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Wednesday, PPI-CY staff attended a ceremony at UNFICYP HQ, honoring LDP participant Eleni Partakki for her outstanding essay on why the work of UNFICYP is important to her. Eleni, 15 years old, has been with PPI-CY for two years.
A few weeks ago several PeacePlayers-Cyprus participants entered an essay contest sponsored by the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, where they were asked to write about “Why UNFICYP matters to me…” This week the entire PPI-CY staff supported Eleni as she accepted her award and spoke about how important peace building efforts are to her. Eleni shared the following personal memory in her essay:
“‘Little one, look up. Now that is the sky we share with the rest of the world, isn’t it beautiful? Under that sky live many. Some of those work so that people suffer, while some others work for peace so that little people like you and big people like me are happy’. That is what I remember my dad telling me sometimes. He rarely spoke those words, but when he did, I knew it meant a lot to him and it somehow had to mean a lot to me too.
History on this island is a subject which you cannot easily avoid, it is everywhere and we all generally know what happened. It is good to know what went wrong, but it is just as good to know what went right, and that is where the majority lack information on.
For me to be able to walk to school every day without fearing I’d be injured or even killed halfway, someone had to go against the people that work for little people like me in order to suffer. Someone had to dedicate their life to take care of mine. When I say mine, I speak for everyone in this country. This subject takes no sides; it is equal for everyone on this island. If there weren’t people in UNFICYP, people with integrity, people that are here to restore what was once lost, people that are here fighting for what is right, fighting for big people like my dad and little people like myself to be happy; it would simply be a nightmare.
I wish I could thank every single one of those great people individually but it just isn’t possible. I just hope that one day I can also be a great woman just like they were, are and will be.”
UNIFCYP’s Special Representative of the Secretary General and Chief of Mission, Lisa M. Buttenheim, personally congratulated and honored Eleni at the ceremony, praising her essay and remarking on the importance of young leaders involvement in peacekeeping efforts in Cyprus. Prior to joining the United Nations in 1983, Buttenheim received a Master’s degree in international economics and Middle East studies from Johns Hopkins University and a Bachelor’s in political science and English from Stanford University.
Last month, senior PPI-SA coach Yamkela “Yam” Nako attended United Nations Sport For Development and Peace Youth Leadership Camp held in Berlin, Germany. Coach Yam details his experience below: My name is Yamkela Nako, and the following blog details an event that took place abroad. I went to represent PeacePlayers International-South Africa as a youth basketball coach in the United Nations Sport For Development and Peace Youth Leadership Camp held in Berlin, Germany. The camp primarily focused on gathering young sport leaders across the world, developing them further as leaders and sharing best practices amongst one another.
Participants came from all over the world, including South Africa, Gambia, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan, Palestine, India, Poland and Tanzania. In total, 35 participants representing different organisations and youth sport organisers who work with children in developing areas attended, each one of them a young leader who uses sport as a tool to help develop youth.
A variety of sport organisations such as Badminton, Table Tennis, Alba Berlin wheelchair Basketball, The Football Association and Box Girls International were invited to the camp to teach and test us on our knowledge of sport development. Each organisation representing different sport codes shared some of their past successes, took part in theory work on how to improve their communities in a classroom and participated in practical workshops. All activities were designed to equip us on becoming a growth minded leader, and how we can use our knowledge to improve our organizations, communities and countries. The greatest lesson I picked up during my time in Berlin was learning how to have and establish a growth mind-set in my life. In other words the ability to listen to and accept feedback, as well as the belief that skills can be learned and gained through hard work. A mindset such as this enables you to constantly grow and improve as a person and leader.
In addition to all the learning that took place, I’ll never forget the friends I made from around the world, learning how to speak Arabic, and meeting and sharing facilities with the German national sport athletes from volleyball to Paralympians. The new experiences didn’t stop there! I ate at a Turkish restaurant — where we tried deer and other interesting dishes I had never tired before — tried the infamous German beer, and took a full tour of Berlin, learning about the history of this beautiful city and country. However, perhaps the coolest experience of all was witnessing Alba Berlin face Phoenix for mymy first-ever live professional basketball game. This was the same Alba Berlin team that beat the San Antonio Spurs on their European tour a few years back. As I reflect back on the trip, I can’t wait to bring back what I learned to PPI and the communities in which we work.
Last year PeacePlayers International-Northern Ireland had the pleasure of hosting 20 DePauw University students in a week long cultural exchange. This week DePauw arrives again for what is sure to be an exciting 11 days! Building on the success of last year, DePauw University and PPI-NI will continue their partnership and partake in several joint events.
For the second year the week will start with 16 DePauw students and 15 PeacePlayers sessional coaches taking part in a weekend residential to the North Coast. During the trip, the group will get to know each other through a variety of team building activities, as well as give the DePauw students a chance to experience the community relations activities that PPI-NI delivers on its twinning programmes. The group will also have a chance to explore the Giants Causeway, Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, and Dunluce Castle. Sunday the group will spend the afternoon in Derry/Londonderry getting a tour of the city.
