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Last weekend, PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI-ME) hosted a retreat for its coaches in Kibbutz Sdot Yam, near Caesarea. There are few things more important to the success of PPI-ME than its coaches, so it’s very important to offer them training in both basketball coaching and peace-building. The retreat provided an opportunity to do just that, all while spending quality time with them.
The event also benefited from the expertise of Vito Gilic, who is the former head coach of the Croatian Women’s National Team. He has coached all over Europe for the last 17 years as one of the best teachers of the game in Israel. His experience, preparation, and creativity offered the PPI-ME coaches a chance to learn practical drills to add to their repertoire. PPI-ME’s Leadership Development Program (LDP) was on hand to continue their education as young coaches.
The retreat began with Vito demonstrating unique coaching drills with the assistance of the LDP, who ran through the drills. The coaches watched from the sidelines taking notes as Vito led the LDP through many unique drills that combined difficult situations for hand-eye coordination, foot work, reaction-time, and shot-making.
In collaboration with Vito, peace education facilitators Renana Gal and Nissreen Najjar led an insightful activity in the afternoon. They first met with the coaches to setup a simulation with the LDP that immediately followed. Renana explained, “We wanted to give the coaches a more holistic experience of what we are doing at PPI. We wanted them to go back to the way they were as players.”
PeacePlayers creates opportunities for its participants to view others as human beings like themselves instead of as objects to use or avoid. The coaches are immensely important as they must also understand their players and then foster it in their players and PPI participants. Renana continued, “For the coaches to have empathy to what their players are going through, it is important for us to put the coaches in the same shoes they once wore… as basketball players.” The activity put the coaches and LDP together on the court playing. The teams were mixed up so you had both coaches and LDPers on each team. Throughout the activity, Vito continued to adjust the situations on the court to keep everyone guessing and allow the coaches to feel the vulnerability and lack of control that comes with being a player. Following the activity, the coaches and LDP came together with Nissreen and Renanan to discuss the activities. According to Renana it was important for these groups to be together to maximize the understanding.
I asked Alla Barhoom, village head for Ein Rafa, for his perspective regarding the importance of coaching in terms of the impact coaches have on players’ lives. Alla has been taking the PPI-ME Coaching for Reconciliation course this year, and he was on hand at the retreat to learn along with the other coaches and the LDP. “First, it’s so important to have a retreat like this for the coaches that allows us the chance to step back, look inside ourselves, and discuss with each other, alongside experts like Vito, Nissreen, and Renana. Sport is rather low on the priority list in our society, but really it is so important when one considers the impact it has on shaping our lives in such positive ways. That said the impact is rather dependent on the coach’s style and perspective.”
At the beginning of March, PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland (PPI-NI) staff were hosted by Laureus Sport for Good Foundation in Rome, Italy. In this weeks blog, we see how Coaches Megan, Joanne, Laura and some of the sessional got on over the 3 day trip and what they got up to.
The exchange brought together young leaders from 4 organisations across Europe, as well as Mercedes-Benz Italia for an exchange of knowledge, ideas and expertise in how to use sport to tackle social issues.
The staff at PPI-NI would like to thank everyone involved at Laureus Sport for Good Foundation for inviting, hosting and making everyone from PeacePlayers International who travelled feel so welcome.
After a couple of successful months of programming in our primary schools, the PeacePlayers – South Africa Leadership Development Programme (LDP) for high schoolers is finally underway for the 2014 school year. Umlazi is the first area to get an LDP team up and running this year, with 18 students (boys and girls) attending the year’s inaugural session last Saturday.
The LDP teams recruit students in grades 8 through 12 (ages 14-18) to receive more in-depth basketball and life skills training, as they learn to not only live healthy lives themselves but also serve as leaders within their own families and communities. Most LDP participants are graduates of the Primary School Programme (PSP) and are looking to continue their relationship with PeacePlayers as they move on to high school. In addition, PPI-SA looks to its LDP programme for future coaching candidates, and many of PPI-SA’s current and former coaches were once LDP participants.
This year’s LDP participants in Umlazi didn’t seem to mind the scorching hot sun last Saturday, as for many of them it was their first chance to play some organized basketball since they left their primary schools. They were ecstatic to be involved with PeacePlayers once again and to share the game with others. Of the 18 participants at the session, 12 were a part of the PeacePlayers programme at their various primary schools, and the other 6 were friends and siblings of those participants. The players represented 8 different schools. The team is expected to grow as word gets out that sessions have started. If numbers get too large, a competitive try-out for roster spots will be held or a second team will be created.
Lamontville is also slated to get an LDP team up and running within the next month and we are exploring the possibility of setting up an LDP team in Wentworth for this first time. The communities of Molweni and Umbumbulu, which used to be part of the PPI-SA programme but now carry out their basketball programming independently, both operate high school teams full of former PPI participants who will also be able to provide good competition for our LDP teams.
Monday evening, April 7th, PeacePlayers International (PPI) held its annual “Dropping Dimes for Peace” pre-party to the NCAA Basketball Tournament Final at Hill Country Barbecue in New York City.
