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Palestinian and Israeli Kids Gear up for an “Egg-Citing” Year!

Thu, 10/08/2015 - 11:34am

“We are . . . PEACEPLAYERS!”  The group after finishing their scavenger hunt challenges at National Park.

Recently participants of the PeacePlayers International – Middle East program attended a retreat in Kfar Maccabiah, PeacePlayers International has developed youth basketball programs in regions affected by conflict and uses sport to breakdown old-standing divides.  Activities on and off the court strengthen relationships between our young participants and their communities.  This retreat was a great way to excite everyone on a new year!

The retreat focused on teamwork, communication, responsibility, and problem solving, all important skills in PeacePlayers, basketball, and youth development.  Responsibility and communication were the main focus of day one.  In five small groups the participants worked together to decorate an egg and use materials such as yarn, tape, and cardboard to create a safe place for their egg.  Each team was responsible for taking their egg with them wherever they went during the retreat.  The activity went so well that some of the participants even slept with their beloved egg!

On the second day the main activity was a scavenger hunt at the nearby National Park.  The participants worked together on the same small teams and had to complete trivia (regarding health, geography, exercise, sports, and teamwork) and missions.  The missions included getting through ropes without touching them, posing like a statue, and getting from one place to another using “lily pad” plates.  One popular task was collecting trash in the park.  Others passing by commended the group on a job well done!

In addition to teamwork, it took serious focus and concentration to make it through the ropes course!

The last part of the scavenger hunt was testing if the “safe” egg would survive a hard toss from the top of a jungle gym.  Most of the eggs survived but there were a few casualties.  The group took some time to reflect and discuss the retreat and the lessons learned.  Overall it was an EGG-cellent way to spend the weekend!

PeacePlayers – Northern Ireland Has Successful Coaches Training Weekend

Wed, 10/07/2015 - 5:54am

PeacePlayers-NI coaches bonded last weekend during productive training sessions

Last weekend, PPI-NI held their coaches training in West Belfast at Farset International. Organised by International Fellow Casey Tryon and other PeacePlayers staff, the weekend brought veteran coaches and new faces together in order to learn more about PPI-NI programs and what their role in these programs will be during the year.

After getting to know each other a bit on the first day, the coaches broke into teams to work on presentations that covered topics such as facilitation, risk management, the “PPI-NI Way”, sectarianism, and ideas and concepts from the Arbinger Institute. These presentations included activities and games that promoted discussion and critical thinking throughout the day. A lot of the activities related to ones that coaches would be using with their participants during their respective programs. By taking part in each presentation, coaches could discover the best ways to implement each activity and how to relate that activity to themes like conflict and collaboration.

The second day started with a brief recap, followed by a brainstorming session where teams were meant to come up with new ideas that could be implemented into the program. Coaches were not only asked to come up with activities, but to relate each activity to the different themes that PeacePlayers will use. These new games were great for learning more about the community relations aspect of the PeacePlayers program.  Later, teams met at the Stranmillis University College basketball court, where they went through some fundamentals of coaching basketball with International Fellows Joe and Nasiphi. The basics of passing, shooting, and playing defense came easy to some, but this training focused on key aspects of each basketball skill. Phrases such as “Triple Threat” and “B.E.E.F.” were core parts of what to do and how to teach basketball. These tips helped the coaches to understand these skills and teach them to children and young people.

As the end of the coaches training drew near and participants started to make their way home, a few PPI members stayed around to play some pick-up basketball. With new coaches and experienced coaches playing on the same teams, each person could focus on either learning more about the game of basketball or learning more about how to teach the game of basketball. It was a great way to end the weekend and to pick up on how the game of basketball actually works.

The staff at PPI-NI heard a lot of great feedback from the participants. New coach Oisín said he “really enjoyed the training weekend” stating, “it was a great opportunity to bond with the other coaches and also learn in depth about the PeacePlayers organisation.” PPI-NI looks forward to another great year of programming and the coaches seem more than ready to take on the challenge of teaching kids about community relations and the game of basketball.

From Boys to Men

Tue, 10/06/2015 - 9:05am

The boys prepare for a team building competition at CAST’s Boys II Men Camp

Over this past weekend PeacePlayers International – South Africa fellow Bryan Franklin volunteered as a mentor at program partner CAST’s Boys II Men Camp. Over the past year PPI-SA has worked with CAST to grow the game of basketball and to bring different communities together.  Read Bryan’s take on the weekend below.

The Boys II Men camp is a four day camp for young boys growing up without fathers at home.  The camp’s goal is to challenge the attendees to break the cycle of “fatherlessness” in South Africa.  The annual camp is led by male volunteer who act as fathers for the duration of camp.  Boys are later matched with mentors for ongoing mentoring.  When Sport and Youth Development Manager George Mwaura asked me to volunteer as a mentor for his upcoming Boys II Men camp, I was thrilled.  I’m incredibly passionate about spending time in nature and working with young people.

A PPI-SA fellow teach some of the boys baseball

The highlight of the camp was spending time with my five mentees, and specifically one of the boys named Caleb.  Caleb stood out from the rest of the sixty or so participants in one very distinct way – he was Indian.  Caleb and the other boys did not let that stop them from eating breakfast, playing sports, and sharing stories together.  In fact, Caleb won the dance competition at the camp talent show, opening up a lot of eyes in the process.

PPI-SA fellow Bryan with participants Caleb and Sifiso


The moment of Caleb dancing his heart out and being embraced by the other boys as he was announced the winner will go down as one of the many special memories I have experienced in Durban.  This camp, and the work of PeacePlayers International, proves that kids who play together can learn to live together and when it comes down to it, we are not so different.  At PeacePlayers we see longstanding divides broken down and friendships built through youth basketball programs.

Most of the CAST Boys II Men campers participated because of their love for sport.  As the days progressed and they were challenged beyond what they thought themselves capable – physically, spiritually, or independently – many walked out no longer boys, but men.

Why Do You Play?

Mon, 10/05/2015 - 11:47am

Israel, South Africa, Northern Ireland, and Cyprus participants have fun after a practice!

