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PeacePlayers – South Africa had some special international guests over the weekend, as 35 students from the University of Texas at Austin dropped by to check out the programme. The students, who attend UT’s McCombs School of Business, are in South Africa as part of the school’s Global Connections programme aimed at exposing students to international business. The annual trip usually visits places like the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and various multinational corporations, but this year the trip was coordinated by former PPI-SA International Fellow Tim Roche, and he had some new ideas. Roche, who is working towards an MBA at McCombs, decided to structure the trip around non-profit organizations rather than large corporations. The group visited three non-profit organizations in Cape Town and three in Durban, including PPI-SA.
“I wanted my classmates to see the real South Africa and also get something more out of the trip than just visiting companies that we would be able to see in the States,” Roche explains, “so I designed a non-profit curriculum and PeacePlayers was really the linchpin of the whole curriculum, as relationships and connections through PPI helped us set up the rest of our visits on the trip.”
Their visit included taking a bus out to Umlazi to see our primary school programme in action. They witnessed a boys game and a girls game between Sekelani Primary and Mthethweni Primary, then jumped into the action for a friendly PPI vs. Texas game.
McCombs student Kemar Burrowes has had lots of great basketball experiences in his life, including playing D-1 college basketball at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, but the visit to Umlazi ranks up there among the best.
“I didn’t know what to expect walking in, I didn’t know the kids were going to be so organized and well-mannered,” Burrowes says, “What really warmed my heart was how they responded to the coaches. They really listened to the coaches and took heed to what the coaches were saying, and they had a good time. We really enjoyed watching them play and they really enjoyed watching us play. We were high-fiving and having a good time. Afterwards, the kids were excited, they came up and gave us hugs. We were shaking hands. It was fun. We had a blast.”
Burrowes was so impressed by the kids that he made an impromptu decision to give away his basketball shoes to one of the participants who had been playing barefoot. Burrowes wanted to reward Siyanda’s hustle, effort, and attitude with a pair of shoes to play in.
“There was one kid who was working his butt off the entire time and he was trying to gather people and keep his teammates motivated and I just kept my eye on him every time he was in the game,” Burrowes explains, “So when the game was over with I looked at my shoes and realized that I have several pairs back home in the States and he doesn’t have any, and he can use these shoes way more than I can. I wanted to make sure that at least he has a pair of shoes that he can wear when he comes to play basketball every day.”
For Burrowes, like most of his classmates, it is his first visit to Africa. For Roche, it is his first trip back since leaving PPI-SA in 2010. More than anything, Roche says he enjoys being able to come back and hang out with some of the people he became so close with during his time here. After the fun and games in Umlazi, he organized a beach braai so that he and his classmates could intermingle with current and former PPI staff and coaches, share stories, and learn more about each other.
All-in-all, Roche has relished the opportunity to share South Africa and PPI-SA with his American classmates.
“It’s been an amazing trip and it’s opened their eyes to what the majority of people in South Africa live like and the problems they face,” says Roche. “I also think it’s made many of them want to add some aspect of non-profit and charity work to their life going forward.”
The day was a memorable one for all involved, from American business students looking to learn more about international non-profits, to PPI staff welcoming back an old friend and making new ones, to a child at Mthethweni Primary who got to take home his very first pair of basketball shoes. Days like this are the ones that stay firmly etched in our minds.
International Fellow, Ryan Hage, and PPI – Cyprus Coordinator, Stephanie Nicolas, went to the USA-Ukraine soccer match in Larnaca last Wednesday and enjoyed more than just the game.
After finding out that the U.S. Men’s National Team was coming to Cyprus for a friendly game against the Ukraine, I was extremely excited to see my home country play in real life! I did not think I would get the opportunity to see any team from the United States come to Cyprus in my time being here. So I quickly grabbed Stephanie Nicolas, PPI – Cyprus Coordinator, and we went off to the game. The game was moved to Cyprus because of the current crisis in Ukraine. Many thought the game would be cancelled because of the move to Cyprus, but in the end the game was played as scheduled.
At first, I did not think anything of this but it showed me that sport has the power to keep things going in the midst of a crisis or even a war. Many of the team members from Ukraine were probably worried about family or friends back home but decided to play.
In the past, sport has always provided a way to improve international relations or show that a country will still function and move on, no matter what. I remember when I was a young child and 9/11 happened in New York City. It devastated many families and the country as a whole. The very next week, it was decided to have the Yankees game as scheduled to show that nothing will disrupt the way we live.
At PeacePlayers we attempt to take it a step further by using sport as a catalyst to bridge divides, create peace and bring areas of conflict together. Aside from competing with those around the globe, it is essential to interact with the various cultures around you to both learn from and appreciate people from around the world. PeacePlayers works with over 4,000 youth athletes each year to both teach them the fundamentals of basketball and the life skills necessary to improve their communities and create a more peaceful world. It may appear to ‘just be a game’ but in reality it is an invaluable tool helping to develop people every single day.
This week, a student from Doanne Stuart High School, Imani Randolph shares his experience of his visit to PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland. Doanne Stuart decided to come and visit PeacePlayers International as Coach Megan Lynch was a former student there. This is his experience…
“Arriving in Belfast, my eyes were glued to the car window; from the very first day I tried to soak up this experience as much as I could. One of the first things I noticed while driving through the city was a mural, which boldly stated: “Understand the past and build a better future.” Those words continuously appeared in my mind throughout my time in Northern Ireland.
“My six classmates and I had the opportunity of attending two PPI-NI meetings during our time in Belfast. Our first meeting was also the first introductory twinning for a group of Catholic and Protestant kids who would be playing together for the next several weeks. In the beginning, I noticed how children from one school were hesitant to interact with kids from the other, and vice versa. However, being a summer camp counselor, I was not surprised by the children’s shyness towards their unfamiliar playmates. However, deeper thought called me to realize that the hesitancy may not be driven purely by shyness, but perhaps by preconceptions expressed to them by their respective families and communities.”