The event brought together friends, activists and supporters of the critical sports diplomacy and peace education work PPI does everyday in conflict zones throughout the world. Overall, PPI raised over $35,000 through ticket sales, the March Madness Box Pool and the silent auction, which included prizes such as autographed Knicks gear, tickets to the Colbert Report, a basket from Tribeca Treats (which also donated cupcakes to serve at the event) and a Martha’s Vineyard getaway.
Guests listened as PPI’s Executive Director, Brendan Tuohey, introduced a new upcoming video following the lives of two long-time PPI – ME participants, Romy and Malak, which highlights thousands of friendships being made throughout PPI, in South Africa, Northern Ireland, Cyprus and Israel and Palestine. Thank you to GMMB for creating this video pro bono!
We would like to extend our thanks to our generous sponsors, our gracious host Hill Country BBQ and to everyone who came out to support PPI. See you next year – same game, same place.
Today we have a special guest blogger who comes all the way from Washington DC. Zach Mazlish and his family visited PeacePlayers-Cyprus for a week to help out and see what our organization is all about. They shared in a week of basketball, sight-seeing, and forming new friendships with kids from Cyprus and Norway.
Hello, I’m Zach Mazlish, a 15 year old 9th grader, who lives just outside Washington D.C. From February 21st to the 28th I was in Cyprus working with PeacePlayers International. My dad, sister, brother, and I are all big basketball players and fans, and my mom supports our passion and she came up with the idea of the trip to Cyprus. My mom and I arrived alone on Friday the 21st to go to in a three-day leadership retreat in Agros.
That Friday night I met a Norwegian group that was with us, and the Turkish and Greek Cypriots that were at the retreat. We played a bunch of different Ice Breaker games, and the whole group immediately started to bond and become friends. The next two days we learned about the Lead 4 Peace program and were taught about how to create a community service project. By Sunday morning it was amazing to see that all the kids there had thought up unique and creative service projects that they were going to start themselves. Of course we also had three basketball practices led by Coach Vito that helped us all relax and have some fun.
Sunday afternoon we returned to Nicosia to have an awesome barbeque at the Home for Cooperation, before the Norwegian kids each went off to their host families. That night my dad, brother, and sister all arrived as well. The next couple of days were filled with sightseeing and basketball with largely the same group of Norwegians and Cypriots from the weekend retreat. We were able to explore and see different areas of Cyprus such as Larnaca, Kiti, Iskele, Famagusta, Dali, Lapta, Kyrenia, and of course Nicosia. For my family and the Norwegians this was our first time seeing all these different places, and even many of the Cypriots had not been everywhere we visited. I especially enjoyed the bike tour around the North and South of Nicosia, where we learned much of the history of the conflict between the North and South. Personally, I found our trip to the Kantara Castle very cool, as it was a very interesting castle that had amazing views of the surrounding area.
The whole week was an amazing experience for my family and me. I was able to interact a ton with many of the Norwegian and Cypriot kids, and I really developed strong friendships that will last with many of them. Additionally, I found Cyprus to be an incredibly interesting and amazing place, and it didn’t hurt that the weather was nearly perfect. Whether it was sightseeing, playing basketball with different groups of kids everyday, or just spending time with the different people there, the whole week was amazing. Thank you Peace Players for giving my family and I such a great opportunity to explore Cyprus and really interact with the community of people there. It was a great experience, and one that I will never forget.
Ibrahim, a 19 year old Palestinian from East Jerusalem, is an eight year participant of PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI-ME), and a current member of PPI-ME’s Leadership Development Program Boys basketball team, which is made up of Israelis and Palestinians from East and West Jerusalem, from Palestine and Israel. Ibrahim is studying occupational therapy at the Arab American University of Jenin (AAUJ) in Jenin, Palestine. In 2007, Ibrahim was interviewed on “The Today Show” in a segment about PeacePlayers International.
I understand you returned last week from the ninth editition of Youth Leadership Program (YLP) with the United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP) held in Berlin, Germany. Tell me Ibrahim. What was the YLP all about?
It’s about bringing youth leadership from different organizations internationally to teach the youth how it can develop life skills, solve conflicts, and bring peace. There were about 25 of us from different countries that have conflict. My conflict being the one of Israel and Palestine, while in Africa there is a great challenge to learn how to develop the countries, so each country can maintain peace.
What kind of activities did you do at YLP? Was there one that stood out as the most impactful?
We experienced so many great activities, and we met many organizations that actually have their own plans to solve a certain conflict. There was an organization helping young people in Colombia and Africa to solve problems using table tennis. In Berlin, we learned about leadership with disabled people, and how we can use basketball to change their lives. I can now teach them sports and they can have a team. When you ask what activity was the most impactful I cannot point to a specific activity, but what I can point to is the participants – the other youth that surrounded me throughout the 12 days and every session we were in.
I understand that there were people from 13 different nations at the YLP. Did they seem very different than most people you know? How did you get along?