Today’s blog is written by PeacePlayers-International Development and Communications Intern Ruth Logan.  She writes about athletes’ motivation to play their sport.

Why do athletes play their sport?  Why do they keep practicing day in and day out?  In the first few years of starting a sport, the focus is on fun and technique.  Games are played on the field and in the pool to build self-confidence and strong friendships.  Once a kid is in their pre-teens and teens, the emphasis often changes.  Athletes develop measurable goals such as faster times, heavier weights, and more assists.  Some athletes stay in the sport for fun while others for greater goals.

Studies have shown that sustained participation in sport is related to an ongoing positive experience, which includes having fun, improving skills, and having positive interactions with peers and adults.  As a competitive swimmer for twelve years, I swam because I loved the water and four strokes.  I kept with the sport for my deep passion of swimming.  I also loved making new friendships on and off the pool deck.  Working hard and supporting each other through hard practices creates strong bonds.  I have made some of my best friends through swimming.  Additionally, I had a strong and fun support system of my family, friends, and coaches.

Friendships made on the court in the Middle East.

At PeacePlayers International, participants stay for both the fun and larger goals.  Our motto is “bridging divides, developing leaders, and changing perceptions.”  Youth in Cyprus, Northern Ireland, South Africa, and the Middle East have the chance to bridge long-standing divides, formed through identity differences and recent or ongoing conflict.  On the basketball court Irish Catholics play with Protestants, Palestinian Arabs with Jews, Greek Cypriots with Turkish Cypriots.  Friendships are formed across these divides and the children see each other outside of PeacePlayers.  Families and neighborhoods gradually change.  The PPI participants across the world can achieve high scores, assists, and plays, but their most worthwhile accomplishment is forging friendships on a level playing field.

PPI-CY Plays for Peace with Cyprus Youth Council

Fri, 10/02/2015 - 3:07pm

PeacePlayers Cyprus participates in event with Cyprus Youth Council. Anticipation and excitement builds as our participants and staff begin practices and plan for new events, including the Fall LDP retreat.

We’re so excited to jump right into this new programming year. After a very successful year filled with bi-communal basketball, teamwork, learning and fun, we can’t wait for practices to get into full swing as we head into October!

PeacePlayers-Cyprus celebrated community, teamwork and sport last week with the Cyprus Youth Council at Ledra palace. Teams from both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities came together and were joined by some local basketball enthusiasts at Ledra palace.  The Cyprus Youth Council promoted the importance of active, healthy lifestyles through sport and our PeacePlayers demonstrated how basketball is a wonderful tool for bi-communal cooperation.

October also marks the official start of our basketball season. As teams are beginning to gather together for training all of us here at the PPI-CY office are preparing and planning for our new activities, community events, Twinnings and tournaments. We are also really excited for our upcoming Leadership Development Retreat this November. We will continue to teach our young leaders about the importance of using their PPI skills and knowledge within their own communities. It is always such a pleasure hosting these events and we are looking forward to updating all of our blog readers.

So be sure to continue to check our blogs as we update you on our progress!

PPI – Middle East Gearing Up for Another Successful Year

Thu, 10/01/2015 - 10:50am

Jump for Joy!  PPI-ME has started yet another season!

September marks a new season for PeacePlayers International – Middle East.  The month has passed and we’re off to a strong start.  PeacePlayers teams have started their practices and are eagerly waiting to start the joint activities, Twinnings, with their partner communities.  This year will be packed with retreats, Twinnings, cool new projects, and All-Star games. We are excited to share all of this progress!

Our strong LDP girls camping at their last retreat.

Already we have had two great retreats: one for the Leadership Development Program participants (LDP) and another for one of our Jerusalem All-Star teams.  Tomorrow we will have our third retreat for the Junior Leadership Development Program (LDP Jr.). This retreat will be the kickoff event for the LDP Jr. program.  The youth in this program, coming from East and West Jerusalem, are the next generation of PeacePlayers youth leadership. They are in for a fun, action-packed weekend.

Some of the Tamra/Nahariya All-Stars gather after a successful practice.

PeacePlayers prides itself on sustainable impact with its programming aimed at keeping participants in the program from childhood to young adulthood. PPI does this by creating programs fit for the needs of the participants.  The LDP program is just that.  It was created to meet the leadership potential and equip the participants with practical skills for the PeacePlayers community and for personal achievement.

The same is done on the basketball level with the All-Stars teams.  After “graduating” from Twinnings, some players are ready for higher-level basketball.  With the All-Stars program, a team becomes fully integrated, Palestinian Arab and Jewish, and competes in leagues.  In Jerusalem, PeacePlayers-ME has three All Star teams and one in the North with players from Nahariya/Tamra.  This year, PPI-ME started a new All Star team in Tamra/Nahariya for the 12-14 age group.  We wish all of our All Star teams great success as they compete with unaffiliated teams in the Israel Basketball Association youth league!

PPI – South Africa Coach Reflects on United Nations Camp in Sweden

Wed, 09/30/2015 - 4:00am

South African participants sing their national anthem at the UNOSDP camp.

Earlier this month PPI – South Africa coaches Siyanda “Billtong” Nxumalo and Thando Msweli took part in a United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP) camp.  Hear about Siyand’s experience below.

Two weeks ago I went on a journey of a lifetime, to a United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP) camp in Stockholm, Sweden.  During the camp we received both theoretical and practical training from some of the world’s leading organizations in sport for development such as The Power of Sport Foundation, Youth Sport Trust, International Paralympic Committee, and the United Nations.  I was a representative of PeacePlayers International, which develops youth basketball programs in communities affected by conflict.

UNOSDP camp participants enjoy new friendships.

I was a little nervous because it was my first time flying and the flight to Sweden was over twelve hours; thankfully, PeacePlayers International – South Africa Coach Thando Msweli traveled with me.  When we arrived at the Swedish airport we met other South African participants and Jamie Laflamme, the head of international programs of The Power of Sport Foundation.  When we arrived at the Boson Sport Facility we met the other 21 participants from over ten countries.