Tuesday will be the second annual DePauw Invitational Tournament, which will kick off with a clinic for our PeacePlayers Belfast Interface League (BIL) participants led by the men’s head basketball coach at DePauw, Bill Fenlon. After the clinic, DePauw will take on the PeacePlayers coaches in a match for bragging rights and a few laughs. The night will conclude with a match between the women from DePauw against the Ulster Rockets who are preparing for a tour in America this summer.
Wednesday the DePauw students will take part in PPI-NI’s annual Super Sports day and help coach our twinning participants in a day filled with basketball, rugby, soccer, and Gaelic football. It will be a great chance for the DePauw students to experience the different sports played in Northern Ireland, as well as getting a chance to work directly with the kids.
The week will culminate with PPI-NI’s annual Summer Jam tournament in which teams from north, east, south, and west Belfast will compete in a full day basketball tournament. This day is always one of the best of the year at PPI-NI, and last year was only made better with the help of DePauw. This year, DePauw has raised over $7,000 for PeacePlayers International-Northern Ireland and their participation makes this last week in May one of the best of the year here in Belfast.
Today’s blog is brought to you by International Fellow Ryan Hage’s good friend, Khalid Robinson. He is visiting for the week and has spent the last year in Belfast, Northern Ireland with a sports nonprofit, Sport Changes Life. Khalid got to see firsthand both the PeacePlayers program in Northern Ireland and Cyprus and lets us know what makes both of them so special
Hey my name is Khalid Robinson and I am visiting Cyprus this week. I was a college teammate of current fellow Ryan Hage at Fordham University. I’ve been studying abroad and working with the nonprofit organization, Sport Changes Life in Belfast Northern Ireland.
During my time in Belfast, I witnessed several games featuring the PeacePlayers-Northern Ireland girls’ team. That team consisted of players from different cultural backgrounds. Despite the differences that exist between the players, the girls on the PeacePlayer’s team displayed a genuine love for the game and their teammates. Although they come from diverse backgrounds these girls showed no animosity towards each other and competed throughout the game. The girls played hard, worked together and exhibited a love for competition.
This same friendship and comradery can be seen among the PeacePlayers-Cyprus youth teams. The kids exemplify how the medium of sports can positively affect the attitudes and dispositions of kids. The kids have a great work ethic and enthusiasm to learn which can be translated from basketball into their daily lives. Although Belfast and Cyprus are in vastly different parts of the world with their own unique cultures, the ethos and strategy of Peace Players has remained consistent. Basketball has been able to effectively inspire kids to have ambition and a desire to create change in the world around them.
At the end of April, PPI – ME’s teams from East and West Jerusalem came together for an overnight retreat at Kibbutz Sdot Yam to learn about the new Junior Leadership Development Program (LDP Jr.), where excellent participants are selected to become the next generation of youth leadership. The participants had the opportunity to hear from current and former members of the older Leadership Development Program (LDP) as well as to work with coaches in the Coaches for Reconciliation (CFR) program. Naturally, when there are so many different groups together it can be a bit awkward at first. The bus ride was filled with light chatter but mostly girls talking to their own teammates. It was easy to see who belonged to which team or community. During the introduction and icebreaker name game, there was lots of giggling and pauses as the kids could not recall the names of the people they just met. As the meeting and evening progressed, the awkwardness started to fade and it was clear the kids were becoming more comfortable with each other.
On the first night, the participants got a chance to go through multiple practices organized by LDP and CFR members and then grade each practice based the fun factor and energy. The LDP Jr. really enjoyed the variety of drills and effort put forth by the coaches to prepare fun practices. Next, as the LDP and CFR prepared for the activities for the following day, the LDP Jr. had an impromptu dance, soccer, basketball party! Some of the highlights were Director Karen Doubilet’s amazing robot, Nagham’s (an LDP Jr.participant) amazing belly dancing skills, and the huge dance circle. The ice had been broken and that awkward that lurked at the beginning of the day had turned into awesome. The night ended with some basketball relay races and smiles. It was hard to get the kids to sleep because they were so busy talking and laughing together.
The next day after breakfast, the LDP Jr. were split into groups and raced to complete a scavenger hunt. The main goal was team work, leadership, teaching the kids more about PeacePlayers and fun! Some of the stations were building a sand castle, walking with an egg on the end of a spoon in your mouth through an obstacle course, partner ring toss, and getting the basketball from one side of the court to the other without dribbling and using the entire group. Each team could not advance to the next station without first answering a question. Some of the LDP and CFR went around with the group of kids and it was hard to tell who was more excited and eager to get the next clue and advance to the different stations. After a quick lunch the LDP Jr changed into basketball clothes and participated in a basketball tournament. The competition was high and the teams were evenly matched. Many of the games came down to a last second shot to pull off the win. Everyone was working as a team and the separation which was once so easy to see was unrecognizable. There were so many high-fives and lots of cheering; it was hard not to get sucked as a spectator. It was the perfect way to end a great weekend.
Last month, PPI-SA partnered with Save the Children South Africa and Children’s Rights Centre for a childhood protection and development workshop. 15 PPI coaches and staff members were trained on the 41 Rights Children hold. We learned that when it comes to childhood protection, it is much more than physical safety.