Yes, that’s right. Mostly African nations except for me and a girl from Lebanon who I could speak with in Arabic. The other participants had truly unique life perspectives from my own, and it made me eager to get to know them and understand their culture and way of life. As each of them opened up about their life struggles at home, I was amazed to hear what they had been through. I was surprised to feel less mature than many of them based on what intense experiences they had had at such a young age. It was a really special time with them, and we became like brothers and sisters. Everyone was participating with an open mind and open heart not afraid to be vulnerable with the group.
How does what UNOSDP is doing around the world compare to what PPI-ME is doing in Israel and Palestine? Do they have the same goals?
They have the same goals but in different ways. PeacePlayers goes directly to the children to solve the problems directly. UNOSDP focuses on training the youth leaders who can in turn focus on the problems in their area. It is similar to our LDP, but UNOSDP brings together different organizations so everyone can learn a lot from each other. Meeting others and seeing what other organizations are doing in this field gives me strength to continue the mission at home. Now it’s not just PeacePlayers. There are so many people and organizations who are going for the same goal trying to make the world a better place for everyone.
Did you find that there are other organizations or movements like PPI-ME out there in the world with similar missions?
From what I saw there are many organizations like PeacePlayers except they are using different sports like table tennis and soccer. PeacePlayers seems to operate on a larger scale, however. I did not find another organization that is using its methodology so deeply in such diverse areas of the world like PeacePlayers is.
What did you learn from this experience that will effect the way you live your life?
Those 12 days made me a wiser young adult. Actually, now I can do so much more by myself than I realized. I need less help now than I used to. I heard a great quote from a disabled man at the YLP. He gave me a bracelet and told me, “You can do more than you think.” I get up in the morning, and I go to this game and do better than I expected in the first. Don’t let your thoughts be the limits. Let your actions speak. Always do more than you think you can.
How did it compare to life in Israeli and Palestine?
Life was great there. It seemed so peaceful there, and everyone was smiling. I saw no signs of conflicts. Sometimes, you need this vacation from conflict to be ready to deal with the conflict again and to be ready to get back to your fight.
What do you envision for the future, Ibrahim? What do you desire?
My dreams got bigger during those 12 days. After every activity each organization was speaking to me about how I am going to be an ambassador for my country to make a difference. They made me feel like I’m not going to be a usual guy. This gave me hope and new dreams. I now have new points and new things to fight for. I study occupational therapy in the university, but now thanks to UNOSDP I have hope to be more than just a practitioner. Now, I am focused to become a manager and a leader of my own business, organization or clinic.
And I want to say thanks to PeacePlayers for supporting and encouraging me to pursue this opportunity to experience the Youth Leadership Program with UNOSDP, and I also want to send a thanks to UNOSDP for those 12 days, one of my best life experiences.
Precious Buthelezi of Lamontville is one of the top up-and-coming women’s basketball players in South Africa. Basketball has had a profound impact on her life, and it was PeacePlayers who first introduced her to the sport that she now loves.
Precious was introduced to basketball through PeacePlayers in 2007 when she joined the team at Excelsior Primary School in Lamontville as a 6th grader. She instantly fell in love with the sport.
“It was so fun,” Precious recalls, “I was like, ‘Basketball, I could do this for life!’”
She returned for a second year with the Excelsior team as a 7th grader, and was driven to become the best she could be. That hard work led to her selection to the KwaZulu Natal Under-13 Provincial team which played in the national U-13 tournament in Pretoria. That was just the beginning of the accolades, selections, and honors for Precious.
In grade 8 and grade 9 Precious continued honing her skills while playing on PeacePlayers’ LDP (Leadership Development Programme) team in Lamontville. She was eventually selected to the KwaZulu Natal Under-16 team and was named an all-star at the national tournament in Port Elizabeth, where her team finished 3rd. Her performance led to her being invited to the national Under-16 camp in Johannesburg, where she earned a spot on the South Africa Under-16 national team. As a part of the U-16 national team, Precious flew with her teammates to competitions in Angola and Zambia, getting a taste of the high-life during the all-expenses-paid trips, along with a taste of top-notch competition.
“It was fun! I had never been in such a serious competition before! And the freebies! The room service! Everything!” Precious reminisces.
Later that year, after an all-star performance at the Under-18 national tournament playing for KwaZulu Natal Province, she was invited to the Basketball Without Borders camp in Johannesburg, one of the top developmental camps in Africa, which features the best young players from across the continent. As you may have expected, she was named an all-star there as well.
Precious played on the KwaZulu Natal senior team at the 2012 national tournament, and led her municipality to a provincial championship at the annual Kwanaloga Games in 2013. Now, she is waiting for the South Africa Under-20 camp to get underway so she can prove that she deserves a spot on the national Under-20 team. Though her basketball opportunities are getting larger and grander with each passing year, she still remembers her four years with PeacePlayers very fondly, and with great appreciation.
“PPI made a huge difference in my life…The coaches were so qualified, I learned a lot from them,” she says, “I wouldn’t be in the position I am in without PPI. I am so grateful for that. They played a huge role in my success.”
Precious is hoping that other girls from her community might follow in her footsteps. When we caught up with her, she was in the process of giving one of her nicest pairs of basketball shoes away to a young player in Lamontville.
“As a player, I want to contribute to the community and I thought one way I can do that is to give away something that I don’t use that may be useful to someone else,” she says, “I have to give back, you know?”