Siyand in his UNOSDP apparel

Through workshops we learned from different organizations on how to use education and sport to tackle the world’s most pressing issues.  I also enjoyed trying other sports these organizations used:  boxing, table tennis, rugby, and soccer. The sports that took me most out of my comfort zone were boxing and rugby because of the violence involved.  I understood the self-discipline needed to play these sports, when you take a hit and need to keep your composure.

During the UNOSDP camp, I learned the importance of PeacePlayers International and my job as a coach to teach young people important skills of leadership, communication, and peacebuilding.  I learned that all the great leaders first have to learn how to follow.  I learned that taking calculated risks and having a growing mindset are important for growth.  The experience showed me that sports can span across any culture to be a tool for change.  I am looking forward to bringing these lessons back to PPI-SA as I continue to grow as a coach and leader.

Michigan Wide Receiver Amara Darboh has Memorable First Game as an American Citizen

Mon, 09/28/2015 - 1:45pm

Amara Darboh’s impressive catch from Saturday’s game against BYU

On Saturday, University of Michigan wide receiver Amara Darboh made a spectacular one handed catch that went viral, largely for similarities to a famous catch made by New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. last year. Darboh’s theatrics on his highlight reel catch were a small part of Michigan’s upset victory over BYU this weekend. And that exciting victory was only one highlight from what Darboh is now calling the greatest week of his life.

Darboh waves an American flag at Thursday’s ceremony in Detroit

Two days before Michigan’s Saturday afternoon game in Ann Arbor, Darboh was in Detroit for a ceremony where he officially became a citizen of the United States. He arrived to America 14 years ago as a young boy after he was forced to flee Sierra Leone in the midst of a civil war that took both of his parent’s lives when he was 2 years old. After escaping Sierra Leone,Darboh and family members sought refuge in Gambia and Senegal before finally being sponsored to come to America. He arrived in Des Moines, Iowa as a 7 year old struggling to find his way through grade school where he remembers sticking out like a sore thumb. However, his athletic gifts quickly became apparent and he was able to use sport to begin forming lasting relationships in this foreign land. He is now in his senior year at Michigan playing under first year head coach Jim Harbaugh and may have just had his most memorable game thus far.

Despite a tumultuous start to his life Amara Darboh has now added many bright spots to his incredible journey, and largely has sport to thank. At PeacePlayers we are strong believers in the power of sport. Whether you focus on Darboh using athletics to form lasting relationships and receive an education at one of America’s top universities, or youth playing to break down walls in divided societies around the world, sport clearly has the ability to foster both individual and communal growth.

Follow this link for a more detailed account of Amara Darboh’s journey from Sierra Leone: Ann Arbor Times

Public Enemy’s Chuck D Sings Happy Birthday and Signs the Peace Wall with PeacePlayers in Belfast

Mon, 09/28/2015 - 6:53am

Chuck D with PPI-NI board member Jim Fitzpatrick, managing director Gareth Harper and the Junior Champions 4 Peace at the Peace Wall on Cupar Way.


This weekend was the first ever Icons festival in Belfast. Icons is a global event where the icons of today can come together to inspire the icons of tomorrow. It takes place over four days and combines all elements of the creative industries (tech, music and screen). PPI-NI board member Jim Fitzpatrick is the co-founder and organiser of the festival, that helped more than 50 startups introduce themselves to a larger audience and expand their brand. One of the themes of the weekend was encouraging entrepreneurship and progress in the tech world, to help move the country forward. A multitude of domestic and international speakers took the stage to speak about the industry’s ability to impact social change by providing education opportunities, inspiration for innovation and most importantly, jobs.

PPI-NI’s Junior C4P’s Ryan and Jay-mee sign the                     Peace Wall with Chuck D.

One of the keynote speakers at the festival was Public Enemy’s Chuck D. Known for his socially and politically conscious hip-hop music in the 1980’s and 90’s, he brought elements of his music to the festival, and applied it to his speeches and presence throughout the weekend. During his time in Belfast, he wanted to learn more about the history of the city, and spend time with youth from different communities. What better organisation to turn to than PeacePlayers International-Northern Ireland! Last Thursday, Chuck D met the Junior Champions 4 Peace, project coordinator, Joanne Fitzpatrick and managing director, Gareth Harper at The Peace Wall on Cupar Way in West Belfast. During the meeting, Chuck told the kids how proud he was of their courage to challenge social norms, how special it was for them to come together as a group, and even sang 6 year member of PeacePlayers Anna Hinchcliffe a birthday tune!

Throughout the weekend, PeacePlayers continued to engage with local businesses both new and old, and conversed about each of their roles in moving the society forward. At PeacePlayers, our goal is to create societal assets that will provide the path to a more united community. This is a goal that was shared by many of the companies at the Icons festival. When you invest in people, there is no limit to the success that is possible, which was without a doubt shown this weekend at the festival!

International Fellow Nasiphi Khafu takes a selfie with some local startups and participants at the                                            festival.

PeacePlayers’ New Intern Quinlan Reflects On His First Week In Northern Ireland

Wed, 09/23/2015 - 1:26pm

Quin and his father outside of his school, the University of New Hampshire

While getting ready on the morning of my first full day at PeacePlayers, I did not know what to expect. I had visited Ireland many times before to see family and friends, both in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. My grandfather had moved to Boston when he was just a teenager. He had previously lived in County Kerry, in the town of Tralee. He had 21 brothers and sisters, which is a creative way of stating that I still have a lot of family down in County Kerry. My grandmother on the other hand grew up in Portrush. She moved to the states to meet her uncle, a bachelor living in Charlestown, a neighborhood within Boston. I still have plenty of family in Northern Ireland that I visit every now and then, but being here in Belfast for the next three months will be a lot different than visiting for a few days.