As coach Sam Linda put it:
“I learned that children are our future and how important it is to protect them physically and emotionally but also to provide for them, for their basic needs and developmentally. If we protect them and help them develop, we’re in essence protecting our future “
Coach Thondekile Nxumalo had this to say:
“I learned that we as coaches must play an active role in our player’s development by being there for them, listening to and encouraging them and always keeping their best interest in mind.”
The Coaches and staff were presented the information on childhood rights & development in the form of a house. The foundation of the house is the key people in the children’s lives such as family, the larger community in which they grow up and “special helpers” (I.e. teachers, coaches etc.). The body of the house consists of the 41 Rights held by every child, broken up into 4 different categories:
- Protection – From abuse: emotional, sexual and physical; Drug use; Safety; Exploitation etc.
- Survival – Food security; health care; standard of living
- Development – Education; Play and recreation; cultural recognition
- Participation – Freedom of association; expression; access to information
On the roof of the house are the documents stating these rights such as the South African Constitution, United Nations Convention on the Rights of The Child and more.
Upon first glance it may seem that PeacePlayers International only plays a role within the “Development” bucket portion of the house. However throughout the day we learned that as part of the foundation of these children’s development our role as an organization and as coaches goes much deeper.
One of our coaches stories towards the end of the workshop, demonstrated the importance and realness of this issue in our communities:
“One of my players came to me early on in the year. I could tell it was hard for her, but she told me that she was being abused at home. In our first week of practice I told my players to tell me everything, but I never expected this. After speaking with a representative of my school, and another parent I trust we were able to arrange for my player to move in with her aunt.”
As coaches one of the most frustrating things is to see a child not living up to the potential we see in them. Reasons for this are often numerous and beyond understanding. Sometimes though as our coach did in the above story, simply asking about their lives and listening can have an impact beyond the basketball court. An impact that changes lives.
This week’s blog is brought to you by International Fellow, Jessica Walton. PeacePlayers-Cyprus hosted their last Twinning of the programming year. Moving forward, PPI-CY begins to finalize plans for this year’s summer camp in July.
Last Saturday, our PeacePlayers gathered one last time for this programming year, to the Ledra Palace basketball court located in Nicosia’s UN Buffer Zone. Twinnings are bi-communal events that integrate Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot teams on the island. The kids participate in a variety of drills and games focused on teamwork and basketball skill development.
Although it was a very hot afternoon on our outdoor court, all of our kids, coaches and staff were happy to be there! We spent most of the afternoon mixing up our participating teams and playing pick-up games. International Fellow, Ryan Hage, once again put his refereeing skills to the test as he called the majority of Saturday’s games.
In addition to wrapping up our last twinning, the PPI-CY staff is busy in the office preparing and planning for our first ever inter-regional camp this July! We’re so excited for our camp, where we’ll be hosting leaders and representatives from each of PeacePlayers International sites in addition to our own participants.
PeacePlayers-Cyprus would like to thank the all of the UN soldiers that have helped us to make each of our twinnings so special this past year. Last but not least, we would also like to thank all of our participants, coaches, leaders, PPI-CY family members and everyone in between who contributed their time and energy at our twinnings this year. They were a tremendous success and we hope you all had as much fun as we did!
Hi. We’re Neta and Maayan, and we’re 14 and 15 years old. We’re both from Jerusalem, from the Katamon neighborhood, and we’ve been playing with the ASA (Academic Sports Association) basketball club for two and a half years. We are also Orthodox Jews.
We joined PeacePlayers this year, and so many things have changed in us since we joined the organization – our approach, opinions, thoughts, and our understanding that we [Arabs and Jews] can live together. Joining PeacePlayers has helped build our personality, and has shaped us as teenagers. We have been lucky enough to get to know Arab culture, including traditions and language, on a deeper level, and also [our Arab friends] have been exposed to Jewish culture.
As part of our involvement, we were selected to join the Leadership Development Program (LDP), a project that educates for future leadership and creates community involvement. As part of the project, we commit to a number of volunteer hours in the community. At one of our monthly meetings, we split into two groups and each group decided on an important cause to volunteer for. Our group chose to visit the Kiach School. Kiach is a mixed Arab-Jewish school in Jerusalem for hearing and speech impaired children, ages 6-21. The purpose of this school is to help these young people become prepared for independent living. The school takes the curriculum of standard schools, and adapts it to the needs of those with hearing impairment who often face many other challenges. We planned the activity, and then one Friday about a month ago, all of us LDP went there.
When we arrived, we got a chance to tour of the school. On the tour, we saw how the children are getting tools in many different fields: cooking, physics, computers, math, biology, carpentry, art and more. In some areas of study, the students even complete matriculation exams. In addition, we shopped at the kiosk that is run by the children, and ate lunch that was prepared by the “young cooks” at the school.
Afterwards, we ran basketball activities and different games and competitions for the kids at the school. It was heartwarming to see these children smiling, laughing and having fun. It’s moving to know that you have the ability to make someone smile, especially if he or she has a disability or impairment. This act of giving gives you a feeling of satisfaction, and makes us better people. This activity brought home the understanding that we have to be aware of our environments, and that we have to give something of ourselves to others. That was quite an experience and we really enjoyed it.