Sport for Development and Peace is an opportunity to recognize the potential of sport to contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. At the same time, the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace on April 6 underlines that sports can foster peace and can contribute to an atmosphere of tolerance and understanding.
Sport, as a tool for education, development and peace, can promote cooperation, solidarity, tolerance, understanding, social inclusion and health at the local, national and international levels. Its intrinsic values such as teamwork, fairness, discipline, respect for the opponent and the rules of the game are understood all over the world and can be harnessed in the advancement of solidarity, social cohesion and peaceful coexistence.
At each PeacePlayers International site, we have joined the celebration of peace and sport and are holding events for the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace.
On April 5 at PPI – Northern Ireland, the under 13 girl’s basketball team traveled to Dublin for their first international match against Killester Basketball Club. In its first season, this team has brought together 11 girls from different communities in Belfast, based on our belief that people who play together can learn to live together. This match showcased the skills and teamwork that the girls have learned over the course of the season. After the match, girls from spent time getting to know each and forming lasting friendships.
On the same day, PPI – Cyprus hosted 3 separate “twinnings” at Ledra Palace in the UN Buffer Zone. Three PeacePlayers teams from the Greek Cypriot community and three teams from the Turkish Cypriot community met with their “twinned” program from the opposite community for a full day of connecting youth from across the divided island through basketball. Following the three matches that intermix youth from both communities, families joined PeacePlayers for a barbecue in the Buffer Zone.
PPI – South Africa is expanding their reach as they ran a pilot program in a new community, Newlands East, on April 6. Through the programming, people from divided communities are brought together using sport as a catalyst. PeacePlayers International – South Africa currently serves approximately 1,000 children from 35 primary schools and over 20 schools and we hope to add Newlands East to that list to provide them with weekly activities, special events, and tournaments in addition to helping their own community.
At PeacePlayers International, a core component of our programing is our “twinnings” where PPI’s trained coaches use basketball, the curriculum and their facilitation skills to help players build the respect and understanding that leads to lasting friendship. PPI stresses the pursuit of shared goals and relationship building over a prolonged period of time. For the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, PPI – Middle East is holding a “twinning” on April 7, bringing together young girls from East and West Jerusalem.
Today we meet PeacePlayers – Cyprus’ new Manager, Jale Canlibalik! We sat down with her and asked her a few questions after her first week in her new position.
What drew you to PeacePlayers?
I have been interested in the work of PeacePlayers for a while now, and especially on how they use sport as a peace-building mechanism to open up the dialogue between divided communities. When the opportunity to join the team arose up there was no doubt that I wanted to be part of this program.
My first week was very different to say the least! We were hosting a group of teens from Norway during their one week stay in Cyprus and the program included basketball trainings and matches as well as tours across the island. It was a very active and busy first week, and it was the perfect opportunity to engage with the team and the coaches but more importantly the kids involved.
What is your vision for PeacePlayers as you begin your position as Managing Director?
I want to ensure that we at PeacePlayers – Cyprus stay true to the ethos of PeacePlayers International and continue to promote peace through sport on the island. I see us continuing to grow and develop as a team and as an organization and engaging with more youth in Cyprus.
Have you been able to meet a lot of the kids that participate in PeacePlayers?
I was very fortunate during my first week to meet many of the kids and see how they interact with each other and how they are really benefiting from this program. It’s been amazing to see just how powerful the program is in bringing together kids from divided communities and giving them the opportunity to develop great friendships through playing basketball together.
What is your favorite part of PPI – Cyprus so far?
I have enjoyed every day since I started but my favorite part so far is when we had a basketball match during the Norwegian visit and the teams were mixed with Greek-Cypriot, Turkish-Cypriot, Norwegian and American kids. The kids really connected and interacted with each other and played as a team. There were no differences or barriers, just kids playing together.
Aysha is a 19-year-old Palestinian woman from East Jerusalem who works for PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI-ME). 8 years ago, Aysha became one of PPI-ME’s early particpants and went on to join PPI-ME’s Leadership Development Program (LDP). She has played on the Jerusalem All-Stars, and this year Aysha started playing for the professional basketball team ASA Jerusalem as their first-ever Palestinian. She also studies in an intensive Hebrew-language program at Hebrew University.
What brought you to PPI-ME?
At first just to have fun, but after that to meet new people, to do something new, to learn new things, and to play with Jewish people. After spending so much time playing basketball with Jewish people, it showed me how important it is that we make peace in our world.
When did you become a part of the LDP, and why did you join?
I began in the beginning of the LDP, which started about 4 years ago. I joined because I wanted to learn how to be a good leader. I wanted to be able to teach the younger kids to be good leaders after me.
What are your relationships like with the other participants in PPI-ME, especially the Jewish girls?
We are like sisters, like family. We talk every day. I think we will be like this for the rest of our lives.
What has happened in PPI-ME from the beginning until now?
PPI-ME is making a difference in everyone to bridge the divides of the conflict with the ideas of our peace curriculum and activities.
My Hebrew teacher at the Hebrew University is very interested that I have spent eight years playing basketball with Jewish people. I told her about the Twinnings and the other activities we do.