Over the summer I was constantly in contact with Casey Tryon, an international Fellow at PPI-NI. She had helped me prepare for the journey to Belfast and gave me loads of advice on what I would be doing at PeacePlayers. I had previously researched a lot about what PeacePlayers does before accepting the internship. Their mission and visions of bringing peace to youth through the sport of basketball aligned with my goals of creating a better future for youth around the world. Going through the website, operations plan, and the blog gave me a better understanding of the organisation, but it was not until I arrived that I understood exactly who they were and what they did.

The Charlestown Boys and Girls Club, where Quin works as a lifeguard and adult staff

Previously I had worked for the Charlestown Boys and Girls Club, a youth organisation in Boston. I have seven years of experience working with youth there, and I have loved every minute. I also have experience coaching Baseball for the local teenagers’ team. These skills may be beneficial to my time in Belfast, although I did not know yet if I would be able to use them as much as I would like as an intern at the PeacePlayers office.

A stereotypical intern is at the bottom of the hierarchy in the office. When first applying for internships, I thought I would be running small errands and getting coffee for everyone. PeacePlayers, on the other hand, offered so much more than just an internship. During our first meetings and trainings I found out that I was going to gain experience with each of the office staff doing things such as grant-writing, coaching assistance, and social media. The staff immediately made me part of the team, and after only a week I am already very comfortable working with each of them.

I cannot wait to get involved with programmes such as primary school twinning’s and Champions4Peace. Reading and hearing about the positive outcomes that PeacePlayers brings to the community is exciting, especially when I know that I will be involved in creating those outcomes. It is not every day that one has the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of young people. I am hoping to make the best of my time at PeacePlayers by meeting lots of new people and working my hardest to create a better future for Northern Ireland.

Knowledge is Power for South African Sports Leaders

Wed, 09/23/2015 - 9:39am

PeacePlayers International – South Africa basketball coaches gather together

Two weeks ago, Durban received big news from the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee as it will be the host of the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

This is great news for all organizations that use sport as a vehicle for social change as well as the youth that have a passion and love for sport.  South Africa is still taking baby steps to improve its sports facilities and leadership and to be at the same caliber of sports as the United Kingdom and Brazil.  South Africans are not lacking for talent or love for sport, but the country still lacks much of the basic infrastructure to empower its citizens to compete at a world-class level, especially when it comes to basketball.

That is where PeacePlayers International – South Africa comes in.  Recently eight PPI-SA coaches took part in a training held by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Sport and Recreation that covered the following topics:

  • Leadership Development
  • Good Governance in sport
  • Budget and Fundraising

PPI-SA coaches were among a crowd of 20 participants as the Department of Sports and Recreations looks to lay a a strong athletic foundation in preparation for 2022.  This is what PPI-SA coaches and staff thought about the training:

The Sports and Recreation training extended my knowledge in terms of opportunities in sport and knowledge of how to manage and run sport clubs and organizations.  The world is coming to us again.  It all started 5 years ago with the 2010 FIFA World Cup and the big question is, are we well-equipped to compete with the world in terms of different sport codes?  If the answer is no, then we  are failing our country and youth by not creating opportunities to develop future sport icons.  This past weekend was a good start.  The Department of Sports and Recreation trained us on how to better manage and govern our clubs and organizations.  Now  I believe it’s time to start talking about how to develops players from a young age.”  -PPI Staffer Ntobeko Ngcamu

“I join PPI-SA because I love basketball and I love working with children.  The training this past weekend taught me more about how should I carry myself and what my responsibilities are in my community and my organization.  From the leadership session I learned how to set goals for myself and my team, always read books and develop myself overall.  In the good governance session I learned about the administration, operation, and logistic departments that go into running an organization.  That opened my mind and changed the way I see PeacePlayers and begin to think about what I want to do in the future.”  -Thandeka Thusi

“This training has empowered me as a coach.  It has shown me the importance of developing relationships and good networking to increase learning.  It has motivated me to stay updated in the field of sport for social change.  The Department of Sports and Recreation should have more of these workshops.”  -Janda Wiseman

Reflections on Rwanda from a Muzungu

Tue, 09/22/2015 - 11:15am

Rwanda is known as the land of a thousand hills

Today’s blog is written by PeacePlayers-International Development and Communications Intern Ruth Logan.  She recently spent a month in Rwanda as a delegate of the Global Youth Connect:  Rwanda Human Rights Delegation. 

This summer I spent four weeks in Rwanda as a delegate of the Global Youth Connect:  Rwanda Human Rights Delegation to better understand international human rights on a local and global scale.

The GYC group went on an island tour in Lake Kivu

In the Gihembe Refugee Camp in northwestern Rwanda I learned from the youth what life as a refugee was like.  I spoke with local teachers and health providers as well as with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representatives about the main issues Gihembe (and most other Rwandan camps) deal with such as healthcare, education, food, and resettlement.  I learned that in the camp one doctor serves 15,000 refugees and for most refugees schooling ends at ninth grade.  This means that with limited resources and experience the Congolese refugees are forced to provide for themselves.  Their life is painfully more difficult because they are refugees and cannot return home.

One morning our program visited MindLeaps, an organization that teaches dance and information technology skills to Kigali street kids in order to help them rejoin society.  Eugene Dushime, the country director, explained the concept of MindLeaps.  We spoke with the young dancers and then they showed us their favorite dance steps/moves.  Finally, we all danced together to fun, exciting music.

This incredible experience reaffirmed my connection to the field of sports (in this case dance) as a tool for peacebuilding and youth development.  It is for this reason that I sought out PeacePlayers International, which promotes youth basketball and leadership in regions affected by conflict.  It is amazing to see positive effects sports has on both a child’s development as well as a community’s development.  If children can play together and overcome differences, then their parents and neighbors can eventually also.

The Little Things Mean the Most

Sat, 09/19/2015 - 1:52pm

Teamwork makes the dream work!  The finished camp site that the LDP put together.

On September 9 members of the PeacePlayers International – Middle East Leadership Development Program went on a camping retreat in northern Israel.  The following blog is written by PPI-ME Fellow LaToya Fisher who attended the retreat.