We think that PeacePlayers has a lot of importance, especially in Israel, where there are so many stigmas and divides between people from different groups. We got the chance to be a part of this organization and it’s allowed us to get exposed and to get connected to different populations where we live, and that is something significant and important. We hope that more people will get to know the organization that works to create peace, and that PeacePlayers will just keep on growing.
Coach Will Massey, an intern at the PeacePlayers International-Northern Ireland Office shares his experience with the programme in Ballymena.
I had a chance encounter last week through a program entirely unrelated to PeacePlayers International- Northern Ireland. I was speaking to a young woman who mentioned that she is a teacher at Ballykeel Primary School in Ballymena.
“Very good,” I said, “I coached a PeacePlayers program with the P6 pupils from Ballykeel.”
She suddenly looked delighted, and explained that she had organised for Ballykeel to be involved in the twinning with St. Brigid’s Primary school. She expressed her enthusiasm and gratitude for the PeacePlayers program, and assured me that the kids felt the same way. I was glad to receive the appreciation and personal affirmation for 16 weeks of work in Ballymena, and then she said something that went far beyond me and spoke to the tremendous value of PeacePlayers in general.
“Ballykeel students are coming from one of the most deprived areas in Northern Ireland,” she explained “opportunities for cross-community relationships are particularly rare and valuable for them.” Her comment made me appreciate one of the things that sets PeacePlayers apart. I can offer only an impression from my eight months in Northern Ireland, but it seems that well-meaning cross-community programs are often limited in their appeal to people of different economic means.
Commonly, middle and upper class communities offer willing participants for such programs, while more deprived families and communities have more pressing concerns, or are barred because of transport or communication.
But PeacePlayers intentionally partners with schools populated by pupils from all social and economic level of Northern Irish society. Some of the research I have done for PeacePlayers recently verifies that our programs are inclusive in every sense of the word. A couple of our twinning schools are situated in the most deprived areas of Belfast, while others are drawing students from very privileged areas. PeacePlayers knows that meaningful change means reaching as many different individuals and areas as possible, and a chance conversation with a teacher from Ballykeel confirmed our success.
This week we continue with our series on introducing our coaches. Snoh Mancunga of Lamontville, who has been with PPI-SA since 2004, first as a participant and now as one of our programme drivers/coaches. In this week’s blog Snoh reflects on her journey with PPI-SA and what she recently learned during a workshop on Children’s Rights and Protection.
My name is Snoh Mancunga, I’m a 22 year old first year youth basketball coach from Lamontville, Durban. I was introduced to coaching by a friend and fellow colleague Thobani Khumalo. I started playing basketball with PPI in 2004 at Excelsior Primary School. I proceeded to play in the LDP for Lamontville from 2006 until 2011. My interest in basketball came when I saw my friends and schoolmates playing basketball in primary school and I wanted to join to the following year. The joy from playing at PPI came when we travelled to different areas to play against other schools and participate in tournament.
My youth years and most of my childhood was spent in Lamontville, a place where a large number of my peers (young girls) are easily influenced by negativity, surrounded by taverns, young men find comfort in spending time outdoors doing nothing. Growing up, some of my friends spent their time and weekends drinking alcohol and partying.
Ever since PPI introduced basketball in Lamontville, the only sport I have ever been interested in playing, I have turned my head away from the negative influences, to the coach that I am today. Today I coach the primary I once attended and played for 10 years ago and play basketball for the PPI Lady Doves in the provincial league called Ethekwini Basketball Association.
During my time as coach, I have learnt to use basketball as tool to reach to youth in my community. In the past week we took part in workshop where we were taught about the rights and safety of children. We learnt that children have rights but they also have responsibilities. The children rights protection organization designed a house that is called The Children’s Rights House. Inside that house there are four categories which are Protection, Survival, Development and Participation. This taught us that we should always allow kids to participate in every decision that we take as parents or special helpers, we must never conclude without knowing the child’s feeling about the decision.
This week’s blog is written by International Fellow Jessica Walton. Jessica joined PeacePlayers-Cyprus just over a month ago. This past weekend she traveled to Israel for this first time and also got a chance to visit a PeacePlayers-Middle East twinning.
I’ve been a Fellow for about six weeks or so now, slowly but surely I’m adjusting to the new lifestyle here in Cyprus, learning the ropes and acclimating to the PPI-CY office. I definitely miss my family and friends back home in Albany, NY, but I also am really enjoying myself in Cyprus. One of the many privileges of being an International Fellow and living abroad is taking advantage of the opportunity to travel during my free time.
Last week I decided to take advantage of my three day weekend and visit Israel for the first time. It was the perfect destination, as it’s just an hour flight from Cyprus. The icing on the cake was that I was able to stay with Heni Bizawi, Project Manager for PeacePlayers-ME and my host for the weekend!
Heni was an awesome host. She showed me around Tel-Aviv, Bethlehem, took me to the Dead Sea and took me to a PPI-ME twinning. During the twinning I had the opportunity to see the similarities and differences between our program and theirs, meet some of the kids participating and was introduced to some PPI-ME staff.