Aysha how have you changed in the last eight years?
At first I didn’t like it. I heard so many bad things about the Jewish before I started PeacePlayers. So, I didn’t like spending time with them at first. But I got to know them, and now I love them. PeacePlayers changed my mind about how I feel about Jewish people.
What did PPI-ME do to change your mind about the Jewish kids?
We just got to spend a lot of time together playing basketball. PeacePlayers gave us the chance to really know and understand each other.
Tell me about the team you are playing on this year?
I started playing for ASA Jerusalem just this year. It’s a professional women’s team, and most of the players are 23 to 32 years old. I am the first Palestinian to ever play on this team, which is an amazing feeling. I am so proud that I can represent the Palestinian people on this team, and it would be great for me if more Palestinians will play on this team because of me.
Were you scared in the beginning to be the only Palestinian?
I was not scared in the beginning, but I felt a bit confused. I didn’t know anyone at first, but now I know them, so everything is fine. I have become friends with the other girls on the team.
What’s it like for the other girls to play with you?
I think it’s fine. I don’t think anyone has complained about me being on the team.
What’s your favorite memory from PPI-ME?
All the memories from PeacePlayers are so special. I cannot choose one.
What do you wish for the future?
I can’t say now what I want the future to be. Right now my life is perfect. Everything in life changes. I can’t know what will be for my future, but I want to be a doctor.
What do you want to say to the world?
I want to tell world about our experiences over the last eight years. I want to tell the world how we have changed from PeacePlayers.
Thank you Aysha.
This week, Spanish intern, Coach Alberto shares his reflections on the primary school Twinning programs at PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland (PPI NI).
I have been interning with PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland for 3 months, and I can honestly say that it has been one of the best experiences of my career, both professionally and personally.
Before I moved to Northern Ireland, I had read about the different types of programs that PeacePlayers International operates. The Twinning program uses the sport of basketball, which is seen as a neutral sport, to bring together children from divided communities. Other sports in Northern Ireland such as Gaelic or Rugby are normally perceived to represent one community or another.
In addition to playing basketball, children spend time taking part in community relations activities, which are designed to teach them about diversity and accepting differences in other people. Children learn the meaning of stereotypes and prejudices and how the labeling people is used throughout society in a negative way. The children talk about their likes and dislikes, what their communities are like and by the end of the session, they realize that they have a lot of things in common, even though they come from come from different backgrounds (which amazes quite a few children!).
You can see a physical change in interaction between children from both schools. At the beginning, the children didn’t interact with each other. By the end of the 8 weeks, they have best friends from the other school.
I would like to thank the staff at PPI-NI for welcoming me and treating me so well from the start. I am learning a lot with them and they have considered me a part of the team since I began. Getting the chance to work at PPI-NI has been an extremely fulfilling experience and it has been amazing to see how sport can be used as a tool to educate, unite and inspire children from different communities.
The third principle of the Olympic Charter (the set of rules and regulations for the Olympic Games) states “The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” PPI-NI is doing incredible work with young children from interface areas and is definitely making a big impact within the communities of Northern Ireland.
The first term of the South African school year is in the books, as is the first term of PPI-SA’s 2014 Primary School Programme (PSP). We caught up with a few of our coaches to find out how it went for them:
Thando Msweli (Thando is a 1st year coach at Durban Primary School in the city. She is from Lamontville and attends the University of KwaZulu-Natal Howard Campus):
What was your favourite moment of the first term?
–My favourite moment of the first term was getting kids who said they didn’t even like basketball to participate and enjoy the game, which resulted in them loving the game and attending each and every practice.
What has been your favourite part of coaching so far?
–It has to be sharing my love and passion for basketball with the young ones. It’s seeing kids develop skills, love, and passion for the game, and knowing that I have impacted someone’s life with the little I have to offer.
What has surprised you the most about coaching?
–I was surprised at how quickly my kids developed and how cooperative and enthusiastic they were to learn.
Yamkela Nako (Yamkela is a 5th year coach at Assegai Primary School in Wentworth. He is originally from a farm in the Eastern Cape but now lives in Durban and attends Durban University of Technology):
What was your favourite moment of the first term?
–My favourite moment was the kids’ excitement when they won their first game.
What is your favourite part of coaching?
–Teaching and seeing results at the end of practice makes it all worthwhile.
How do you feel you are improving as a coach?
–My improvement as a coach is the outcome of learners, and my coaching abilities improve by learning from them as well.
Gabby Gokova (Gabby is a 1st year coach at Carrington Primary School in the city. She is originally from Zimbabwe but now lives in Durban and attends Durban University of Technology):
What was your favourite moment of the first term?
–Meeting the children I’m coaching and getting comfortable with coaching them.
What has been your favourite part of coaching so far?
–My favourite part is that I’m not only teaching children new things but I myself am learning a whole lot from them too!
What has surprised you the most about coaching?
–That the children really take sport seriously and want to take it to another level in life. They know what they want!
This past weekend, children from Cyprus and Norway took part in a three-day leadership retreat in Agros. PeacePlayers’ Fellow Ryan Hage gives his account of the event.
