Cyprus

It’s Never Too Late to Make a Change!

Meet the Waegger’s, a family of five from Nesodden, Norway! After working with PPI-CY during a couple of exchange trips, their wonderful family moved to Cyprus last August to volunteer their services. They have been an enormous help and wonderful partners to our PPI-CY family. They are Camilla (10), William (13), Kristian (16), Gøril and Roar.

The Waegger family.

April 2013 was our first meeting with PeacePlayers. The former Norwegian Ambassador to Cyprus and Greece, Mr. Sjur Larsen, made it possible for PeacePlayers Cyprus to go to Norway. A bi-communal team of 12 great young boys from Cyprus came to Nesodden, a suburb to Oslo, to stay with basket players from Nesodden Basket for one week.

After this inspiring week, PPI-CY and Nesodden Basket decided to build further on our started bilateral friendship. We started to plan a youth program together, called Lead4Peace. The year after, 9 Norwegian youths visited Cyprus for a week and it was incredible. 4 months later, Cypriots came to visit us again at Nesodden, and we defined Lead4Peace a tradition!

Nessoden Basket and our PPI-CY leaders during last Spring’s exchange tripe.

When Gøril visited Cyprus on the first exchange trip she fell in love with the island, its people, atmosphere, climate, and of course with the important work PeacePlayers does in bringing the youths, and coaches together. She and Kristian came home very enthusiastic and overwhelmed the others with all of their experiences. A family meeting was now necessary, because on the agenda was one topic – can we make it possible to move to Cyprus for a limited time? The vote was unanimous “yes, we can!”

So, here we are. We moved here to, among other things, volunteer for PeacePlayers, ready to do whatever you would like us to do! We do hope to be able to contribute more in the next 6 months, and get to know the inside of PeacePlayers even better. Our interest in conflict resolution has made this year even more interesting because of the ongoing, intense negotiations. The kind of work PeacePlayers is doing in bi-communal work among the young generation on the island is very important for a future united Cyprus. By getting to know each other as individual human beings we can see with our own eyes how they change perception of each other, their respective cultures and religions. In our point of view, this work is the most important peace work that is done – bridging the divides so that one day people in Cyprus can live respectfully and tolerant together.

PPI-CY leaders in Norway with Nessoden Basket.

Our volunteer work will probably be concentrated around planning the new and extended Lead4Peace project. We recently got more than 120,000 Euro from the Erasmus+ in Oslo to continue the exchange program, and we are really looking forward to including Israel/Palestine and Northern Ireland. In February 2017, Nesodden Basket are looking forward hosting a PeacePlayer-family for a week in a winter wonderland while learning to ski!

We are turning 50 in a few years, but we have learned that it is never too late to make some changes in your life. Our change: to take a GAP year, to get to know Cyprus, its people, PeacePlayers, their people and their work, is bringing new values into our lives. The youth, coaches and staff we have meet with PeacePlayers are all warm, including, interesting and dedicated people! Thank you so much for letting us be a part of you great organization!

jwalton2015It’s Never Too Late to Make a Change!
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Building Leaders at PPI-CY

This week’s blog was written by Jessica Walton and Ryan Hage, two fellows who met during their shared time at PPI-CY and have been inspired by their leaders ever since.

Sport has the power to bring out leadership skills in the simplest form: through a common goal. Those of us who call ourselves PeacePlayers are lucky enough to be able to work with an organization that uses sport as a way to build relationships in a conflict area. Sure, it brings children together who otherwise may have never met, but it also gives participants a chance to become leaders. They dare to be bold and play basketball with someone from the ‘other side.’

Some of our oldest Cypriot participants have transformed from shy young girls and boys, afraid to speak and play with kids from outside of their communities, into strong and outspoken leaders, tasked with greeting public figures such as professional basketball players visiting camp or better yet, public officials like US Secretary John Kerry. Young people who start up their first Twinning with extremely limited English, quickly become the participants chosen to present the mission of PeacePlayers to ambassadors and CEO’s of corporations. They state, “Why did I join? Simple, it gave me purpose and it made me happy. It gave me the feeling of belonging somewhere.” Sport has provided them with purpose and a sense of stability.