School.  Work.  Love.  Technology.  These are just a few of the things that occupy many people’s lives and cause distractions.  Distractions often leave us disconnected and familiar faces become strangers.  Every now and then you have to unplug from society and do something extraordinary.  Last week the Leadership Development Program (LDP) had the opportunity to do just that during a camping trip on the Sea of Galilee.

Who needs directions when you have trained leaders on the job?

One of the PPI – ME’s core programs, the Leadership Development Program serves participants 16 years and older who have demonstrated outstanding leadership potential.  Activities include practicing on integrated teams, volunteering locally as assistant coaches, participating in leadership and basketball workshops, and leading neighborhood community service projects.

At each point of the camping trip, I felt all LDP participants improving their teamwork and communication skills.  Everyone worked together to set up the campsite.  Even when it came to preparing the first meal everyone knew their role and the meal naturally came together.  It reminded me of a holiday dinner where the entire family is in the kitchen cooking together at once.  It even included infamous banter such as “I don’t want to cut those, can you do it?” followed by the “What are you doing?  Why are you doing it that way?”  Also, the American Fellows introduced the LDP to a quintessential camping snack – s’mores.

Some of the LDP try s’mores for the first time!

We spent hours in the water well into the night when you could no longer see the bottom and needed a flashlight to illuminate the way.  Some of us stayed late laughing, singing, and enjoying each other’s company.  The next day we woke up, ate a little more, and spent even more time in the water before packing up and leaving.

This overnight camp served PPI-ME’s ongoing mission of forming friendships between Israeli and Palestinian young people.  All LDP members continued to break down barriers and have fun together.  It’s nearly impossible to leave a PeacePlayers retreat and not feel a bit closer and connected with the people on the trip.   The retreats are always fun, unique, and a great way to break the ice with people you don’t interact with often.  The retreats create some of the best memories and I always look forward to them!  I look forward to continuing these new friendships in more LDP opportunities!

PeacePlayers International Fellow Jessica Walton Finds Adventure in Thailand

Fri, 09/18/2015 - 11:33am

This week’s blog was written by International Fellow, Jessica Walton, who had the chance to spend a couple weeks traveling in Thailand this August. It was her first time in Asia and her first solo trip.

Grand Palace, Bangkok.

Travel has become a huge passion of mine over the last couple years. As a kid growing up in upstate New York, I had some opportunities to visit different places in the U.S. but I never had the chance to go abroad until I was much older. I used to imagine all of the different places I would go and picture a passport filled with stamps. I’ve been lucky enough over the past couple years to start making those daydreams a reality and last month crossed an even bigger goal off my list when I boarded a  plane to Bangkok, Thailand completely solo.

The view from the top of Tiger Temple (1400 steps to the top)

I spent the summer debating back and forth if I could ever take a major trip like this on my own; reading tons of blogs and articles about solo travel and listening to varying opinions from family and friends. I finally booked the trip sometime in June thanks to a gentle push from my good friend Ryan Hage and I have to say it was the BEST decision I have ever made!

The moment I boarded the plane I was immediately overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety, nerves and excitement as I wondered what I had gotten myself into. Would I meet people? Would it be scary? Where will I stay? Am I going to get lost? Just a million and one different things ran through my mind. Eventually I settled in, pulled out a book and tried to relax.

Cooking class in Chiang Mai!

Then, before I knew it, I had arrived! My first adventure was Bangkok. I checked into a hostel and immediately made friends. The craziest part about my “solo” trip was that I never really spent much time alone. I made friends in Bangkok and explored the crazy beautiful and chaotic city with them. Next was Chiang Mai up north. I flew there alone but made friends at the hostel once again, not to mention authentic Thai cooking classes, Muay Thai fights and the amazing night bazaars.

Every single day I ate amazingly delicious and SPICY street food (which I may or may not have gotten sick from…but still well worth it), got lost, met new travelers, visited beautiful temples and got more Thai massages than I’m willing to admit!

Thai night market

I ended my trip by exploring some of Thailand’s incredible Islands! I was lucky enough to have some very sunny days in the midst of rainy season. It was a trip of a lifetime. When I look back on it I think about how there really is no “sure fire” way to prepare for solo travel. The best advice I can give would be to just pick a destination, book your flight and go! I learned that there are so many people who are genuinely kind, friendly and hope to see as much of the world as they can just like me. This was one of the best summers I’ve had in a long time and I ended it with an unforgettable journey. I’m sure it won’t be my last solo adventure!



PPI-NI represented at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s 10th Annual Reconciliation Networking Forum

Wed, 09/16/2015 - 1:34pm

This week PPI-NI’s Managing Director Gareth Harper travelled to Dublin to attend the Republic of Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Reconciliation Networking Forum in Dublin Castle.

The panelists; Earl Storey, Catherine Pollock, Dawn Purvis, Susan McKay and Jim Roddy

The annual Forum for community groups and other individuals who are active in reconciliation work provides an opportunity to share experiences and discuss the challenges facing civil society in working to further peace and reconciliation.

Host Dearbhail McDonald

Hosted by Dearbhail McDonald (Associate Editor and Legal Editor with the Irish Independent) the Forum focused on civil society’s vision for Northern Ireland in 25 years time. As delegates we were challenged to think about and come up with the concrete steps that civil society can take in the next five years to help bring about that vision.   In his opening address Adrian O Neill (Second Secretary General, Anglo Irish Division) spoke of our “Duty of Hope”. This in particular struck a chord with me. Too often we forget to think about how great Northern Ireland could be and rather as Adrian put it, “have a tendency to admire the problems”.