“Throughout the trip we learned about the Northern Irish friction from several points of view. In learning about ‘The Troubles’ it was clear for me to see that, at times, both sides have done wrong, experienced pain and have offered peace, which has allowed Northern Ireland to develop into a post-conflict society.”
“While learning about ‘The Troubles’ I constantly remember thinking how beneficial it could have been if both sides were willing to accept where the other was coming from. Nonetheless, great progress has been made since then, but this country is not done growing. PeacePlayers International is a wonderful force planting seeds of peace and inspiration in children, facilitating collaboration and acceptance, that will hopefully continue to flourish in coming years. I plan on carrying what I learned from visiting Northern Ireland and the PPI-NI program into my everyday life. Open-mindedness is a virtue I hope to sustain because understanding leads to progress, which then delivers a better future, anywhere in the world.”
With practices running full speed ahead, and the year’s first round of games slated for Friday, PPI-SA took a step off the court last week to host a Schools Symposium. Just as we preach teamwork to our participants on the court, teamwork between PPI-SA and its partner schools is equally important.
The symposium, or “indaba” as it is often referred to here, was scheduled as an informative session to share our mission, goals, success stories, and the who, what, when, where, and why of our programme this year with school representatives and principals from the schools we work with. It also provided school representatives with a platform to voice questions, concerns, and ideas as well as mention potential conflicts with our programme schedule. The goal is to get everyone on the same page early in the year so that PPI and the schools can maximize their cohesiveness and teamwork in delivering the 2014 programme.
The symposium also served the purpose of allowing all sides of PPI-SA to get to know one another. Many school representatives only get the chance to meet the coach and staff members that work directly with their school. This event gave them the opportunity to meet and interact with other coaches, school representatives, and staff members that they may otherwise seldom have a chance to meet.
All-in-all, it was a necessary event to foster smooth operations in 2014, and it was a lot of fun to see all of our staff and school representatives together under one roof discussing the programme that we are all proud to be a part of. Special thanks to the Sport for Social Change Network, whose funding made it possible to put this symposium together, and to Berea Primary School, who hosted the event for us.
Thibault Manekin was among the first on the ground with PeacePlayers International (formerly Playing for Peace) when it all began in 2001, and he remained an instrumental leader with PPI through 2006. With his father, Donald, Thibault now heads Seawall Development Company, which is taking an innovative approach to revitalizing Baltimore’s abandoned industrial landscape. Below, Thibault talks about the persistence of “Playing for Peace,” the heroics of Menzi Zungu, the kinder side of the federal tax code and tentative plans for an international exchange with his new son, Finley.
PeacePlayers International: Could you explain what Seawall Development Company is and where the idea came from?
Thibault Manekin: When I finished my time with Playing for Peace, I was mulling a lot of different options about what to do next. I happened to be sitting across the table from my dad, and we got talking and eventually came up with this idea of combining our collective experience in real estate development, nonprofit development, and education to form what we called a “socially conscious real estate development company.”
Our goal is to use real estate as a way to influence positive change in the communities where we work. We want to do that in two main ways. One is by finding old, abandoned, historic warehouses in cities and breathing new life back into them. In large part, these abandoned warehouses sit vacant, they’re pretty ugly, and they encourage criminal behavior. They tend to be on pretty large city blocks, so we thought if we could breathe new life into these buildings, the community itself can start to turn around. They can act as a bit of a catalyst for change.
Second, we wanted to fill these renovated buildings with people who were also having a positive impact in society. We thought the people that best fit that are teachers and nonprofit organizations. So we created this whole creative financing structure that allows us to renovate these old buildings and provide really affordable rent to those organizations and individuals who we think are doing the most important work in our city.
PPI: About how many of these properties have you redeveloped so far?
TM: We’ve completed about six projects today and are now working on a few more.
PPI: Could you explain more about the “creative financing”? How does it work?
TM: It’s pretty complicated, but there’s a whole series of federal and state tax credits you get for renovating a historic building. Roughly, for every dollar you put into it, you can get 40 cents back. The federal government has another program that encourages commercial redevelopment in tough neighborhoods, and there’s a 39 cent credit to that. So on a $10 million deal, you’ll get back $6 or $7 million, which helps subsidize the lower rent for end-users.
PPI: And what’s your role there?
TM: It’s like the early days of Playing for Peace – everybody does everything. There are no roles, there are no titles. There’s a job to get done, and everybody contributes equally to success.
PPI: How has your experience with PPI played into Seawall Development so far?
TM: I learned an incredible amount in my time at Playing for Peace. We learned about building organizations, but most importantly we learned a lot about people. We interacted with people from all over the world, and we shared a lot of really tight quarters – start-up offices and start-up apartments in tough neighborhoods literally around the globe. So we learned a lot, but I think one of the biggest lessons was how much we learned about people, and that’s translated really well into the work we’re doing now.
PPI: Can you explain that a little more?
TM: Sure. One of the most important things I learned was that if someone feels that they have significant ownership of something than they’re much more invested into it. It’s important to never come in and force an idea down someones throat. In our case, when we would go to any of these countries, we would never come in as the “Americans” and say, “You guys have a serious problem here, and we’re going to fix it for you.” Instead, we came in and did more listening than anything else, and as a result of that, the communities and coaches took significant ownership of the program, and everyone had an equal amount of pride and everyone felt responsible for its success. That was a really important value that we tried to instill everywhere we went.
That translates directly into our work in development. We don’t go into a community and tell them, “Look, you need this building and here’s what it’s going to look like and here’s what’s going to be in it.” We go in and spend a lot of time listening. We listen to what the communities want, what their expectations are, what the tenant wants, what the end-user wants. We let them be the architect and the mastermind behind a project.