I was pleasantly surprised when I was introduced to PPI-ME Fellow, LaToya Fisher and visiting PPI-NI alum, Tony McGaharan. Both have ties to my home state, New York. LaToya was born in Binghamton and Tony had attended school in the Albany area. Each of us exchanged stories, shared PPI experiences and I couldn’t help but think about how crazy it was to cross paths with these “New Yorkers” so far from home. After the twinning, PPI-ME’s Aysha Faqih was kind enough to invite us all to her home for an incredible meal with her family.
Prior to leaving for Cyprus, I spent a couple of days on-boarding for the Fellowship in the PPI Washington, DC office. I learned about the curriculum, different sites and met the people behind the organization; everyone explained to me how PeacePlayers was like a family. Many of the staff in the DC office previously worked as Fellows, the organization was created by two brothers, and they definitely seemed to be a close knit group. Still, part of me wondered if it was just one of those “lines” people drop to new employees.
After this weekend, I can confidently say without a doubt, PeacePlayers International is one big family. Thanks to Heni, my first trip to Israel was a huge success. She took me in and treated me like one of the PPI-ME family members. Thanks to LaToya and Tony, I felt like I wasn’t quite so far from home. I’ve since returned to Cyprus and feel like the weekend in Israel was just what I needed. Of course I still miss my family and friends, but I’m settling into my new home here in Cyprus and I’m starting to feel like I’m really a part of this PeacePlayers family.
The Belfast City Marathon started in May 1982 and participants can enter into the Main Marathon Race, Wheelchair Race, Marathon Walk, Team Relay and Fun Run. PeacePlayers International- Northern Ireland took part in the in the team relay part this year on Monday the 4th of May. This is the 3rd time PeacePlayers has participated in the marathon. Members of staff, Champions4Peace participants and board members helped to fundraise to sponsor the PeacePlayers runners and raise some money for the organisation. Our international fellow Joe Smith was the first member of staff to complete this marathon and what made it even more special was the fact that he finished it in 4:17 minutes. He is still standing! We would like to send special thanks to everyone that donated to the organisation and sponsored the runners. We do acknowledge that fundraising can be challenging but working collectively we can make a significant difference. So far we have raised more than £2,000.00 and additional donations are still very much welcomed.
James Proctor who is a participant in our Champions4Peace programme shares his marathon experience:
“Hey everyone my name is James Proctor and I’m from North Belfast. I have played sports my whole life – Gaelic and soccer being the main sports I play. I’m involved in the PeacePlayers Senior C4P programme and I am a volunteer coach for the after school Belfast Interface League (BIL) programme. Being part of this programme is extremely beneficial and fun. I have made a lot of friends for life through this programme and have gained new skills and qualities. I participated in the Belfast City Marathon Relay on behalf of PeacePlayers, and Hannah Bryne (a fellow senior C4P) and I shared ran the same leg . The relay leg that we ran was was 7.1 Miles. I completed that in 1hr 16 mins. I had not trained for the marathon as I stepped in at the last minute and I loved it! It taught me to break through the pain barrier and reach beyond that place I never thought I could get to before. Everyone should try to compete in the marathon! It is extremely fun and a really good thing to be a part of. It was great to be part of the the thousands of people that were running for their charities, to raise awareness and funds.
My favourite part was reaching the finish line knowing that I completed a goal that I had for a long time…..to complete the marathon one day. The Belfast City Marathon is hugely beneficial for organisations like PeacePlayers that help to bridge divides, develop leaders and change perceptions; helping communities from different religions to come together and unite, make change through sport.
I wish more people could donate to PeacePlayers and help more people like me who hope to give back to the organisation one day by becoming a coach and work myself up to the Peaceplayers wedge.”
Many thanks to James and all those who ran for peace this week!
This week’s blog is written by International Fellow Heba El-Hendi. Last year Heba spent a year living in different parts of Morocco on a Fulbright Fellowship. This past week Heba attended a traditional Moroccan Jewish Holiday, a Maimouna, with Program Manager Heni.
After spending 10 rewarding months in Morocco last year, I welcome any way to integrate aspects of Moroccan culture back into my life. Whether it’s eating a Moroccan dish or getting the chance to speak Darija (Moroccan Arabic dialect), I love keeping close to my Moroccan experiences.
At the end of Passover, Moroccan Jews in Israel have become known for a holiday celebration called Maimouna. And this year I was lucky enough to not only experience a Seder dinner, but also a Maimouna celebration. After Heni, my co-worker, invited me to attend her family’s Maimouna, I kicked myself for not packing my Djellba or Caftan, both Moroccan traditional wear for special occasions. I’ve heard stories about the celebrations here, and the main focus was centered around sweets, food, music, and dancing. In my eyes it’s the combination for a successful party.
Even with this in mind, I could not have expected what I experienced that night. Last year, I attended a small calm Maimouna party in Rabat, Morocco. The Jewish population there currently is very small and that meant the Maimouna party was more on the low-key side. I came into Heni’s family party with last year’s Maimouna in mind, which skewed my expectations.