Adrian O Neill

To set the tone for the conversations that would follow the day kicked of with a forward looking panel discussion on civil society’s vision for Northern Ireland. The panelists; Earl Storey, Catherine Pollock, Dawn Purvis, Susan McKay and Jim Roddy shared their visions for the future based upon their experience, knowledge and expertise in community relations and reconciliation on the island of Ireland. In small groups, delegates were tasked with analyzing and reacting to the challenges posed by the speakers, as well as to reflect on the steps civil society can take in the next five years to help realise their vision of the future.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, the focus of my contribution was on civil society’s role in helping to create the next generation of leaders – leaders who free from the baggage of previous generations will be able to dream about how great this place can be. As one contributor put it, our role in that should be creating the opportunity for our young people to grow up in an environment that not only breeds familiarity but also provides the safe space where they are learning about and with each other on a daily basis.  PPI-NI creates such places – on the court and field of play and through our facilitated community relations conversations and capacity building programmes. All involved with this wonderful organisation should be very proud of the contribution they make every day to creating this vision and supporting the next generation in realising the potential of this place.



PPI-SA Partners with South Durban Sports Confederation

Tue, 09/15/2015 - 1:14pm

This past weekend PeacePlayers International – South Africa partnered with the South Durban Sports Confederation to host an under-23 basketball tournament at Assegai Primary School in Wentworth, Durban.

PPI-SA has operated in the community of Wentworth since 2006.  The program currently works with two primary schools — Assegai and Collingwood Primary — and has one Leadership Development team.  This new-found partnership represents an exciting time in PPI-SA’s history in the community.

Like PPI, the mission of the South Durban Sports Confederation is to provide children with opportunities to participate in recreational and competitive sports activities while contributing to the social upliftment.

It all started when PPI-SA Coach Tramayne Adams was approached by Mr. Webster, a teacher at Assegai Primary School.  Mr. Webster shared the vision of developing a sports program in the community and introduced him to Neil Axford of the South Durban Sports Confederation. Coach Adams said, “Mr. Webster and Mr. Axford approached me about launching an Under-19 team in Wentworth, to represent the community in the upcoming club district tournament.  I quickly told him about our PPI Leadership Development Team, and we soon found it was perfect match.”

After a short try-out period, the entire PPI Wentworth team was selected to the U-19 Wentworth team including Tramayne himself.  They kicked off with a three team tournament this past weekend.  Also included in the tournament was PPI’s Umlazi LDP team.

It was a great start which will hopefully turn into a fruitful partnership between PPI-SA and the South Durban Sports Confederation.  Mr. Axford said, “Our vision is to use sport to help create a community where there is significantly reduced alcohol and drug abuse, crime, social deviance, and teenage pregnancy.  We want all of our children to have access to education, personal development, and safe spaces.  We are incredibly excited to partner with PeacePlayers International to help make this vision a reality.”

Coach Adams echoed Mr. Axford’s thoughts, “It’s great to see local leadership within my community taking such an interest in sport.  I believe sport can play an important role in providing constructive activities for the youth and safe spaces for them to learn, grow, and develop.”

The Importance of Strong Female Athletes

Mon, 09/14/2015 - 1:10pm

All Stars from Jerusalem Celebrating a win

Today’s blog is written by PeacePlayers International communication intern Ruth Logan.  Ruth recently graduated from Bryn Mawr College with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and African Studies.

I have been a loyal fan of the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team for my entire life.  Over the past twenty-six years, the UConn Huskies have won 10 NCAA Division I national championships, advanced to 16 Final Fours, and won over 40 Big East/AAC regular season and tournament championships.  But while the Huskies’ reoccurring success is a reason to stay passionate, I am a fan because these young, strong, and confident women are key role models in my life.  They have demonstrated that women can be athletic and independent, in addition to being respected and honored.

I have swum competitively for the past thirteen years for clubs, high school, and college.  As I have watched UConn women’s basketball over the years, I have grown as an athlete and as an individual.  I gain motivation to swim faster and improve my stroke technique in the pool when I see my Huskies dominate once again.  If they can work their hardest day in and day out, then I can as well.  Strength and confidence are contagious.

Despite the longevity and success of UConn women’s basketball, the team and sport in general is not discussed much in the media.

Ruth swimming the 400-yard individual medley at Franklin & Marshall College.

When researchers examined four newspapers:  USA Today, The Boston Globe, The Orange County Register, and The Dallas Morning News to determine how much coverage was devoted to women’s sports, they found that, “The ratio of mens-only stories to womens-only stories was 23 to 1.  Women-only stories accounted for 3.5 percent of all stories.  If stories about both men and women were counted along with womens-only stories, the percentage of stories containing at least some information about women’s sports was 15.5.”  In order to build and demonstrate a gender equal society, there should be equal media attention, funding, and respect for women’s and men’s sports.  If more media attention is brought to female athletes, more girls and women will become involved in sports, greatly improving their health, education, and life.

That is why in many of the communities where PeacePlayers International works, we prioritize the involvement of girls in our programs.  In Israel and the West Bank, where only 25% of participants in competitive sports are women, more than 70% of PPI’s program participants are female.  As Manal, an 18-year old Arab girl from East Jerusalem said, “PeacePlayers gave me the chance to play basketball, which is rare in the Arab community, and it made me more ambitious for the future.”

Every younger girl deserves a Diana Taurasi or a Maya Moore as a role model.  Let’s make sure we have a chance to see more of them on the television and in the newspaper.


US Open Tennis Champion Novak Djokovic: “A True Champion For Children Around The World”

Mon, 09/14/2015 - 11:49am

Novak Djokovic, of Serbia, holds up the championship trophy after defeating Roger Federer in the US Open Men’s Tennis Championship, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Sunday night Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic defeated all-time great Roger Federer in an intense four set match to take the 2015 US Open Men’s Tennis championship. But what most people might not know is that just last month Djokovic was appointed as the United Nations Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) most recent Goodwill Ambassador after serving as the agency’s Serbia Ambassador and promoting children’s rights through his own private foundation.

Novak Djokovic at a nursery school near Belgrade, Serbia. Photo: UNICEF/Nebojsa Babic

Having experienced extreme turmoil throughout much of his early life, Djokovic has been able to overcome adversity with sport and is admirably using his prominent role to give back to children around the world. In a 2012 segment on 60 Minutes, Djokovic detailed his experience as a 12 year old boy spending nights huddled in his grandfather’s basement in Belgrade through the 1999 NATO bombing campaign of Kosovo during the tumultuous breakup of Yugoslavia. For Djokovic, the tennis court served as a safe haven, saying that because he was unable to go to school he channeled all of his energy toward tennis.