PPI: Before this interview, you mentioned learning to never to take no for answer. Can you talk about that a little bit?
TM: In the beginning, when we would go to these countries to start a program, everyone told us no. Everyone told us they didn’t want their kids to mix, everyone told us they didn’t want to give us money because we were a bunch of kids who didn’t know what they were doing – (laughs) and I don’t disagree with that. You just always heard many more “no’s” than “yes’s”. And we never gave up. For every “no” you got, you just went one more level up until you got the right person on board, and on and on, until you got the “yes” you knew the program deserved. And the most successful program directors we saw in the field were the ones who really bought into that, who never gave up.
PPI: Can you give an example?
TM: Well, when we first started the program, it was just after September 11th. We were working in Durban, in a Muslim school, and somehow or other, a rumor got out that we were spies. We got kicked out of the school, and they said they didn’t want to participate anymore and they weren’t interested in having their kids mix anymore. But we just never gave up. We obviously had to leave that day, and it probably took several more months, but we were persistent. The Muslim community was a large part of the fabric of Durban, and they were critical to the success of the program. If we were going to mix kids, they had to be a part of it. So we just kept pressing and being diligent, and we eventually got not just that school, but several other Muslim schools, to buy into the program.
PPI: Do you have any favorite memories?
TM: Do you know Menzi? We ran these clinics in the township of Umlazi, where he’s from, and used this one court that was called “The Island,” because you had to cross a pipe over a 20-foot fall into a river to get there. We didn’t have permanent hoops at the time, so instead we bought some portable hoops, and every day we would go out for practice, and the hoops would be there and the kids would be playing and we didn’t think anything of it. Then one day I went to Menzi’s for dinner, and Menzi’s mom pulled me aside and said, “Hey Thibault, you’ve got to get these hoops out of my house.” I said “What are you talking about, Mrs. Zungu?”
So we go into the house – and the house is probably about the size of your office, with I can’t tell you how many people living in it – but in the middle of the living room are our four hoops. Every night, Menzi would single-handedly walk these hoops about a mile, over the bridge, to his house, and he would store them and bring them back the next day before the kids woke up. He didn’t want anyone to steal the hoops so the kids could play. That was one of the most powerful things I’ve ever seen in terms of someone’s commitment to the kids and to the program.
PPI: Have you been back to any of the sites since your time with the organization?
TM: I still haven’t been back. We had a second lighty (named Durban after Durban, South Africa) so travelling that far hasn’t quite happened yet. We have a good friend getting married in SA this December and we are trying to make that trip.
PPI: Would you like to go back?
TM: Oh, definitely. We just had a our second child, and I definitely want to get them there. I’d like to organize some sort of “exchange” – Menzi had a baby too – and I’d love for my kids to live in Umlazi for a year, go to school out there. I’ll take his kid in. (Laughing) Of course, we’ve still got to get that cleared by my wife. But, yeah, I think it’s important to get my kids exposed to the work that we’ve all been doing.
PPI: Last question: If you could offer one piece of advice to a recent alumnus, what would you tell them?
TM: Never give up and always think outside the box. Those are two lessons we learned all around the world, and they ought to hold true in anything we do.
PeacePlayers Cyprus Fellow Ryan Hage did a one-on-two interview with twins Hanna and Laura from Engomi to get to know them a little bit better and learn more about why they like being a part of PeacePlayers.
Why did you join PeacePlayers?
Laura – I joined PeacePlayers because I love basketball and have been a part of the program for one season. It is a fun way to hang out with my friends and play a game I love.
What is your favorite part about the Twinning and what was the hardest part about the twinning?
Laura - I get to play basketball with kids I don’t know and I get to make new friends. Some of the kids do not speak good English and I do not speak Turkish but it was still fun because we played a lot of fun games.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Laura – I want to be a basketball player!
What do you enjoy most about playing basketball?
Hanna – I like it because I am good at it and I get to play with my friends. I like playing in competitions with my friends every day in practice.
What is your favorite part about the Twinnings on Saturdays?
Hanna – I like it because I get to make a lot of new friends and play with my old friends all together at the same time.
What is your favorite thing about Coach Stephanie?
Hanna – She is tall! Also, she speaks Greek and she is very nice.
It was great to spend some time to get to know each twin a little bit better! They are always a great example for the rest of the Engomi crew on and off the court. Thanks Hanna and Laura!
Coach in Training, Niamh Burns, decides to join PeacePlayers International Northern Ireland for the week.
This week at Peaceplayers International – Northern Ireland (PPI-NI), the office staff have had the pleasure of having Senior Champion4Peace, Niamh Burns, join the staff in the Belfast office. Niamh is on her week of ‘work experience’ and chose PPI-NI as the organisation she wanted to work with. This is her story of how she has progressed through the programming at PeacePlayers International.
“I am a 16 year old currently studying my A-levels at Mercy College, Belfast. I study Sports Studies, Business Studies and Travel and Tourism and in my spare time, I take part in PeacePlayers International as much as I can.”
“My first experience with PeacePlayers International was when I was in Primary 6 in Holy Cross Girls Primary School in Ardoyne. I was 9 years old and it was the highlight of my week when PeacePlayers came to school, as I loved getting the chance to play basketball! The programme wasn’t the same then as it is now. It was only our school, Holy Cross Girls, at the session. We didn’t work with Wheatfield Primary, like they do now. There was a lot of tension in the area at the time in what is known as the ‘Holy Cross Dispute’. It was a traumatic time for the local area, and the city as a whole – for both sides of the community. Now however, the two schools – Holy Cross Girls and Wheatfield, both come together with PeacePlayers International to help break down the sectarian barriers and create peace between the two sides of the historical divide. This is achieved through the PPI-NI Twinning programs, which are very successful and most importantly, the children love them! It’s one of the schools longest standing programs and the relations between the schools are at the best they’ve ever been!”