At Heni’s family party there were well over 70 people there! Immediately once we entered we were directed to the food, nothing I can complain about. The house had been cleared of the living room furniture and was turned into a dance floor, while the outside patio was filled with tables full of food. And on the side, Heni was working with her mother on one of the most important aspects of the Maimouna….making the moflettas! Moflettas are similar to crepe-like pancakes and are often spread with honey, butter, jams, cheese, and my all time favorite-Nuttela. I integrated moflettas into my eating habits on a daily basis and the first time I ate them again since my time in Morocco was at the Maimouna. For Jews observing Passover moflettas are off the table until the end of Passover, because of the flour base.
During the Maimouna, moflettas are served with honey or butter and are rolled up. Heni looked like she was making 100 moflettas an hour. And 100 wouldn’t surprise me because halfway through the party, Heni’s mother, Sippa, informed us that they had already made 7 kilos of moflettas dough. And the end of the night, 15 kilos of moflettas were made!
Over the speakers Moroccan songs filled the room as people danced and celebrated. A remix of Lalla Fatima, a classic, played and I couldn’t stop smiling or dancing. It was an experience that combined my love for Moroccan and Israeli/Jewish culture. For me the beauty of this fellowship is the cultural exchange component and the ability to learn more about the different subcultures found here.
Listen to Lalla Fatima here:
As a global organization operating in 4 countries, PPI’s mission of “Bridging Divides, Developing Leaders, and Changing Perceptions” can sometimes become ambiguous. Each country has different social and economic structures, cultural sensitivities and educational systems that need to be accounted for when planning how to most effectively achieve PPI’s goals. With this mind, PPI – SA was recently visited by PPI’s Director of Monitoring and Evaluation, Julie Younes, who has been hopping to PPI sites around the world, both learning from and assisting in focusing PPI’s vision relative to local cultural norms.
In her resent visit to Cyprus, Julie learnt how the literal separation of the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot communities by a UN demilitarized zone affects PPI’s programming. For example, one of the changes we aim for and measure around the world is changing perceptions, and one sign of that change in Cyprus is how much PPI participants are willing to cross that border.
Just as Cyprus has it’s unique history, social and geographical layout, South Africa has its own unique story and social circumstance. Recently, xenophobic riots have highlighted this story, resulting in the murders of foreigners as a result of a suppressed population frustrated with a lack of opportunity. Drastic levels of inequality exist not just in Durban (where PPI operates) but throughout South Africa, exemplified by a 24% unemployment rate (which many experts believe to be much higher) that disproportionately affects the black populace. It’s obvious when reading statistics that inequality exists, but on the ground the disparity is even more stark. If you go to a private school – which are predominantly white – you’ll see children participating in a diverse range of after school activities like swimming, netball, cricket, and rugby, with no shortage of coaches. In fact, if your child wants to learn how to ride a horse backwards while reciting the Chinese alphabet, there’a a coach for that. However, as the bell rings at a typical undeserved rural school you might be lucky enough to see some tumbleweed.
While after school activities are certainly not the only disparity – many youth still drastically lack access to food, transport, quality information, and a host of other privileges – with regard to coaches, mentors and role models, PPI – SA is well positioned to help. This was a central point when discussing and developing PPI – SA’s goals and direction – how do we even the playing field so a youth’s life is not predetermined by where and who they were born to. The many conversations with local schools, parents and community leaders, it became obvious that the best bang for PPI’s buck was to focus on providing role models that could provide safe spaces and diverse experiences.
As Julie consistently emphasized: once a clear Problem Statement and Theory of Change has been established, the organization can much more effectively designate resources to best address the local issues at hand. With an emphasis on providing positive role models, and safe and diverse experience for its participants, it became evident that focusing on empowering local coaches would be the most effective way achieve PPI’s goals. “An empowered coach provides these missing life pieces to 24 youth while continually developing their own skills and life ambitions.”
Things are looking up for PPI – South Africa. With a focused goal, energized and empowered local staff, and continual support from around the globe, PPI – SA is well positioned to bridge divides, change perceptions, and develop leaders – even if it does it a little differently.
Today’s blog is written by PPI – ME eight year participant turned coach/Project Manager Heni Bizawi.
Sometimes I feel like we are living in a reality where all over the world children are dying in unnecessary wars, where people dedicate their lives to killing the enemy, searching for strategies of war, and dealing with hate and conflict – the basis of which isn’t always clear to everyone. A reality that forces us to focus on survival, in a race after money, power and status. A reality that does not allow us to take a moment and think… to think about how we would want to live, what would really make us happy, and how we can get there.
This past March, I had the amazing opportunity to speak on a panel at the annual Clinton Global Initiative University. This year’s conference, which was attended by 1,200 students from 80 countries, served as a call to action for international youth leadership. The panel that I participated in was part of a session to drive young people to become involved in the Middle East and North Africa, and to give of themselves, so that the world will feel like a better place.
For me, this meant standing in front of 200 students and answering challenging questions, such as: Does having Arab and Jewish kids play basketball together really work?, Does the impact on the kids carry over off the basketball court?, With all of the conflict and wars, do you really believe that this can help change something?