One can lead in many different ways. They can be the captain of a sports team or the person that organizes a club at a school. No matter what type of leader someone is, it is important to be a role model for others. This past weekend we were lucky enough to host a group of young adults from Norway along with children from both the North and South of Cyprus to start a new one-year program – Lead 4 Peace.
The weekends main focus was to teach the children the concept of community service. Former Managing Director, Marina Vasilara, and consultant of PPI – Cyprus, Nadia Karayianni, led three interactive sessions with the kids to teach them about this subject and to help them figure out what they can do in their own communities to help out.
The aim of teaching them about community service was to help the kids identify a problem in their own community, and then create an action plan or project to help with that problem. Over the course of the next 12 months, they will develop their own project and implement it in their own community.
In addition, the kids took part in basketball drills and games over the three days with PPI-ME’s Vito Gilic, who we were fortunate enough to have for the retreat. Basketball is a great medium to meet others and the Norwegians and Cypriots quickly became friends as they worked together on and off the court. Their common passion for the game became the ice-breaker for kids from two different parts of the world. The kids really enjoyed learning about a different culture and making new friends!
The writer of this week’s blog post is Max Mancher, PPI – ME’s newest intern. Max comes to us from Port Washington, NY, and is here in the Middle East for an internship program through Aardvark.
I’m not really sure what I expected. As I traveled down to the Arab town of Ein Rafah, just outside Jerusalem for my first “twinning” since beginning my internship with Peace Players International a couple of months ago, I knew it was something that was long overdue. It was exciting to walk onto the court to join teams from Ein Rafah as well as Kiryat Anavim. Based in PPI’s Tel Aviv offices, I had been working on promoting the organization from the sidelines, but up to this point, I had never seen it in action. What I saw should not have amazed me at all (why would it be different from any other time I’ve played sports with kids?), but it did.
As we got to the basketball court, Jack, one of PPI – ME’s International Fellows, who had bleached his hair in honor of the Jewish holiday of Purim, was drawing attention from all over due to his new hairstyle, and the kids ran to greet him. I realized that this was actually a very familiar scene to me. If I had walked into the day camp where I used to work in Great Neck, New York, with bleached blonde hair, every kid there would have run over to me to see if it was a wig. Who would have guessed that exact scene unfolded here in Ein Rafah!
I walked around trying to channel my inner sports photographer. I caught some cool action shots of these kids, who were much better at basketball than I expected. Most of them could have taken me in a game of one-on-one when I was their age. As I took photos of them working together, playing together, and shooting me a few silly faces in the process, I realized how casual this all was to them.
This point really hit home when I joined in. We were playing a game that combined basketball, football and Ultimate Frisbee. At this point it became eerily similar to my days as a camp counselor. Despite not speaking the same language, basketball provided all the communication that was needed. They were able to call out my name and throw both hands in the air as the universal sign for “I’m open, pass me the ball!” and I would oblige.
As this went on I realized more and more that there was such a simple concept that made this program work. Kids enjoy playing sports with other kids. If you provide them with a time, place and equipment to do this, they are going to have fun and they are going to make friends. I thought back on my sports career and the little things that could make all the difference in a relationship. It could be a teammate with whom I didn’t feel particularly close giving me a high five during a game and, like magic, I would forget any reservations I had formed about that person.
As I played with them, I wasn’t thinking about the bigger picture of how PPI brought very unlikely friends together. I wasn’t thinking of the thousands of kids who were given opportunities that they otherwise would not have had. I wasn’t thinking about the problems in the outside world that could have prevented this day from happening. I was like every other kid on the floor spending an hour having fun and playing with other kids. As I experienced this for my first time I suppose I was thrown off by the simplicity of it all, but that should not have been the case. When you really take a look at what is happening, kids are coming together to play basketball with their friends, and it doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that.
Operation’s Team Leader Debbie Byrne reflects on why using sport is such a positive tool to bring the two communities in Northern Ireland together…
Five months has flown by for me as the new Operation’s Team Leader at PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland (PPI-NI). It has been a bit of a whirlwind but time after time I have found myself coming back to the question why use sport to do cross-community work in Northern Ireland?
Sport in Northern Ireland is very much connected to cultural identity and can sometimes be one of the biggest causes of the problems. However, my experience over the past few months has shown me that this is simply not the case – even when it has come to playing sports that are perceived as coming from one community or another. What I see is that sport, and in particular basketball (the chosen sport of PPI-NI), breaks down divides and builds bridges. The children and young people get so enthralled in playing the game that they forget the misconceptions that they may have of the people they are playing with. ‘Team’ becomes more important than individuals. ‘We’ becomes more important than ‘I’. The human desire to compete, do well, and overcome seems to take over and the people on your team become comrades in a great battle. At this stage we leverage these new relationships to help the children learn more about the lives, culture and traditions of their new teammates from the other community.
We see this time and time again at PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland. What we typically do is have two classes from two schools come together from across the political divide. At first they are nervous, shy and herding together in their class group. As soon as any type of game begins however, they are having fun, laughing and screaming for their team to succeed. They forget their old identity and the new team becomes their new identity.
After only a couple of weeks of a twinning I have been able to see individuals from classes running in to meet their friends from the other class. Nowhere has this been more evident than over the past few weeks with the twinning of St. Luke’s Primary School and Belvoir Park Primary School in Belfast. As you can see from the pictures, the children come in beaming and excited, ready to see their friends from the other class. They want to get into their teams quickly so that they can get down to the action and competition.
The global PeacePlayers motto is that ‘Children who play together can learn to live together’. This motto has been sinking in to me in a deeper, more profound way the more I see the individual and group changes that occur when we implement this simple philosophy.
Sport really is one of the best tools to use for community relations work in Northern Ireland and I am just happy to be part of the process of making it happen with PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland.
On Thursday March 20, PeacePlayers International held its 4th annual “Party For Peace” in Washington, DC. Nearly 200 PPI supporters came together at Capitale for a night of fun watching the first round of the men’s NCAA basketball tournament, all while raising over $23,000 to help further PPI’s reach and impact across the world. In addition to the first round games, guests had fun bidding on silent auction items, which were all donated by fantastic supporters on the event’s host committee, and for the first time guests participated in a fun PPI March Madness Box Pool.
We got a sneak peek at a new upcoming video following the lives of two long-time PPI – ME participants, Romy and Malak, which highlights thousands of friendships being made throughout PPI, in South Africa, Northern Ireland, Cyprus and Israel and Palestine. Thank you to GMMB for creating this video pro bono!
PeacePlayers would like to thank everyone who came out last Thursday to support PPI. Next up, PeacePlayers is holding our annual Dropping Dimes for Peace Party in New York City on April 7. Please join us to watch the NCAA men’s championship game and support PPI. More information can be found here.
PeacePlayers Fellow Ryan Hage weighs in on how PPI – Cyprus reaches so many parts of the island.
From Kiti in the South to Kyrenia in the North to Faneromeni right in the heart of Nicosia, there are PeacePlayers teams everywhere. I learned this very quickly upon arriving here almost two months ago. With twelve teams across the island, I have yet to experience every practice but it is amazing to see all of the kids learning the game and having a great time all in the name of PPI – Cyprus!
No matter what part of the island, one thing is always the same with every team – the coaches are extremely engaged with the kids and love teaching the game of basketball. Without them, none of PPI’s work is possible.
I feel very fortunate to be able to wake up every morning and pick which practice I want to attend and help out at. The girls at Lapta are always smiling and having a good time and they truly love to learn new games and drills. The boys at Faneromeni have a very competitive spirit and it is fun to participate in games like ‘Knockout’ or ‘King of the Court’.
The best part about having all of these teams from different parts of the island is ‘twinning’ them on the weekends so that they can interact with each other. Without these events, the kids would likely not get the chance to meet each other and form relationships and bonds. This is my favorite time of the week and it never ceases to amaze me on how open and fun the kids are when participating.
It is exciting to know that even though I have met so many great players and coaches, I still have so many more to meet!
Jack Randolph is an American Fellow for PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI-ME) who works specifically with the northern and central communities, which make up half the total teams of PPI-ME for the 2013-2014 year.
There are two neighboring communities just a few miles west of Jerusalem that PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI-ME) has been coaching for the past few years. PPI-ME started coaching in the Israeli kibbutz Kiryat Anavim in 2012 and in Arab village Ein Rafa the year before. While these two communities are located within a mile of each other, rarely do their residents interact due to the cultural divides and tensions that exist between Arabs and Jews in Israel. However, thanks to generous donations from the Sisitsky family, who has supported a team from each community since 2012, these two teams, the Mike Jones Highlanders and the George Leftwich Lions, are now playing basketball together with PPI-ME.
American fellow Jamie Walsh, who manages the Twinnings (joint practices) for the Jerusalem area, shared a few words regarding the Twinnings. “A lot of progress has been made between the two teams. The kids look forward to meeting with other kids so different than themselves, and it gives the kids a chance to work with several different coaches. It’s just a great learning opportunity for both sides. I look forward to watching their continued progression.”
Normally I am leading practices with our northern communities, but this week I drove to Ein Rafa to see what is going on between these two teams. I led the warm-up getting everyone excited about playing defense and then a station of a game “Touchdown,” which brings my gridiron background to the basketball court. After the Twinning, I was privileged to speak with a few of the kids from both sides. I interviewed two girls, 8 year-old Rahma from Ein Rafa and 9 year-old Manar from Ein Naqquba (adjoining Arab village), and Yotam, an 8-year-old boy from Kiryat Anavim.
How long have you played basketball?
M & R: This is our first year. We started playing in October.
Y: This is my second year. I have been playing since the fall of 2012.
Why do you play basketball?
M: Sports is good, because it is healthy and fun.
R: Basketball is fun, it is useful, and it is entertaining.
Y: Basketball is fun and sociable.
How is it for the Mike Jones Highlanders and the George Leftwich Lions to play together?
R: It’s fun to go to Kiryat Anavim and play on a different court with new people. It’s nice to meet new people.
Y: It’s not only fun, but it’s also challenging in a good way to play with people who don’t speak the same language.
M: I agree with Rahma, and also I really liked the minifest that we did with PeacePlayers, because it’s so nice to meet and play with people from so many different places.
By minifest, Manar was referring to the Abe and Irene Pollin Winter Happening that we had on December 28th where we brought together Ein Rafa, Kiryat Anavim and three other Israeli and Palestinian communities from the Jerusalem area. This “happening” was another chance for me to help out in the Jerusalem area programming. It’s always a pleasure for me to help out with the Jerusalem communitities. Since Jamie and company have the responsibility, it allows me the opportunity to focus on being energetic with the kids. For the Mike Jones Highlanders of Ein Rafa and the George Leftwich Lions of Kiryat Anavim, it’s wonderful to watch their barriers fall by the wayside.
On Friday 14th March, PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland hosted its first ever Family Games Night fundraiser at Grosvenor Leisure Centre.
The event, organised by our amazing team of senior Champions4Peace programme participants, ably supported by coach James, was the brainchild of coach Laura. Laura came up with idea for this ‘action research’ fundraising pilot in fulfilling one of the requirements of her university placement with PeacePlayers International.
The fun kicked off at 6pm with PPI-NI sessional coaches on hand to man the “Rally Stage Time Trial” and offer shooting tips for the “Basketball Knock Out” challenge.
Belfast’s Lord Mayor, Councillor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir stopped by to lend his support. The Lord Mayor immediately got into the spirit of things, handing off his ceremonial chain of office for safe keeping to coach Pablo, and volunteering as goalie for our “Beat the Keeper” competition!
Towards the end of the evening a crowd gathered to watch the ‘strip-by-strip’ action as the three brave soles that had offered up their legs for the “Sponsored Wax” learned of their fate. Despite the best efforts (and pocket money) of his daughters Alana and Ella, in the end it was our Managing Director Gareth Harper who emerged as our winner/loser. A popular choice, Gareth provided some interesting sound effects as he got to feel the pain of rapid hair loss.
On the night we raised £155.93. PPI-NI would like to thank everyone who attended, sponsors, Hair Apartment for the donated leg wax and all of the volunteers who helped out on the night.
PeacePlayers International Northern Ireland would also like to thank everyone who donated prizes for the ceremony at the end of the evening – including Escarmouche Paintballing, Dundonald International Ice Bowl & Country Fried Chicken.
Last week we wrote about Former PPI-SA International Fellow Tim Roche bringing his Texas MBA classmates down to South Africa and spending a day with us. This week, Tim shares his personal reflection on his return to South Africa and to PPI-SA:
Coming back to South Africa for the first time in four years brought a wave of emotions for me. My time with PeacePlayers from 2009 to 2010 was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. The PeacePlayers experience in South Africa is extremely unique for an American. As fellows, we are inserted into an entirely new culture and expected to be leaders. I grew tremendously as a person and as a leader and I also met lifelong friends who welcomed me to South Africa and essentially made me a part of their family. At the same time, I suffered through a nearly three year period of depression that lasted for a large part of my time as a fellow. Coupled with being away from my friends and family in the US, the PeacePlayers experience was also one of the most difficult periods of my life.
On this trip back to South Africa, I was leading 35 of my classmates from the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas as part of the McCombs Global Connections program, a course intended to expose MBA students to the business climate of other business-leading foreign countries. In past years, the course focused on large, multi-nation South African corporations; however I felt such an experience would not show the true South Africa, so I designed a curriculum focused on NGOs, social entrepreneurs, and mission-driven organizations. The linchpin to the trip was PeacePlayers International as my experience in South Africa and the PeacePlayers network helped me to set up six days of visits to South African non-profit organizations.
Arriving at Mthethweni Primary School oddly felt normal. Although it had nearly been four years since I had participated in a primary school event, the event stayed the same. Kids were bursting with excitement, PeacePlayers coaches were prepping their teams, and basketball ruled the day. The kids played hard, had fun, and committed to the PeacePlayers way of respecting their teammates, their opponents, and themselves. Yet the program seemed to have strengthened and grown as the kids from two separate schools seemed to play together as one PeacePlayers team. Competition still existed in the game, but after the game the participants did a group pledge to the PeacePlayers way, which was new to me. Gone were fighting, arguing with teammates and referees, and it was replaced with opponents helping each other up off the ground and genuine friendships and mingling after the game. As the leader of my classmates’ trip and a former PPI fellow, I was incredibly proud to be associated with the organization. The feeling was confirmed by the compliments of my classmates who remarked that it was “the most fun day of the trip” and that the guys from PPI were “awesome” and “incredible dudes”.
Fittingly, we ended the long day with a braai at North Beach with Texas students and current and former PeacePlayers staff. The fun continued, stories were told, and the event lasted into the night. The strength of PeacePlayers lies in its leadership and ability to relate to others. Seeing friends from two periods of my life bond and truly become friends during our time in Durban proved that PeacePlayers is succeeding in those two metrics. Although I left Durban with a heavy heart, I was so proud and happy to see that PeacePlayers has grown so much in the past four years and remains the premier life-skills and basketball organization in South Africa.