“In my third year of Secondary School at Mercy College, I had the opportunity to take part in an OCN qualification – Level 1 ‘Promoting Diversity Through Sport’, which was run by PeacePlayers International. After I completed the course, I gave Coach Joanne a call to see if I could start back with PeacePlayers to help out at their annual events like Summer Jam and Jingle Ball.”
“After this, I took part in another course to gain another qualification and after that I stayed on with PPI-NI. I have become more confident when coaching and working with children through all of the OCN qualifications and coaching courses that PPI-NI provide. I have had the chance to coach at the Belfast Interface Games, where I had my own team! This was one of my proudest personal achievements.”
“Now that I have been with PeacePlayers International for a whole week, I have begun to understand all of the planning behind the amazing events they put on. Through this, I realise that A LOT of time, planning, work and money go into putting these events on! I finally have a more in depth understanding of the work that they do, and I love it!”
“This insight has been invaluable as I can now put my learning and skills into practise on the ‘Senior Champions4Peace’ programme, which aims to develop leadership skills among young people so that they can be leaders in their own communities.”
“After my experience working with PeacePlayers, I would like to go to University to study more about sports and then come back and work as a Coordinator for PeacePlayers International. Getting the opportunity to work with PPI has been a brilliant experience and it has only added to the passion that I have for the work that they do. I would like to give a big thank you to all of the staff in the office for giving me the opportunity to work with them.”
PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland would like to thank Niamh for all of the work that she has put in this week.
Today’s blog is written by George Washington University Sport Management MBA candidate, Hannes Hoeltge. Hannes recently traveled to Sochi for the Olympics with a GWU sports management class to take a look behind the scenes at the Olympic Games.
While basketball has been both my favorite sport and life coach for many years, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to attend the
Winter Olympics in Sochi. As I am writing this blog, sitting on an airplane back to DC, I am reminiscing on the past eleven days in Sochi. Despite no basketball in sight, it was a truly mesmerizing experience. As a part of my Sports Management class at George Washington University, I was privileged to receive a behind the scenes look of the Olympics.
While in Sochi, we were exposed to many influential individuals in the sports world. Among the speakers we met were Deedee Corradini, former mayor of Salt Lake City and current President of Woman’s Ski Jumping-USA, and Nawal El Moutawakel, the first female Muslim born Olympic gold medalist and current IOC board member. Both leaders shared their moving personal stories of their struggle and fight for gender equality in sports and the Olympics. Dealing with male prejudices and questionable medical beliefs, Deedee led the way in the female athletes fight for a right to compete on the Olympic stage, evidenced this year as women’s ski jumping debuted as an Olympic sport in Sochi. Persistence and strong-will not only enabled the female ski jumpers to take flight this year, but were also crucial ingredients in Nawal El Moutawakel’s personal struggle to overcome traditional, historical and religious barriers and prejudices. Her story on fighting through personal loss and the self-confidence gained from winning a gold medal showed the type of impact sports can have in someone’s life.
Prior to my trip I pondered to myself, what make the Olympics so special? Is it the athletic competition that lays at its core? Or the rich history, traditions and legacies that form the backbone of the Games? Perhaps it is just its global magnitude, entertainment value and opportunity to make money? Or is it all about idea of bringing people from around the world together to celebrate humanity? Do people still value the Olympic Creed, promoting participation over winning, in today’s world being so focused on the bottom line?
Based on my experience over the last few days, the Olympics are about everything above and perhaps even more. While the pure scale and complexity of the Olympic Games is impressive, I was even more impressed by the variety of stories, thoughts, ideas and emotions that swirled beneath the surface of the Games. Listening to a variety of stakeholders in the Olympic Movement and experiencing the vibrating Olympic atmosphere in Sochi, has left me with a positive impression.
After getting a first-hand experience of the Games, there is no doubt that they are a great tool to help break down barriers. I saw nations and people coming together during the games. Whether it was on a packed bus ride, with broken conversations in up to three different languages (but lots of smiles) between Russians, Americans, Dutch, Germans, Brazilians, Spaniards, and Argentines or in the Olympic park in anticipation of the USA – Russia ice hockey game, everyone was together as human. This interaction with different cultures and those ‘different’ from you is at the heart of PeacePlayers as over 4,000 youth athletes each year are taught the the fundamentals of basketball and the life skills necessary to improve their communities and create a more peaceful world. Whether in Cyprus with two different communities, or in Sochi with 88 different nations, sport has proven to be an invaluable tool that can be used to bridge divides, develop leaders and change perceptions.
Today’s blog is written by new PPI fellow, Ryan Hage. He writes about his first twinning experience and his perspective on the whole event.
I am new to the island and also to PeacePlayers as a whole and was very confused when I first heard the term ‘twinning’. I have a twin sister, Lindsay, so the first thought was maybe it has to do something with twins on the island? Obviously, I was not 100% correct.
For those who are not familiar with the term, it is an event hosted every weekend that brings a team from the North and a team from the South together to take part in games and icebreakers. For many of these kids, this is the first time they have met and interacted with a Greek-Cypriot or Turkish-Cypriot. The ‘twinning’ event gives them an opportunity to interact with each other and play a game that they both love.
With such an event, I was not sure what to expect. Would the kids enjoy the event? Would the coaches be able to communicate with players from both sides of the island? Within minutes all of my questions were answered. Even if the kids did not speak each others language, or English, they all followed along and understood how to perform each drill or game within a very short period of time. Not only were they able to participate, but also they had a great time and interacted with one another seamlessly. It helps to have great coaches from both sides to help mentor the kids in each activity and help with certain language barriers.