All of these questions made me think a lot, and as far as I’m concerned the answer to all of them is YES! Every day at my job, I see that it works. Every day I see people changing their approach. Every day I see at least one person who believes that he or she can live better. At every joint practice, I find that these Arab and Jewish kids who are playing and laughing together are the ones who are making the change… making history by managing to communicate in ways that most adults cannot.
Once it was my friends and I who were these kids. Khaled, Noy, Aysha, Neta and Duha – were the kids who came to play basketball. And now we are the coaches and close friends, and through that process discovered that we are doing something that is changing reality. Over the years, the simple conversations about basketball have switched to conversations about more serious topics, and it makes me feel that when we are together anything is possible. The change I experienced in my life from being in PeacePlayers gives me the power and the motivation to continue and to believe that every one of us can and should make this change. Who will make it happen, if not us?
This week, PeacePlayers International-Northern Ireland coach and a senior Champions4Peace (C4P) participant Michaela Thompson tells us about a recent fundraiser for the Champions4Peace programme and their upcoming trip to Brooklyn, NY.
On Saturday 25th April we held a fundraiser in the Lansdowne Hotel in North Belfast to help raise money to send 10 Junior Champions4Peace to Brooklyn, New York later this year. Whilst in Brooklyn the 10 C4Ps will partner up with a youth group to share their experiences of living in a post-conflict society and how sport has helped them to bridge divides, change their perceptions of each other and develop them as leaders, they will learn from each others culture and of course take in a Brooklyn Nets game.We had a great night planed for everyone, with some great prizes for our ballot which including a Stena Line trip to Scotland, some great music from an acoustic hip-hop band named “Mr Miyagi and The Karate Kids” and from DJ Topper who played great music all through the night.
On the night we raised £591 in total to go towards the trip. We would like to thank everyone for helping us make this night successful. Thank you to the parents and to the people who helped us to get prizes for our ballot! Thank you to DJ Topper for the amazing music throughout the night! Also a big thank you to the Champions4Peace that represented on the night! One last thank you and that is to everyone that was able to make it on the night! We really appreciate all the help you gave us!If you wish to help PPI-NI’s Junior C4Ps make their way to Brooklyn, NY please check out their JustGiving page www.justgiving.com/PPI-B2B and make a donation.
Jessica Walton, International Fellow at PeacePlayers-Cyprus reflects on the sites annual 3v3 Spring Tournament, a bi-communal event held at the English School of Kyrenia
Last Saturday afternoon, PeacePlayers-Cyprus gathered together more than 150 Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot kids, coaches and volunteers to take part in the annual 3v3 Spring Tournament. The event brings together participants and their families; promoting and strengthening an overall sense of community here in Cyprus. The day was an overwhelming success as our PeacePlayers competed for spots in our tournament finals and more importantly, shined a spotlight on the benefits of coming together for bi-communal events.
During the tournament, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriot kids are placed on bi-communal teams of 3-5 players. Each team gets the opportunity to play a handful of games before the playoff rounds begin. Players, families and friends enjoyed music, food and good company while supporting each of the teams competing in the tournament. Kids involved in the Leadership Development Program were also a huge part of the events success as they assisted coaches, volunteers and our younger participants.
As one of the newest members of the PPI-CY team and this weekend being my first Spring Tournament, I was so impressed with our leaders. Their dedication and commitment to making the event meaningful to each of the participants can be seen, heard and felt. These young people are genuinely passionate and enthusiastic about PeacePlayers. Many of them members of PPI-CY for several years, are proof of just how positively the program impacts participants, their families and their communities.
The success of the tournament really is a direct reflection of the overall PeacePlayers mission: bridging divides, developing leaders, changing perceptions. The event speaks to basketball’s ability to reinforce the power of community and foster long term friendships and bonds.
The English School of Kyrenia was the perfect venue, with its outdoor court situated right in between some of Cyrpus’ mountains and the sea. A special thanks to ESK for donating their staff, time and venue to help make the tournament so special! PeacePlayers-Cyprus would also like to thank the United Nations soldiers who helped transport and set up hoops for the event.
Today’s blog is brought to you by Leadership Development Participant Helen Partakki. Helen, along with her fellow PeacePlayers Nursu and Savvas, were selected to the Cyprus Friendship Program for this upcoming summer – a very prestigious honor.
Last summer during the PeacePlayers’ camp in Cyprus, a few participants and I were given the opportunity to experience a sweet taste of another bi-communal non-profit organisation, the Cyprus Friendship Programme (CFP). CFP is an organization of volunteers cooperating from both sides of the island, promoting peace and understanding while bringing together teenagers with future leadership potential, encouraging life-long friendships among them, and extending these friendships to their friends and families.
After that first contact, two of my fellow PeacePlayers teammates and I decided to apply for the CFP United States Residency Program (along with 160 other applicants with an equal chance and hope of being selected). Fortunately, we were all interviewed and all of three of us PeacePlayers had been selected as part of the 60 teenagers participating this year!
So far we have spent our spring season getting to know each other’s Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot cultures (although it was not difficult at all since PeacePlayers had already given us the chance to do that) and partnered up with someone from the other community with whom we will be going with to the U.S. to live with our American host family for four weeks!