Through this new confidence, participants become leaders at the age of fifteen in ways that most adults cannot fathom. Being part of a bi-communal organization is a very courageous thing to do on the island, no matter what age. Many see it as a form of betrayal, fraternizing with the enemy, even though the conflict has not been violent in many years. Ask any leader…many will share a story of a skeptical friend or family member who poked fun at their new choice of extra-curricular activity or even worse, judged them in a negative light. Each of their responses will be different but equally moving, reflecting their desire for change and their overwhelming belief in bridging divides, developing leaders and changing perceptions.

For many, PeacePlayers acts as a safety net of sorts. Leaders look forward to entering a safe environment and a special community where building new relationships is encouraged and exuding confidence and the ability to stand up for what you believe to be true is not only admired but truly valued. Being a leader isn’t easy; like any worthwhile challenge there is risk involved. However, it is those risks and the choice to accept those challenges along the way that mold character and shape each of our leaders into the young people they are today. Using sport we put discipline, honesty, integrity, trust and BASKETBALL into practice each day. And we have every faith that our leaders will guide us in the future during times of adversity!

jwalton2015Building Leaders at PPI-CY
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Cheers to the New Year from PPI-CY

This week’s blog was written by International Fellow, Jessica Walton. Here’s a quick glimpse at some of our highlights for the 2015 season and a quick run down of whats in store for the New Year!

Happy New Year from all of us here at PeacePlayers-Cyprus! We hope you had a wonderful holiday season and brought in the New Year with family and friends. 2015 was a wonderful year for our PPI-CY family. Participants from each of our twelve teams spread throughout the island took part in Twinnings (mixed basketball trainings with Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot teams), two tournaments and leadership development trainings, and our annual summer camp.

International Fellow, Jessica coaching at Camp 2015.

Not to be forgotten are the countless hours in the gym where our players spent time developing their individual skills, thanks to our wonderful coaching staff! In addition to basketball skills, at each practice, PeacePlayers get to implement their communication, teamwork and leadership skills within their own local communities.

We capped off the year with a special event hosting United States Secretary of State, John Kerry at our very own court in the United Nations Buffer Zone at Ledra Palace Hotel. Our leaders were given the chance to put their skills on display for the Secretary, speak to him personally, present him with an official PeacePlayers t-shirt, and pose for photos. We are so grateful to our wonderful friends at the US Embassy for presenting us with this opportunity.

Kerry at the Ledra Palaca Hotel Court signing basketballs and speaking with leaders.

2016 looks like it will be an even more rewarding and exciting year than the last, as we continue with our regular programming and add some fresh, new global events into the mix. PeacePlayers will be partaking in a new exchange program which will begin this year, allowing LDP participants to visit programs in Cyprus, the Middle East, Northern Ireland and one of partnering Erasmus programs based in Norway. During these exchange trips our participants will learn new skills and use tools which will make them more confident, stronger leaders. Planning for the program begins this February, as we host representatives from each site right here in Cyprus!

Coach Nicos with LDP leader Veley Petkov

We would like to thank each and every one of our coaches, players and local staff members for helping to make 2015 a great year. We are so excited to continue to collaborate with you all throughout 2016. Thanks to each individual and all of the groups/organizations who contributed their time and/or money to making our program a success. Happy New Year to all!

jwalton2015Cheers to the New Year from PPI-CY
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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Visits PeacePlayers in Cyprus

Cyprus – On Dec. 3 U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry took time out of his six-nation European tour to visit PeacePlayers International (PPI) and learn how their young leaders are using sport to unite the divided country. Secretary Kerry was in Cyprus for talks with Cypriot leaders to encourage progress toward ending the island’s 40-year conflict.

Recognizing the important role PPI has played as Cyprus’ only bi-communal sports peace building organization, Secretary Kerry chose to spend time with our young peace makers, telling reporters:

“Today I have witnessed that desire for change firsthand and I have seen a real passion for peace. I just came from a youth basketball practice game, scrimmage, not far from here, and the group was called PeacePlayers – young Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots shooting hoops together… And with peace, someday that very group of kids may be building businesses together, opening joint NGOs, or even leading this island together.”

Read Article on Reuters

Cyprus has been physically divided by a United Nations Buffer Zone since an inter-ethnic war in 1974 split the island into two separate Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot communities. Today, many youth grow up without ever meeting anyone from the “other side.”

With key institutional partners like the U.S. Embassy, the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, adidas and the European Union, PPI – Cyprus brings together thousands of children from both communities to play, learn, and build positive relationships. Explains PPI participant Alim Sancar:

“After 6 years of being a part of this organization and after meeting hundreds of Greek-Cypriots, I realized how much I want there to be peace and unity between Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots.”

For many, the current peace talks are creating a new sense of hope. Last week leaders said they saw an opportunity to move toward a solution for the division, with one Cypriot official telling Reuters that the island was closer than ever to ending its partition, and the two sides could agree on the text of a deal by May.

To learn more about PPI and ways you can help, please visit our website at: http://www.peaceplayersintl.org

PeacePlayersIntlU.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Visits PeacePlayers in Cyprus
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The Holiday Season Approaches at PPI-CY

There is a lot to be thankful for at PPI-CY!

PPI-CY begins a busy holiday season following the Thanksgiving holiday. With a leadership retreat and Winter Tournament right around the corner, International Fellow, Jessica Walton reflects on what she’s thankful for this holiday season and describes what’s in store this next month before Christmas break.

“Where to begin…there are so many wonderful things to be thankful for this holiday season. Although I’m away from home the PPI-CY family is going to sit down next Monday for a belated “Friendsgiving.” It’s crazy to think it’s been about eight months since I arrived in Cyprus. I remember packing my bags in March with a million and one questions on my mind. Will the kids like me? Will I fit in? What will the people be like?

Luckily for me I have a wonderful set up here at PPI-CY! I am fortunate enough to work with some of the most kind and welcoming people around. On top of that, I’ve been coaching, playing and learning from some of the most AMAZING kids who’ve taught me so much about life and the game of basketball. Their never-ending supply of laughs and smiles has helped make my experiences at PPI-CY even more incredible than I could have ever anticipated.

Summer 2015 will certainly be going in the books as one of the best I have ever had. I really got to know our kids this summer while I coached and played at our PPI practices. I took part in my first summer camp, an exceptional experience where I met new faces and members of the PPI family. I made incredible new friends, visited three different countries, explored Cyprus and soaked up the sun at the most gorgeous Mediterranean beaches.

Keeping with the theme of things to be thankful for, this weekend PPI-CY heads to the mountains in Agros for our first leadership retreat! The excitement has been building up the past couple of weeks as this is our first big event of the season! And to top it all off, we have Sbahle with us, a special guest from PeacePlayers South Africa. Sbahle is also a representative of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation and will be facilitating our classroom sessions focusing on leadership and self-identity.

The fun doesn’t end with Friendsgiving either! Following our weekend retreat we have our Winter Tournament the second weekend in December and will be hosting our first Twinning of the year. Be sure to check out our Facebook page as we update you with new photos from our upcoming events.

jwalton2015The Holiday Season Approaches at PPI-CY
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The Holiday Season Approaches at PPI-CY

There is a lot to be thankful for at PPI-CY!

PPI-CY begins a busy holiday season following the Thanksgiving holiday. With a leadership retreat and Winter Tournament right around the corner, International Fellow, Jessica Walton reflects on what she’s thankful for this holiday season and describes what’s in store this next month before Christmas break.

“Where to begin…there are so many wonderful things to be thankful for this holiday season. Although I’m away from home the PPI-CY family is going to sit down next Monday for a belated “Friendsgiving.” It’s crazy to think it’s been about eight months since I arrived in Cyprus. I remember packing my bags in March with a million and one questions on my mind. Will the kids like me? Will I fit in? What will the people be like?

Luckily for me I have a wonderful set up here at PPI-CY! I am fortunate enough to work with some of the most kind and welcoming people around. On top of that, I’ve been coaching, playing and learning from some of the most AMAZING kids who’ve taught me so much about life and the game of basketball. Their never-ending supply of laughs and smiles has helped make my experiences at PPI-CY even more incredible than I could have ever anticipated.

Summer 2015 will certainly be going in the books as one of the best I have ever had. I really got to know our kids this summer while I coached and played at our PPI practices. I took part in my first summer camp, an exceptional experience where I met new faces and members of the PPI family. I made incredible new friends, visited three different countries, explored Cyprus and soaked up the sun at the most gorgeous Mediterranean beaches.

Keeping with the theme of things to be thankful for, this weekend PPI-CY heads to the mountains in Agros for our first leadership retreat! The excitement has been building up the past couple of weeks as this is our first big event of the season! And to top it all off, we have Sbahle with us, a special guest from PeacePlayers South Africa. Sbahle is also a representative of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation and will be facilitating our classroom sessions focusing on leadership and self-identity.

The fun doesn’t end with Friendsgiving either! Following our weekend retreat we have our Winter Tournament the second weekend in December and will be hosting our first Twinning of the year. Be sure to check out our Facebook page as we update you with new photos from our upcoming events.

jwalton2015The Holiday Season Approaches at PPI-CY
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New Beginnings with PPI-CY’s Sophia Georgiou

 

Sophia with her fellow campers at PPI-CY summer camp 2015

This week’s blog is written by PeacePlayers Alum, Sophia Georiou. Sophia recently enrolled in her first year of university in Nicosia. An active member of PPI-CY and the Leadership Development Program for the past few years, Sophia decided to reflect on her time with PeacePlayers and the beginning of her new journey at university.

Hi Guys! My name is Sophia and I’m from Larnaca, Cyprus. I’ve been a PeacePlayer for a few years and I’ve just begun my first year of university in Nicosia. A few months ago I moved out of my family home and into a new city with my brother who is also studying in university. I decided to focus my studies on radiotherapy and radio diagnostics. So far I’m really enjoying my lessons, particularly anatomy and radio physics.

Sophia, Helin and Toot at PPI-CY summer camp 2015

I was so surprised to find that while making this new transition from high school to university, I would find similarities in some of my sessions I had while I was with PeacePlayers. I participated in a classroom session at a Leadership Development retreat. We were learning about setting, achieving and maintaining goals in the long-term and short-term. I can easily relate to goal setting here in university as I work towards achieving and sustaining a strong GPA, set up study schedules, plan projects and study for midterms.

Sophia with Coach Steph

Luckily for me, my PeacePlayers family is still around to support me. My first day of classes I got lost and was having trouble finding the school. Thanks to my great relationship with one of my PPI coaches Steph (who happens to live close by), she picked me up and helped me find my way around. Some of my favorite memories come from my time spent at PPI. I had a blast at the last summer camp, meeting up with my old friends and making new ones with the participants from other PPI sites. I’ll never forget hanging out with my friends Mush and Toot and scaring our friends in between our basketball and classroom sessions! Thankfully we caught some of it on camera. It’s nice to know that as I start this new chapter filled with new memories, I can still hold on to these great ones. It’s great that I’m able to keep in touch with my PPI friends and even find time to meet up with some of them too.

jwalton2015New Beginnings with PPI-CY’s Sophia Georgiou
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An Ode to the Fellowship

This weeks blog was written by former PPI-CY Fellow, Ryan Hage. Ryan was an outstanding member of our family for over a year. After finishing his fellowship, Ryan accepted a position at his alma mater, Fordham University, where he currently works with their men’s basketball team. The following is his “ode” to the fellowship:

Ryan and PPI-CY participants preparing for tip-off at a Twinning event.

Looking back, it’s funny to me that when PeacePlayers offered me the fellowship, there was a moment of hesitation to accept. Little did I know that it would be one of the greatest things I would ever do.

Let’s put aside for a second that you get to live on a Mediterranean island or work with kids in the outskirts of Durban, South Africa. That you can get the best hummus in the world with some hummus experts in Jerusalem or explore a country that is famous for warm people in not so warm Northern Ireland.

Your job is to TEACH THE GAME OF BASKETBALL IN THE NAME OF PEACE. Does that even sound real? I look back at it now and think of it as almost too good to be true. I have to look at Facebook pictures and text old coaches to make sure it wasn’t just a dream. I know the role of an International Fellow is different from site to site, but the main responsibility is to share your knowledge of the game of basketball while making kids feel comfortable enough to build relationships in conflict areas. Sounds pretty amazing, right?

Ryan, Jale and Jessica at PPI-CY Summer Camp 2015

I received a once in a lifetime opportunity to do something I am extremely passionate about and share that with others, but I also got to do it while making a Cypriot family 7,000 miles away from home. The greatest part of my fellowship was going to help with practice in Iskele and then being invited for dinner every single week at Coach Sevki’s house; getting a coffee with Coach Koulendis to talk PeacePlayers strategy for hours after watching him work his magic at Faneromeni school; having a boss that is so supportive and helpful with anything issue or topic, from helping me with the annual budget to helping me cook a turkey for Thanksgiving. Jale Canlibalik is the greatest boss I will ever have.

Calling up PeacePlayers Coach Nicos Mashias to play pickup with International Fellow and great friend Jessica Walton on a random Tuesday night and then going out for a Mediterranean feast afterwards was a regular occurrence that I will miss forever. Asking PPI-CY Program Manager Stephanie Nicolas about political barriers to hosting an event and then calling her because I blew a tire again and need her help is a resource I will miss very much. But I know I have made a Cypriot family that I will have for life, and I couldn’t be more thankful for that.

While the details are different, I know the love, learning, and support to be the experience of each fellow at every site because I have had countless conversations with fellows from the other sites. After traveling to PeacePlayers-Middle East many times and seeing the impact a single fellow can have on a site and how much that site can have on a fellow, I knew it wasn’t only my experience. Now I have best friends like Heni Bizawi, Program Manager of PPI-ME, that I could ask for advice for our own programming and also someone who I count as a friend for life.

If you are thinking about applying to the fellowship but may not be sure how it will affect you with your career or if it will be everything you want it to be, then let me put your worries at ease. It will be the most transformational experience of your life. You are given the freedom to really make a difference and put your stamp on a program that is changing lives. Former fellows have gone on to work for the NBA, Nike, and attend Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service.

“I want YOU for the fellowship”

It has been very sad to see my time with PeacePlayers end, but I will be forever grateful for being able to do something I love with such amazing people. To use PPI-ME Fellow and friend Jamie Walsh’s words, “how lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

So if you are thinking about applying or know some who should, APPLY NOW!!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

jwalton2015An Ode to the Fellowship
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Meet Nicos! Our Newest PPI-CY Coach

Coach Nicos with Camp VIP, Sebnem Kimyacıoğlu

This weeks blog features an interview with Nicos Mashias. An active member of PPI-CY for the last four years, Nicos has volunteered at numerous events like Twinnings, LDP Retreats and Summer Camps and just recently became an official coach of our boys team in Aglantzia.

Q: What most excites you about coaching PeacePlayers this season?

A :I’ve been a part of the organization for almost 4 years now, but never had my own team throughout the year. I believe in the values PPI is promoting; bridging divides, developing leaders, changing perceptions, and I’m very excited to be able to pass those values and beliefs on to our young participants.

Q: Who are some of the people who’ve influenced you in basketball (coaches, players, etc.)?

A: I was very close to my father from a young age.  He exposed me to all kinds of sports, while also emphasizing the importance of performing well at school. I somehow fell in love with basketball!

The person who influenced me the most was my first coach, former Bulgarian national team player Sasha Venekov. He was my coach from the ages of 12 to 16 and then we became teammates on the men’s team. He taught me almost everything I know about basketball, including work ethic, taking responsibility for my actions on the court and the importance of playing team-style basketball to win games. From a young age, I began to admire basketball players that were leaders on and off the court; the ones whose actions speak louder than their words.

Coach Nicos and PPI-CY participants

Q: What does being a PPI-CY member mean to you?

A: Being an active member of PPI-CY means a lot to me. Since I joined 4 years ago as a volunteer, I’ve managed to build long lasting friendships with other coaches and PPI-Cyprus staff.  I have also been able to interact with many kids that share my passion for basketball and doing the right thing no matter what. I must admit, a lot of our young leaders are actually teaching me, through their actions, what true leadership is. They remind me the positive effects sports have on both a child’s development and their community’s development. They inspire me to continue contributing to this organization. If children can play together and overcome differences, then their parents and neighbors can eventually do the same. It’s all about human interaction.

Q: If you could be a part of any professional team (Coach or Player) which team would you join?

A:That’s a tough one. I really admire the NBA team – San Antonio Spurs. I know my friends in Phoenix, AZ will not like this, since they’re a rival of the Phoenix Suns. However, I strongly believe that any organization, not just in sports, should have the vision to be successful for many years, not just for the next 3-5 years. In order to accomplish that, all members of the team should be selected carefully, not just on individual talent, but on their ability to perform together as a team. The Spurs, under the leadership of Coach Greg Popovic, have been able to perform well every year for the past 20 years.

jwalton2015Meet Nicos! Our Newest PPI-CY Coach
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PPI-CY Plays for Peace with Cyprus Youth Council

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

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

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

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

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

jwalton2015PPI-CY Plays for Peace with Cyprus Youth Council
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