Twinnings have already become my favorite part of the week. After the games, PPI provides pizza and drinks for all of the kids, which gives them another opportunity to interact and get comfortable with each other. Despite no sets of twins being in participation, by the end of the event kids from both the North and South were acting like old friends.
This Week’s blog was written by Michael Vaughan Cherubin, a former Fellow for Peace Players International – Middle East (PPI-ME). He spent three and a half years with PPI-ME from 2006 to 2009, and last week he made his first return since. Now Michael works at the U.S. Soccer Foundation in Washington, D.C., as a Programs Coordinator.
Four years after leaving the PeacePlayers – Middle East program, I needed to return.
Arriving in Israel and the West Bank in 2006, the PPI program here was brand new. Over the next three-plus years, my colleagues and I built the program by building relationships. We developed local coaches and players, engaged their families and sought out key partners.
When I left in 2009, I felt what I thought was guilt. Not because I thought the program would be unsuccessful without me. By my departure, the local leadership was incredible. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling I had abandoned ship. Was that why I needed to return?
Last week, as I took part in PPI Twinnings and practices, my guilt changed to pride, and then finally to humility. PPI-ME looked stronger than ever. The youth that I once coached now led their own programs. For so many reasons, their impact will be infinitely greater than anything I could have done. PPI-ME has come full circle.
What a joy it was to watch them work, and what an honor to have been for a brief moment a part of the program. As my visit came to a close, a message came back to me from when I was a camp counselor over a decade ago:
As eager new counselors at a Jewish summer camp we spent a week running ourselves ragged preparing the camp before the kids’ first day. At the last meeting before the campers arrived, the camp’s founder addressed the staff. Everything we had done was on behalf of the kids, he said, but the camp was actually created for the counselors.
As with much wisdom, I didn’t realize the power of that statement until many years later, after my return to Israel. In short, it wasn’t guilt pulling me back, it was homesickness. I had to go back to see the program because of what the program had meant to me, not because of what I had meant to the program.
My story is not unusual. I think routinely it is the Fellow’s life that gets impacted the most. We, the PPI Fellows, are the lucky ones.
February the 14th is usually marked as a day for roses and chocolates, but this year, PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland (PPI-NI) celebrated Valentine’s day by engaging in the Queens GAA Game of Three Halves Tournament in South Belfast. Participants from Taughmonagh Primary School, Botanic Primary School and the Bunscoil Global Feirste all joined in for a day of fun at the DUB Playing Fields with our friends from GAA, Ulster Rugby and IFA. Thanks to Queens University GAA for involving PeacePlayers with the GAA Festival this year!
The morning was off to an auspicious start as 75 primary school participants arrived to get their first taste of a new sport or two while also having an opportunity to get to know pupils from other schools. In Northern Ireland, children still attend predominantly single identity schools, meaning pupils from either Catholic or Protestant backgrounds do not have the opportunity to get to know children from other backgrounds. As children dawned their new t-shirts designating their new diverse teams, they excitedly ran across the pitch warming up together before the first stations began.
Soon teams were directed to their first skills stations with coaches from each of the sports as well as a special community relations station with PPI-NI coaches. Participants were keen to display their skills and impressed all the coaches with their attentiveness and enthusiasm.
While the weather didn’t exactly cooperate with the planned activities given heavy winds and rain coming in the afternoon we took the opportunity to play a few PeacePlayers favorites. The group learned more about basketball through a round of ‘MJ (Michael Jordan) Says’, had their reflexes tested with a rousing round of ‘Sit Down Clown’ and discovered similiarities and differences within the group through ‘Find A New Seat’. It was great getting to know the group better and discovering that while there were many common links within the group, there were also many differences that everyone could learn from.
We were also pleased to be joined by students from the Doane Stuart School and teacher Seamus Hodgkinson, known to most as Mr. H. Seven students from the school came along to see Gaelic football for the first time and make a few attempts at tossing the rugby ball with the guidance of the Ulster Rugby coaches. All in all it was a great day despite the weather conditions. We look forward to the Belfast Interface Games this summer which should prove to be bigger and better than ever, especially now that South Belfast has some new recruits!
The 29 PeacePlayers – South Africa teams that will participate in the 2014 Primary School Programme (PSP) began to take shape this past week, and the four teams set to re-launch the Leadership Development Programme (LDP) for high school players are ready to take to the court beginning this weekend.
Coaches and office staff have been busy conducting tryouts for 6th and 7th grade boys and girls at 15 primary schools around the Durban area, including five in the city, four in Umlazi, three in Wentworth, two in Lamontville, and one in Waterloo. Interest in the programme is very high, with some schools having over 100 kids trying out for just 24 spots (12 boys, 12 girls). There are many familiar faces, but also a huge number of new participants looking to replace last year’s 7th graders who have moved on to high school this year.
Our Primary School Programme focuses on basketball fundamentals while promoting character-building traits such as self-confidence, self-discipline, and goal-setting. We hope that all of our PSP participants finish the year better equipped to make positive decisions in their lives, which isn’t always easy in their home communities that are often filled with obstacles, dangers, and bad influences.
While tryouts are being conducted in the primary schools, our office staff has also been at high schools in the townships of Umlazi and Lamontville to recruit kids for our Leadership Development Programme. There will be a boys and a girls team in each township, and the first round of tryouts have been set for this weekend. We challenge our LDP participants to not only make positive decisions in their own lives, but to become a positive influence on others in their community as well. Many of our best coaches over the years have been products of the LDP programme, and we are excited to have it back up and running this year.
Check back here on Tuesdays for updates on both programmes throughout the year.
Today’s blog is written by former Program Director, Chris Sumner. Chris is currently working for the NBA in the Philippines assisting with key projects related to developing and managing NBA’s basketball development programming in Asia.
Growing up in a world of basketball inspired me to see where it could take me in life. My father was a high school and AAU basketball coach, my mother served as the president of the Potomac Valley AAU, my older brother earned a state championship as a member of his high school team, and my sister starred for Duke University. I began my basketball career as a point guard for Gonzaga High School in Washington, DC where I was coached by PPI Executive Director and Co-Founder, Brendan Tuohey. After graduation, I was recruited to play at Mount St. Mary’s where I played point guard and served as team captain for three years. Following my college graduation, I learned of an opportunity with PeacePlayers International from a former high school teammate. It was the first time I had heard of the non-profit organization and its goal to use the game I love to help children from divided communities become friends and create peace. I called my former high school coach, set up a meeting and a couple months later, I was on my way to a small island in the Mediterranean, Cyprus.
Before PeacePlayers, I had never heard of Cyprus and certainly didn’t know anything about the 40-year-old ethnic conflict that had left the island divided by a demilitarized buffer zone. I landed on the Greek-Cypriot side and drove through multiple checkpoints in order to reach my new home on the Turkish-Cypriot side. It was my first time leaving the United States and it was a culture shock to say the least. It opened my eyes to how much people can hate someone from just down the road.
The major challenge initially was the process of balancing and adopting the Cypriot culture – the food, the language, and the way of life were all new to me. The one place where I felt right at home was on the court and I was thrilled when I got the opportunity to be the first American to play professionally in the Turkish-Cypriot basketball league. But my real success in Cyprus was with PeacePlayers, and my time working with the children. Despite being an outsider, I felt extremely welcome, as I was often invited to a coach’s house for dinner. We worked with hundreds of children, developing their basketball skills while at the same time helping them see through local stereotypes and become friends. Initially there was a lot of reluctance from both sides to even participate in the program, especially from parents. Over time however we were able to build trust and slowly chip away at the stereotypes that each community held toward the other.
After my two years with PPI were up I returned home and found a job at Smith Barney as a Client Services Associate. It was not long before I realized that my passion was still in basketball and I applied for a newly created Sports Industry Management graduate program at Georgetown University. It was there that I was introduced to the NBA’s international basketball program. After applying for a few NBA jobs, I finally heard back about a position at NBA Asia as Basketball Operations Specialist in Hong Kong. Although I was hesitant at first to once again travel abroad and live in a new part of the world, it seemed like an offer I could not pass up.
Since moving to Hong Kong, I am again adjusting to new international cultures. I recently started taking Cantonese lessons and am now a pro at using chopsticks. My position has me traveling through Southeast Asia regularly and I have already taken four trips to the Philippines in less than four months for a preseason game between the Rockets and Pacers, and to conduct Jr. NBA/Jr. WNBA clinics. A lot of my work here in Asia reminds me of my time in Cyprus. Tropical climate and language barriers aside, my work with the NBA is similar to PPI in that it is grassroots based, and I am getting a chance to coach players that are similar in age and skill level to Cyprus participants.
One thing is for sure, the fans in the Philippines are rabid – of all of the places in the world, the Philippines represent one of the greatest sources of NBA fandom per capita. Traveling through the city you’ll see hoops and baskets down every alley, and more and more basketball pilot programs are popping up. It is my goal to grow this passion, and continue to use the game of basketball to improve life skills of kids and bring people together. I’m happy every day that I am still in a position to use the game of basketball as a vehicle to positively impact the world’s youth. One thing that I will always take away from my time at PeacePlayers is the power and confidence that sports can provide a young athlete.
Last week, PeacePlayer’s Cyprus had its first ever Career Night. The event invited children, ages 15 and up, from both sides of the island to listen to multiple speakers from different career paths.
Engineering, medicine, entrepreneurship, finance, consulting, archaeology, arts, media, and sports were all covered to give a better sense of what these professions are like and how to get there. Professionals from all over Cyprus volunteered their time to give short presentations and answer any questions that one might have.
PPI board members, coaches and volunteers have jobs outside of PeacePlayers that they engage in and are very passionate about. They shared their experiences and their paths to how they got to where they are today. From being a mechanical engineer to owning a business, the night gave many different insights to the young adults.
The one resounding message that came from every presentation was the same: Do what you are passionate about. If you enjoy numbers, consider a career in finance or mathematics and if you love music, pursue a career in the arts. Every person who spoke last Friday night was extremely passionate about what they do. It is important to dream and work hard to achieve those dreams. Many of the presenters’ career paths changed throughout the course of their lives as they did not have their dream job right when they graduated from college. They worked hard to reach where they are today. Through their experiences and what they have learned over time, they were able to mold and configure their dreams and through hard work achieve them.
We hope that all of the children who attended had a good time listening to the speakers and learned a little bit more about what interests them for a career path!
Peace Players International – Middle East (PPI-ME) fellow Jack Randolph interviewed Samantha Dols, Senior Director of Operations for the Washington West film festival and Founder and President of the World Lens Foundation (WLF), which seeks to provide youth from around the world with a platform where they can “connect, can get to know each other, exchange beliefs and traditions, and collaborate on creative endeavors.” Samantha’s work with WLF brought her to PPI – ME this week, and she took the time to chat with American Fellow Jack Randolph about the unique work that she does.
What is the World Lens Foundation and what is its mission?
WLF aims to connect youth around the world through the art of visual storytelling. We are setting up 3-month programs between middle school classrooms from different cultures. This Thursday, the 13th, is actually the first day of the program between our Haiti group and our Mexico group. The classrooms will utilize visual storytelling to bring to life the culture that emanates from each side.
What is visual storytelling?
Photography and film-making.
Why did you create WLF?
Born into circumstance, it is our human duty to practice understanding for circumstances different than our own. It’s exciting and enlightening to learn about different cultures, different religions, and to see, despite these differences, how much we have in common.
Why is it so important for us to understand such things?
It’s because of our nature as human beings. We should try to live in harmony with one another. To do so, we need to learn what people define peace as – it can go way beyond the absence of war. Having our basic needs met and having the freedom to explore without the potential for harm are inclusive in our rights as human beings to live in harmony.
Why visual storytelling as the platform?
Regarding photography, it has been said that a picture says a thousand words. It’s absolutely true. Right now our curriculum only includes photography, but we are hoping to expand into film-making of which I have a strong personal interest. I have been affected by many films to the point of conducting outside research after being made aware of something.
So what is WLF doing with PPI-ME?
WLF is now on the road in the midst of a five-week program to eight different countries with very distinct cultures. Each country we visit represents a place considered to be either very peaceful or very conflicted. It’s in these extremes that we can learn a lot and share distinctly different cultures that change perceptions.
Israel is one of the countries that was considered one of the most conflicted based on a measurement called the Global Peace Index from the Institute for Economics and Peace. Not only that, but I have heard so much about Israel and Palestine in the news. After discovering PeacePlayers, it only made sense to visit.
What have you heard? What were your ideas and thoughts about the region?
I have heard so much in the news, but I didn’t really understand. I felt ignorant. The news focuses on the divide between Arab people and Jewish people with the conflict described as something that will never be resolved with so many frustrations on both sides.
What attracted you to PPI-ME?
I looked for an organization that was challenging this idea that the conflict will never be resolved. PeacePlayers has a simple premise to bring kids together from across the conflict to play basketball. However, after interviewing participants from the LDP [Leadership Development Program], I got a taste of the deeper movement within PeacePlayers to challenge the participants to view all people as human beings like themselves. In the midst of the safe venue that is the basketball court, the PeacePlayers have cultivated real relationships across this impossible conflict.
You mention the LDP. I was able to watch your activity where you put them in groups with cameras and asked them to make creative vantage points of basketball whether from the players on the court, the coaches on the sidelines, or the fans in the stands. What other insights did you to take away from your activities and interviews with the LDP?
The participants of the LDP all seem very mature and self-aware. I was impressed by their knowledge of and commitment to the values of PeacePlayers. For me, it was a reminder that sometimes the simple things can be the most powerful. Instead of exhausting the dialogue about conflict of differences in culture and religion, we can play basketball.
What else did you do with the LDP and PPI-ME while you were here?
I was fortunate to spend time with PeacePlayers employees to learn about their relationship to the program, what they have learned in their experience, and why this work is so important to them.
This week, Coach Casey reflects on her experiences growing up with basketball as a player and a coach and how she finds it has affected, not only her life, but others as well while working for PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland.
“I was born during game 7 of the 1985 NBA finals between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. My father watched the game while in a hospital waiting room as my mother was in labor. One year later I was in a Boston Celtics onesie at the Championship parade in Boston. The first toy I owned was a basketball and I spent a good part of my early childhood in gyms watching my father coach. That was, of course, until I went to my own practices. Needless to say, I’ve had a strong 28-year relationship with the game of basketball. Growing up, basketball was a game – a competition where you had winners and losers, and the only objective was to win. As I’ve gotten older and taken time to reflect on my basketball life, I have been able to see that it is so much more than a game. Basketball, and sport, has the opportunity to change lives and communities.”
As a coach I began to understand the substantial impact basketball can have; its ability to teach life skills, produce lasting friendships and instill dedication and commitment. However it was not until I arrived in Belfast that I saw firsthand basketball changing lives and bringing communities together.
In their first year working together, Springhill Primary School and John Paul II Primary School have embraced each other and the opportunity to form lasting relationships. Located only one mile apart from each other, the students and staff had never met or interacted with each other. Now all of that has changed. Below are some of the highlights from the Twinning so far.
Friendships extend outside the classroom to our after school programs – John Paul II and Springhill represented a majority of the Jr. BIL (Belfast Interface League) participants this year. The fast friendships that were built helped West Belfast excel at our annual Jingle Ball basketball tournament, as they finished first for the girls and second for the boys.
After arriving back at Springhill in November after a great day of basketball, P6 teacher Mrs. Smyth was greeted by a mother who asked how the day went. After describing to the mother how successful the day was, the mother’s response was, “That’s so great to hear, activities such as these are long overdue in this part of West Belfast.” This was very powerful feedback indeed!
P7 Twinning starts off with collaboration project – This term has started off much the same with the P7 students making fast friends with each other. At the beginning of each Twinning program, the two schools take turns giving a presentation about themselves and their schools. Last week in their school presentation, John Paul II performed Sing by Gary Barlow, which was written for Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. After their amazing performance, Springhill Vice Principal Mr. Whitcroft, who voluntarily came along for the day, challenged both schools to work together and in our last session to perform the song together. Both schools excitedly accepted!
John Paul IIl and Springhill Staff excited for other opportunities to work together – Eager to continue interacting with each other, P6 teachers Mrs. Smyth and Mrs. Neeson exchanged contact information at the students’ request. During our last sessions students signed each other’s shirts, exchanged Facebook information and in some cases were already texting each other!
As a coordinator, working with John Paul II and Springhill has been rewarding in so many different ways. It’s been great to see all of our hard work appreciated and also for it to be carried on by others who recognize the importance of community relations. John Paul II and Springhill have both embraced the opportunity to work with PPI-NI from P4 students up through the programs at the older age groups. The relationships that have formed in such a short period of time is evidence of not only the impact PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland can have, but also of the desire for a shared future among teaching staff and students.
On the shore of the lake sat an assortment of logs, rope, and empty plastic barrels.
“Build a raft,” said our instructor in a tone that made it sound as if he had just asked us to tie our shoes.
And with that, our group of six office staff and six coaches turned into 12 novice raft builders. It was just one of the many team-building exercises that made up part of our 3-day training at Shongweni Dam. Staff and coaches also navigated the lake in canoes, climbed rocks, jumped off said rocks (into the water), went on a game drive, and competed against each other in a huge scavenger hunt.
These fun activities dotted the daily agenda along with PPI-specific training sessions focused on our history, philosophy, and strategies for success. Even our down time was fun, which usually involved sitting around a campfire, cooking together, or watching replays of NBA and NCAA basketball games on the projector screen.
The three days were geared towards becoming closer as a family, learning to work together, and preparing for the start of our 2014 PPI-SA basketball programme, which begins in primary schools this week.
The three days at Shongweni Dam were supplemented by two additional days at Umlazi Indoor Sportscentre, where coaches took to the court to learn more about the game and how to successfully coach it to children who may have never even seen a basketball before in their lives.
All in all, the week of training was a huge success. It was full of fun, bonding, learning, and experiencing new things, which is also what we aim to deliver to our participants this year on the basketball court. It was the perfect week to use as a launching pad into our 2014 programme.
The Olympics have just begun, and with the collaboration of people and cultures from around the world, we like to look at the long established Olympic values of excellence, respect and friendship.
Today, sport inspires hope, builds and heals communities, and can unite people everywhere. A new record of 88 nations have qualified to compete in events bringing together more nations than any previous Olympic games. From Jamaica to Sweden to Japan, countries that are separated by thousands of miles, nearly 100 countries come together to compete on the same stage with a common background: athlete. As we listen to the stories of Olympians from around the world, we remember that sport is shared by everyone and can bring out the best in not only people, but the world.
For the past four years, the Olympics have held a Cultural Olympiad program, which has focused on a different genre of arts each year. It began in 2010 with the year of cinema, while 2011 was theater, 2012 was music and 2013 was museums. Sochi is holding the finale of the program, which consists of highlights from the past four years of Cultural Olympiads. With this great program in place, spectators will not only watch the world’s best athletes, but they will be able to engage with and learn from Russian culture in the form of concerts, operas and films. More than 5,000 artists from 70 regions of Russia will perform at numerous venues around the two Games centers, and many events will be free.
This highlights one of the most important parts of the Olympics. Aside from competing with those around the globe, it is essential to interact with the various cultures around you to both learn and appreciate other people around the world. PeacePlayers works with over 4,000 youth athletes each year to both teach them the fundamentals of basketball and the life skills necessary to improve their communities and create a more peaceful world. From PeacePlayers to the Olympics, sport is an incredible tool that can be used to bridge divides, develop leaders and change perceptions.
As someone who was brand new to the organization and island, I was completely lost on pretty much everything when I first arrived. From driving on the left side of the road to coaching 9 year olds, PPI – Cyprus Fellow Ashley Johnson has been extremely helpful in showing me the ropes and I thought I would interview her on her thoughts about the program and everything in between. As a fellow, what has been the most enjoyable part of your time on the island? Getting out to the practices and on the court with the kids. I love having the opportunity to be a part of their lives in a positive way. The connections that I have made with the coaches, players, and extended PPI family are something that I will cherish forever. What is the most challenging part of your job as a fellow? Here in Cyprus, the most challenging part is communication. The language barrier between Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot children can be tough to overcome. You try to connect with them any way possible. Body language goes a long way and basketball is the common ground for all of these kids, which they all understand. What are the different ways you try make the game fun for all of the participants? You have to have a lot of energy, excitement, and enthusiasm. If you are having a good time on the court it is contagious. The kids pick up on that and they tend to have a better time when everyone else is excited and into it. How do you feel about the progress made since you joined back in 2012? We have had a great year and a half since joining PeacePlayers. It is hard to put into words in how much we have done. From bringing in NBA and WNBA players to our summer camp to having a bi-communal team travel to Norway to partake in an international tournament. It was the first time Cyprus has been represented internationally by a Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot joint team. What is it like having another fellow around to help? I am super excited to have Ryan here. We have so many projects going on and having someone with Ryan’s coaching skills and passion for the game, it is a huge benefit to our program. Also, its nice to have another person around to share the fellowship experience with.
PPI Middle East strives each year to carry out the mission of bridging divides, developing leaders and changing perceptions throughout the Arab and Jewish communities here. This year we continued to work with many of the successful teams and coaches we have in the past but also added a few new teams from communities we have not previously worked with. We believe it is important to reach more people but to also continue to build on the relationships that have already been formed as a result of the program. One of the most important aspects of the program is the twinnings, which are joint activities where Arab and Jewish teams play with their partner teams.
In the beginning the twinnings are almost always a bit awkward and tense, as many of these kids have never met anyone from “the other side.” We place the kids in small groups so they can learn each others names and get to know one another a little bit. This is usually the only talking that is done in the very beginning as the sport element then takes over. At this point in the year it is truly amazing to see how much progress the teams have made and how well the kids interact with one another compared to the beginning of the year. Project Manager and Coach Heni Bizawi commented, “There is such a huge difference in how the Arab and Jewish teams act with one another now that we are in the middle of the season. It’s great to see that the kids have become friends with one another and that they look forward to their meetings. Even the parents have expressed how happy they are that their kids are getting such a unique opportunity to play with children from the other side.”
It is our hope that these twinning events are one of the key elements in changing perceptions. While this never happens over night, the consistent interaction of two teams has helped the PPI participants to realize that regardless of race or religion, the kids on the “other side” are the same as them. American Fellow Jack Randolph added, “Now when I walk into the gym I don’t see an Arab side and a Jewish side, I simply see a group of kids who want to have fun and play some basketball. When I see the close friendships that have formed across cultural barriers it makes this experience totally worthwhile.”