A PPI coach engages participants in South Africa


At PeacePlayers International, we often see the toll of conflict disproportionately fall on those least able to bear it – children. That is why PPI predominantly engages at-risk youth, utilizing the power of sport to provide more than 4,000 children a year with a constructive framework to guide their growth into successful adults.

To learn more about PPI’s youth sports programs, click here: http://www.peaceplayersintl.org/our-programs

To learn more about Novak Djokovic’s early child development work, click here: http://novakdjokovicfoundation.org/

PPI-CY LDP Participant Eleni Partakki Visits the U.S.

Fri, 09/11/2015 - 3:06pm

This week’s blog is written by Eleni Partakki, a PPI-CY LDP member who received the opportunity to spend part of her summer in the United States via the Cyprus Friendship Program. Eleni wanted to share some of her experiences with her PPI family.

Eleni and her fellow Cyprus Friendship Program participants

This summer, I spent the entire month of July in the U.S. state of New Hampshire paired with another CFP participant, Esin Saracoglu (Turkish speaking Cypriot).  We were hosted by two amazing American families and were given the chance to spend the entire time together without any technology while working on peace building. Most importantly, we focused on creating an everlasting bond between us.

Sharp Shooter, Eleni Partakki in action

Once we landed we were kindly welcomed to what we had been looking forward to for months! We knew that an interesting month was ahead of us, filled with unknown experiences and challenges that would create lasting memories and mark our lives forever. Here is a glimpse of our adventure.

In a quick flash: we went whale watching in the Atlantic Ocean, hiked Mt. Monadnock (3,165 feet (965 m) high), explored many farms, watched 4th of July fireworks opposite a mesmerizing lake, ate delicious food, watched “Inside Out” at a Drive-In, canoed and kayaked with the rest of the teenagers from CFP, attended our first baseball game and toured the Hall of Fame. I also went to a Michael Franti concert, walked on a bridge over the Hudson River, had a tour of the UN and Statue of Liberty in NYC, took a stroll around Central Park, zip-lined, ate s’mores and attended a circus. I had a LOT of ice-cream, walked around the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston, explored Harvard University, did some berry picking, had a brilliant Ben & Jerry’s factory tour with free ice cream, tried out Contra Dancing and genuinely had a fantastic month with my pair.

Eleni at a local Farmers Market

Throughout the month, we also visited 3 different Farmers Markets across New Hampshire. We even had our own stand, where we sold traditional Cypriot food, supported the Local Food Movement and spread the word about our island and our desire for peace! In the process, we met a wonderful lady, Sarah Sandback, founder of KidZenith, who helped us out and inspired us incredibly, letting our ‘creative juices,’ kick in!

I traveled across 5 different states and met lots of people that helped shape me. I completed an entire ropes course with the support of every single one of the teenagers in our New Hampshire group. Each of them believed in me and helped me out. We analyzed forms of character we had to build within ourselves in a Conflict Resolution class and we encouraged each other to be their best self throughout the entire month.

Honestly, it was absolutely incredible and surely one of the best months of my life. Though I must admit, I am not sure I’ll remember exactly what I did as much as I’ll remember what I felt and the people I met. Leaving was a lot harder than I expected because it wasn’t about walking away from things I did but walking away from people that were now part of my life and were greatly treasured in my heart.

Eleni and CFP participant after a beautiful hike in New Hampshire

After an entire month filled with adventures, I am pleased to say, there is hope for peace as long as we all set our mind to it. The world won’t change overnight and we cannot worry about that. All of those reading this must just take a step and work for peace daily and you will eventually manage to lead more people to peace. Share the love.

A lot of times we look at the whole world and think, ‘it’s so daunting, how can we change the whole world?’ and you don’t need to do that, what you need to do is change your world a little bit, and see if you can, through example, inspire others to do the same thing” – Michael Franti

Protestant And Catholic Youth Find Friendship In Northern Ireland

Wed, 09/09/2015 - 3:40pm

Camp Alpha participants and staff 2015

Last week PeacePlayers International-Northern Ireland (PPI-NI) tested the organisation’s premise of “children that play together, can learn to live together”. 60 children from divided communities in Belfast were united at PPI-NI’s first basketball and leadership development residential camp. For four days, the children and young people, from all four sides of the city, lived and played basketball together, at PPI-NI’s ‘Camp Alpha’.

Junior girls work hard on and off the court

Each day the children and young people, aged 11-17, participated in two basketball sessions and two Open College Network (OCN) sessions. The juniors (11-13yrs) completed an OCN Level 1 in Understanding Diversity through Sport and the seniors (14-17) completed an OCN Level 2 in Peer Leadership. Alongside these sessions, the children and young people took part in various team-building activities including rock-climbing, high-ropes course, slip n slide challenge and a scavenger hunt. In the evening participants were provided with entertainment in the form of a quiz, a movie and a disco.

Each night the children went back to their individual cabins, where for the first time in many of their lives they were sharing a room with someone from a different religion, which led to some interesting conversations.

Senior boys supported each other to reach the top of the climbing wall

One night over a hot chocolate, the junior girls gathered around for a ‘wee chat’, that carried on for hours. The topics of conversation covered everything from TV shows and One Direction, to religion and the contentious issues in Northern Ireland. At one point, one girl said “the bonfires and parades that are celebrated on both sides are all about what happened in the past, we need to think about the future. We (as children) never get a say about things like that in the outside world, but here at PeacePlayers, we can actually talk about it together, without people judging us”. Her like-minded teammates and coaches greeted this with applause.

North and East Belfast united through basketball on the junior boys team

This is exactly the culture that we strive to create in all of our programmes, a safe space for children and young people to bridge divides, change perceptions and develop as leaders.

