and 30 MBA students from America cheering for them.
It was another reminder of the power of sport, and at such a exciting time of the year for basketball with the NCAA tournament just around the corner. Sure there were no fancy hardwood floors, no TV’s, no stadiums with thousands of screaming fans, but the core of the sport: hard-work, passion, and most importantly fun were all there. Combine that with a group of 40 or so primary schoolers many of whom have never been out of their community spending time with 30 or so Americans who had just traveled across the world and you have yourself one powerful afternoon.
At PPI-SA we’re not letting the madness stop there however, and are currently running a March Madness Bracket Fundraiser. Each bracket costs $20 to enter, half of which will go straight back to helping PPI-SA create more events like the one you just read about. If you’re interested in joining, you can find more information here. We need your support so that we can continue to bridge divides, develop leaders and change perceptions through basketball.
On February 15, PeacePlayers-Cyprus International Fellow Ryan Hage was honored at Former Player’s Day at Fordham University. The former Division I Captain was shown on the Jumbotron thanking everyone for their support and a special donation table was set up for PeacePlayers where fans donated over 300 dollars to the organization. Below is the article written on FordhamAthletics.com about Ryan and his work.
On an island that has been has been divided for over 40 years, young Turkish-Cypriot and Greek-Cypriot children play the game of basketball together and, at the same time, break barriers that have been up for decades. Coach Ryan Hage, GSB’12, is encouraging the kids on the sideline with his usual eccentric demeanor.
Hage is in the middle of a fellowship with PeacePlayers International, a nonprofit organization that brings children together from communities in conflict to play basketball. The organization was founded on the belief that children who can play together can live together. The country of Cyprus broke out in a civil war in 1974 that divided the island and over the years the tension of meeting the “other side” has grown. PeacePlayers gives the kids an opportunity to finally interact with that other side of the island.
After making the team as a walk his freshman year at Fordham, Hage was given a full scholarship and named team captain his senior year. He graduated in 2012 with a degree in Finance and worked for Citibank for 18 months before realizing that something was missing. He heard about PPI and decided to make a big change. “I was 22 and making great money and living in the greatest city in the world but still felt like something was missing. I learned about PeacePlayers and how I could help others through the sport of basketball and knew this is what I have to do.”
As an American fellow, Hage serves as a mentor and role model while sharing his basketball expertise. His father, Charlie, was a basketball coach for over 40 years so coaching is in the bloodline. He has two teams and also helps organize and implement major events that bring both communities together like tournaments, leadership retreats, and a summer camp. Also, he uses that Finance degree as the Head of Finance for the organization.
“I have the greatest job in the world.” says Hage. “I have seen firsthand how basketball can change perceptions and create friendships. The work that PeacePlayers accomplishes in Cyprus and around the world is amazing. Two kids may not speak the same language, but basketball is the only thing they need to start the process of becoming lifelong friends.”
Hage credits Fordham for instilling a sense of giving back after seeing how much the basketball team gave back to the Bronx in his four years there. From clinics for disadvantaged youth to giving presents to sick children at St. Barnabas Hospital, it was a top priority of the coaches and university to always make time to help others.
At PPI – Middle East, every day is Women’s Day, with 70% of our participants and 80% of our staff made of of girls and women. So, it makes sense that we take a minute to mark International Women’s Day, which was on March 8. This post explains a little bit of the history behind Women’s Day and how PPI-ME is making Women’s Day happen year round.
The first Women’s Day was held in the early 1900’s to “celebrate the achievements of women while calling for greater equality.” Today, events are held all over the world to recognize the achievements of women socially, politically, and economically. Purple is the color scheme often associated with this day due to its representation of justice and dignity which are very important in equality to women. This year’s theme is “Make it Happen” to encourage recognition of the progress made.
By looking at pictures and meeting former participants who currently work for PeacePlayers, it is easy to see how PPI – ME invests in its female participants both on and off the court. Duha, who has been a part of PPI-ME for many years and is now a program manager and coach, has been able to travel to the U.S. and other countries through her work with PeacePlayers. She once spoke about how in her community it is not common for girls to play basketball, and it is not considered a good way to spend time. Girls see the opportunities she has been afforded through basketball and PeacePlayers and now they are becoming interested in the sport. This sport, which was once just a hobby, has allowed Duha to play on PPI – ME’s Palestinian-Israeli women’s league team in Jerusalem, meet U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice, tour famous sports arenas, and work for PeacePlayers amongst other things.
Heni, an Israeli program manager and coach in the Jerusalem area, is currently in the U.S. for the Clinton Global Initiative University, where she spoke on a panel about peace and the Middle East. Aysha, another participant turned coach, is getting ready to join a UN leadership camp in Germany in April.
Duha, Heni and other female players in her community are definitely changing perceptions and “making it happen.” PPI – ME salutes these and all the women that believe and are working toward change, justice, and equality. With hard work, lots of passion, and great support, we can all “Make it Happen”.
This week we continue our Introducing our Coaches Series. Over the last few years PeacePlayers International – South Africa has consistently had a shortage in coaches in Umlazi. Given it is Durban’s largest township and is home to four PPI Primary Schools recruiting new coaches was a heavy focus for PPI Office staff entering this year. Today’s blog is written by one of our first year coaches in Umlazi, Lindokuhle (Lindo) Tenza.
What school did you coach: Sekelani Primary School
How long have you been playing basketball?
I have been playing for seven years. I started playing as a PeacePlayers Participant at St. Leo Primary School in Molweni. I then went on to play in the LDP (Leadership Development Programme) throughout Secondary school before moving to Umlazi to go to college.
How did you hear about the coaching job?
I am here because PeacePlayers is like my second home, I grew up with PeacePlayers and being a coach here is like a dream come true. I love coaching and hanging out with kids and helping were I can because it shows that I can be a good role model to my kids and fellow coaches. I like to help anybody if I can especially the kids I am coaching. I really focus on building relationships with my players so they look at me as more than just a coach but a friend, so they can ask or talk about anything with me, even something that does not include basketball.
How has your experience as a coach been so far?
It has been very good! My experience made me gain confidence about myself both as a coach and even in personal life. I am loving it so far because of PeacePlayers not only gave me the chance, but is teaching me how to become a better coach, player and person. They have made it easy for me, and I’ve you must be persistent when dealing with kids but also in life.
What is your favourite moment as a coach thus far?
My favourite moments have been with every single child I coach. I believe I have connected with each of my kids. Many of them stay in my neighbourhood so the walks back home are my favourite. The kids really open up and we get to laugh and joke outside the court. I believe they see me more than just their coach but rather their role model.
Name three things that you have learned?
1 As a coach you must be a good role model for the kids.
2 Never be afraid to be yourself with the kids; for me this means opening up to the kids after practice when we walk home about choosing the right friends or having dreams using my life as an example.
3 To treat kids with respect, no matter who they are and where they come from