The opportunity we were given from PeacePlayers to learn about this organisation was so far life changing. My Turkish-Cypriot teammate Nursu mentioned to me that, “PeacePlayers influenced me once again to try for peace and join the CFP. It is nice to know that there are people to support you when working for peace. It just makes me more confident.” Our other teammate Savvas added, “I was given the chance to play basketball with people my age from the other community by PeacePlayers and I think it would be amazing to live with one of my buddies for 4 weeks!”
I am convinced that by now, joining PeacePlayers was one of the greatest decisions I have ever made. All teenagers keep getting challenged to become better leaders and are given life changing opportunities, but most importantly we can feel the love given to us by the PeacePlayers family running through our veins which only motivates us to work for peace in our world.
Today’s blog is written by Ivy Le, a member of the Texas MBA group that visited PeacePlayers last month. Ivy is the Principal at 9Terrains, a social media strategy firm that offers website design, content creation, social media guidance, and print service.
I came to South Africa for a school trip about nonprofits and social enterprises. I’m in the evening MBA program at the University of Texas, and our business school has been meeting with Peace Players International for the last two years. Each year our time together starts off with the dedicated people running the organization telling us about nonprofit management, organizational challenges, and needs. Then we ball hard Texas McCombs vs. PeacePlayers International, playing for nothing less than national pride for our respective countries. The children get a kick out of watching their coaches beat us.
By us, I mean my athletic classmates. My parents came to America as refugees from Vietnam a couple years before I was born. Extracurricular sports – or anything requiring the purchase of special equipment, clothing, or arranging personal transportation for that matter – were not exactly a priority for me growing up, so I felt an affinity for the kids playing with no shoes. I just knew, they didn’t want to ask their parents for sport shoes when it was stressful enough for them to get their children school uniforms and class supplies. Kids understand a lot more than we give them credit for.
So I went on the court without shoes, too. Trust me, shoes could not make me a better basketball player anyway. Right away, a young lady named Tiara answered my fashion statement. Tiara asked with a smile “You like to play barefoot? I used to play barefoot, too. But then I got cut, so my mom got me shoes.”
In true PeacePlayers spirit of bridging divides and changing perceptions, Tiara and I began talking. It didn’t take long to find out that we both like the same hip hop artists, we both have relatives in Germany, and we both love to travel! She hasn’t had much of a chance yet, but she’s only 11. I never left my country until I was 15.
PeacePlayers International pours asphalt for basketball courts at disadvantaged schools, but that asphalt is actually bringing kids together. These kids face no shortage of challenges. Their bathroom stalls are covered with cruel slander, but it’s feasible that some of the girls named in the graffiti really are pregnant. The neighborhoods are defined by race and many of these kids, young men and women alike, are tempted, threatened or both by local gangs, not to mention the pressure to do drugs, alcohol and more.
Students aren’t signing up with Peace Players International because of the basketball; South African children know a lot more about American movie stars than American sports. Children sign up to play basketball, because they don’t have other after school choices. That’s fair, because the PeacePlayer’s coaches also have another motive: bridging divides, developing leaders and changing perceptions.
As we prepared to leave, I looked for my new friend to say goodbye. The other girls, I noticed, were gathered in gaggles around the other MBA women from my class, but not Tiara. She watched the game quietly slightly apart from the others. Knowing what it’s like to have trouble fitting in, I asked Tiara who her school friends are. She told me, “The girls on my basketball team.”
Today’s blog is written by Aaron Chan. Aaron is a former seminarian turned peace activist, world traveler, and teacher. He currently lives in Geneva where he works for a Landmine Action NGO and teaches English at the UN.
Three weeks ago I was able to attend a mixed Jewish and Arab basketball practice in Jerusalem. I was anxious to attend because I had already visited PeacePlayers International in Northern Ireland with students from the Sandy Spring Friends School. The students and I had helped organize a school fundraiser to support the wonderful work PeacePlayers does.
Although this was my sixth time in Israel-Palestine since 1999 – I had worked as a peace activist with Israeli and Palestinian peace groups before – this was my first time visiting a peace group like PPI. To be honest, I’ve seen the situation and hopes for peace get worse in the region since 1999, with violence escalating in the early 2000’s and peace groups constantly having to adapt.
Having traveled there after living in Switzerland for eight months, the contrast was glaring. The tension was tangible. Yet, in this little bilingual Hebrew-Arab school where PPI practices take place, there was a sense of normalcy. It was just kids playing together for fun and for friendly competition. In their basketball jerseys, most people wouldn’t be able to tell who was Jewish or Palestinian.
While the politicians bicker amongst themselves and peace groups scramble to expose the various injustices to get the world to respond, a simple game has the power to at least temporarily put those outside distractions away to let kids just play and be kids. This can grow and endure. Even during the middle of the recent violence in Gaza, many of the veteran PPI kids kept in touch. Palestinians have been invited for Shabbat and Jewish kids have been invited for the breaking of fast during Ramadan. It’s an image of what can be once the politicians start thinking about their own people and choose the only viable solution: a peaceful and just one. Until then, PPI is keeping the flame of friendship and fun alive.