Camp alpha was the highlight of my summer! I made new friends while having fun playing basketball and enjoying all the activities! Thank you for giving me the opportunity to get involved in PeacePlayers again!” – Chelsea Smith, Senior Girl, joined PeacePlayers in 2008

“Camp alpha was an absolutely amazing experience. I learned lots of new skills and knowledge on basketball and diversity and met life-long friends. Can’t wait until next time!” – Niamh McNally, Junior Girl, joined PeacePlayers in 2013

“I had a amazing time at camp.  I wish it never ended!  I’ve taken away more knowledge and understanding of diversity, but most importantly I’ve taken away some new friends.” – Ryan McStravick, Junior Boy, joined PeacePlayers in 2011

“I feel like I became a better leader though the work we did in the ocn sessions, and that I gained more confidence to speak out in a large group of people that I don’t know well.” – Chantelle Hutchinson, Senior Girl, joined PeacePlayers in 2009

“I thought the camp was really good and I really enjoyed it. It helped me learn a lot of things about others and myself. I would definitely go back next year” – Jay-mee Gillen, Junior Girl, joined PeacePlayers in 2010

For it being the very first camp we have ever done, it felt like the kids had been coming for years, they all got on so well and their basketball skills improved immensely. I had an amazing time getting to know the kids from all of Belfast even better.” – Michaela Thompson, Coach and former participant, joined PeacePlayers in 2007

We would like to thank OMFDFM for making this camp a possibility.

For more from Camp Alpha 15 visit our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/peaceplayersni



"I was on the train one day with my Jewish friends and they started making fun of an Arab woman…I told them to stop and that she was embarrassed and that she just wanted to go to work. I then told...
Adiel, Participant, PeacePlayers International – Middle East
"In the beginning I participated for the basketball, but then I made friends with the Turkish-Cypriots. Now we play and we all have fun together."
Evripidis Kardamilas, Participant, PeacePlayers International – Cyprus
"It’s hard to live without my parents, but my PPI coach is always there for me. He’s really more like a brother."
Sihle Cele, Participant, PeacePlayers International – South Africa
“PeacePlayers has taught me lots of important things, like how to be a good person, a good friend, and a good leader. One of the most important things it has taught me is how to educate the younger...
Nursu Tilki, Participant, PeacePlayers International - Cyprus
"When you get to know your teammates, it doesn’t really matter what their religion is."
Aoife Doherty, Participant, PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland
"Programmes like this that work at the grass roots level with the young people in our society are vital to achieving sustainable peace within our communities. We are committed to supporting and...
Denis Rooney, CBE, Chairman of the International Fund for Ireland, Chairman, International Fund for Ireland
"At the start [playing together] wasn't weird, but it was different because we would never have gotten the opportunity to go out and meet Protestants and be friends with them."
Ann Murphy, Participant, PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland
"I was scared to death at first. But by the end of the match, I realized we were all the same."
Geina Mdungo, Participant, PeacePlayers Interational – South Africa
“The love the coaches have for basketball inspires us to continually improve our game and they taught us how to be a better person on the court as well in our everyday life” 
Christiana Miltiadous, Participant, PeacePlayers International - Cyprus
"Through PeacePlayers I have learnt how to share, trust, cooperate, and respect everyone, creating friendship and peace. PeacePlayers taught us whatever your religion or language you are talking, it...
Cetin Pirlanta, Participant, PeacePlayers International - Cyprus
"We find that the PeacePlayers program brings in life-skills in a non-threatening way, and is helping to educate children on the big issues of HIV…We also find that in the PeacePlayers program, we...
Pamilla Mudhray, CSI Manager, Sasol, South Africa
"A lot of kids believe that one kid on the other side is a good person, but every other one is a bad person, and they then carve out these narrow exceptions. What [PPI’s] curriculum is doing is...
Chad Ford, Director, David O. McKay Center for Intercultural Understanding, Brigham Young University
“I love this organization because it unites Greek-Cypriots with Turkish-Cypriots by doing what we all love, playing basketball!” 
Dimitris Charalambous, Participant, PeacePlayers International - Cyprus
"I’m glad that Ronnie’s taking part in PeacePlayers…hopefully Ronny doesn’t have to go through what I went through at Ronnie’s age.”
Manny Macauley, Parent, PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland
"By focusing on the game of basketball and the values of sportsmanship, the youth learn to break down stereotypes to contribute to an environment whereby children who play together can learn to live...
Bicommunal Support Program, U.S. Embassy in Nicosia, Cyprus
 “Through basketball I got over my fears and the stereotypes that we were taught in school. Basketball helped me to become friends with those guys without even speaking!”
Alexis Georgiou, Participant, PeacePlayers International - Cyprus
"Basketball has added a new dimension to our sporting activities. Of course, it improves coordination and also improves communication between the kids themselves. It’s wonderful that PPI has become...
Jennifer Sonasundrum, Principal, Merry Hill Primary School, South Africa
“Why did I join? Simple, it gave me purpose and it made me happy. It gave me the feeling of belonging somewhere. It was a place where your goals and hobbies harmonize with the goals of an...
Eleni Partakki, Participant, PeacePlayers International - Cyprus
“The reason that I participate in this program and love it so much is because it helps me learn new things while playing my favorite sport. I have made so many new friends, Greek-Cypriots and Turkish...
Victor Petrov, Participant, PeacePlayers International - Cyprus
"We work in an education system that is divided…PeacePlayers program is pointed towards the integration of those children. You’re getting children to mix in an environment where there’s not the...
Derrick Harkness, Principal, Carrs Glen Primary School, Northern Ireland
"We typically use activities such as art and drama to bridge divides between the youth. We always knew that sport had the potential to do the same, but PPI - ME's sport day went way above and beyond...
Yael Gur, Project Manager, A New Way, Israel
"I met new players I didn't know before, and learned how to play with new people. The best part was learning things from new players and different areas coming together. I learned you don't have to...
Amir, Participant, PeacePlayers International – Middle East
"If she takes one thing away, it’s to know that there’s no differences from the other community, that everybody’s equal, and that she has great enjoyment with PeacePlayers."
Nula Doherty, Parent, PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland