Summer Update-Camp is Almost Here!

Coach Tessa helping coach some of our younger participants

Coach Tessa helping coach some of our younger participants

PPI-CY Fellow, Ryan Hage, gives an update on what is happening on the island the week before the biggest event of the year starts-Summer Camp!

It has been a crazy couple of weeks preparing for our annual Summer Camp. The biggest event of the year, it takes a lot of planning to coordinate events for 64 Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot kids for a whole week.

We will be hosting some very special guests for the week. Both Pat Garrity, former power forward for the Orlando Magic, and Evan Unrau, assistant coach at the University of Southern California, will be doing some coaching! They were both extremely gifted players and are respected coaches in their communities.

With camp coming up, we just had our last week of coaching at the Nareg School. Every Monday and Wednesday, Stefanie Nicolas, Program Coordinator, and myself had been coaching two different groups of children in the morning. From ages 12 all the way down to 4 years old, we had a blast teaching them the game we love.

One of our biggest PPI-CY helpers, Orhun Mevlit, came along with Stefanie and myself to have a PeacePlayers session with the Cyprus Friendship Program. It is an amazing program that brings around 40 Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot young adults together to learn about the history of the conflict in Cyprus. While learning about the history, they discuss how peace can be achieved through forgiveness. It was an amazing day and we are thankful to be hosted by such a fun group.

Also, we have a special guest, Tessa Ramsay, helping out PeacePlayers-Cyprus for the summer. Tessa comes from New York City and is a 10th grade English teacher with extensive basketball experience. Formerly a high school standout, she has also helped with numerous youth basketball camps and youth league teams. She is a very positive addition to the PPI-CY family for the summer and we are glad to have her!

We will check in next week to share how the first half of our summer camp is going!


Coach Ryan with his most serious group of players

Coach Ryan with his most serious group of players

Coach Stefanie with the Cyprus Friendship program doing a drill on teamwork

Coach Stefanie with the Cyprus Friendship program doing a drill on teamwork

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A Reflection on African Basketball

During my first action back on an American court this week coaching American kids, I have a bit of a yearning to go back to Africa ball.

During my first action back on an American court this week coaching American kids, I have a bit of a yearning to go back to Africa ball.

Today’s blog is written by former PPI-SA Fellow, Kyler McClary

I left South Africa a little over a month ago now. I never wrote a proper “farewell” blog entry when I left like most every other fellow does when they leave their site and return home. I could have written about all the people I will miss, all the good times I had, the impact the program has had on me, or my overall take-aways from the experience. I could have also written about all my favorite memories from my two years in South Africa, but former fellow Kristin Degou wrote about all those when she left back in December and most of our time and experiences overlapped. I decided to let things simmer for a little while, get readjusted back at home, then reflect on my time in South Africa after I had been away from it for a bit.

Some action from camp this week. I can't believe how skilled these kids are, but coaching here just isn't the same.

Some action from camp this week. I can’t believe how skilled these kids are, but coaching here just isn’t the same.

This week is as good a week as any to reflect, as I’m back on the court coaching kids at a basketball camp in Oregon. The age group, 10-17, is very similar to the ages of the kids we worked with in South Africa, so naturally my mind has drifted back there about 1,000 times in the couple days that I’ve been here. I can’t help but to reminisce and compare. The kids here are good. They are well trained in fundamentals, with several years of organized play and proper coaching already under their belts, in addition to countless hours watching the sport on television and in person. They came decked out in all the latest basketball gear, brought cases of Gatorade and boxes of snacks to last them for the week, and even brought Xbox’s and Playstations to pass the time in their rooms at night while they should be, you know, sleeping. Yeah, this isn’t Africa. The basketball is way better here, the kids are better equipped, the structure is more organized, but this week so far has allowed me to realize all the things I miss most about basketball in Africa, PeacePlayers style. And here they are:

  1. Celebrations.

    Their school's team probably made a 1st quarter lay-up or something.

    Their school’s team probably made a 1st quarter lay-up or something.

    The kids here at camp have a variety of celebrations when the score, mostly subtle to not-so-subtle gestures and sequences that they pick up from the guys they see on TV. However, at some of our games in South Africa, a made lay-up in the 1st quarter could easily turn into half the school rushing the court, breaking out into dancing and chanting while we as the refs tried to clear everyone off the court so the game could resume. Nothing beats those celebrations.

  2. Low-scoring games.

    Yesterday, I dejectedly glanced at the scoreboard as my team was trailing 80-59 with 8 minutes to go in the game, and yearned for the 6-4 battles that used to take place among some of our primary school teams that were just learning the game. In Africa, no matter how bad your team was, you were almost always within a basket or two of tying things up or taking the lead. In addition, even a basket in the last minute to cut a 12-2 deficit to a 12-4 deficit could lead to one of the aforementioned school-wide celebrations. It kept things interesting, even when the games were not the easiest to watch.

  3. Monkeys on and around the court.

    These guys...

    These guys…

    Carrington and Summerfield were notorious for this. So far at this week’s camp, I have not seen any monkeys anywhere. This makes me a little sad inside. Squirrels just don’t cut it for me anymore.

  4. A different type of passion.

    There’s no doubt that these kids at camp love basketball, but they are also here because their parents signed them up, drove them down here, and dropped them off with enough money and supplies to last them three weeks, let alone 5 days. I loved going to sessions where the kids were there because they snuck out of the house without anyone knowing and walked a mile to the court because they wanted to play, knowing full well that grandma was going to be displeased by their absence upon their return home.

  5. Astronomical improvement.

    I’ve improved some kids’ jumpshots this week, adjusting their elbows slightly this way or that, given them a new move or two, and refined their good but slightly flawed defensive techniques. But nothing compares to taking a kid who doesn’t know a basketball from a soccer ball one week and seeing them dribbling down the court and swishing a jump shot a few weeks later, jumping around and grinning from ear to ear as they run back on defense.

    We were able to teach the kids so much in such a short amount of time, and our coaches were so passionate about their teams.

    We were able to teach the kids so much in such a short amount of time, and our coaches were so passionate about their teams.

  6. The local coaches.

    The coaches here at camp do a good job, but at the end of the day it’s just another day of coaching in a nearly year-round basketball schedule. For many of our local coaches in South Africa, this is their first time getting a chance to coach a team on their own, and a friendly game between primary schools on a Friday afternoon might as well be the NBA Playoffs. The kids really feed off their energy and passion at the games, and makes them feel like they are part of something bigger as well.

  7. 3-Pointers.

    Here in the States, 3-pointers are cool. They give you 3 more points than you had before you took the shot, and people applaud you for making them. The younger the kid, the more excited they get about making a 3-pointer. In South Africa, when one of our primary school players made a 3-pointer, they treated it like one of the defining moments of their lives. Picture a March Madness buzzer beater to lift a 15-seed to a shocking upset over a 2-seed and the ensuing elation. I could make a One Shining Moment montage just of South African kids hitting 3-pointers over the past two years and it would be the best thing you have ever watched. Talk about a viral video…

That’s all for now, I’ve got some American kids to go coach. I’m having a great time, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t wish I had a squad of kids from Wentworth or Umlazi to run with at this camp. I feel too far removed from them already.

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Journeying to the Heart of PeacePlayers

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Grant and the PPI team in Jerusalem during his recent visit

Today’s blog is written by PPI Development and Communications Intern, Grant Youngkin. Grant is going into his junior year at St Albans High School in Washington DC.  He plays soccer, hoops and hopes to be involved with basketball in some way when he grows up.

I started out my summer internship with PeacePlayers not knowing what to expect. All I knew was that I was going to work for an organization that taught basketball in order to bridge divides between young people around the world. I spent my first couple weeks trying to grasp what went on behind the scenes, trying to understand what it would be like to be in the field, watching as kids just like me used the game I love to break down barriers and build friendships

grant jeru pic

Taking in the breathtaking sights of the Old City

Then I got that chance. Three weeks ago my family and I traveled to Israel for vacation. One of my favorite places that we visited was the Old City of Jerusalem. This experience made chills run down my spine because of the great history that took place in this city. All of the stories that I read about people conquering Jerusalem and constantly fighting over it finally really resonated with me.

During our time in Jerusalem I was fortunate enough to spend an entire afternoon with PeacePlayers. We ate together and broke the fast of Ramadan with the kids and coaches. I even got to play basketball with them. Although we spoke different languages, I was surprised at how easy it was to communicate with them. I learned how to understand people who I could not talk to directly. After all, basketball allows you to communicate without speaking. Everyone was very nice and welcoming and I truly enjoyed meeting these great people that live a very different life from me.

Watching the news and hearing personal experiences during my time in the region, I understand the great hardships and the constant tension and fear that all these families have to endure every single day of their lives. The ability of PeacePlayers to take these kids and teach them the sport of basketball is amazing given the challenging circumstances that these participants sometimes face. Not to mention, these kids interact with people of the “other side,” some who have been told never to do so. But now some of these “enemies” have become best friends, and I was able to experience firsthand the process of building these long-lasting friendships. This trip was life altering because I learned how impactful and meaningful PeacePlayers’ work really is.

grant ramadan

Breaking the fast of Ramadan with the PPI team!

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An interview with PPI-ME Project Manager, Heni Bizawi!

Heni demonstrates a drill for the participants

Heni demonstrates a drill for the participants

Fellow Ryan Hage interviews PPI-ME Project Manager, Heni. Her and her colleague, Jamie Walsh, are visiting Cyprus to get some much needed R&R for the week.

How long have you been a part of PeacePlayers?

I started volunteering at the age of 15 in Jaffa with a mixed team with former Middle East fellow, David Lasday. The second year I was a coach, and the third year I coached even more teams in Jaffa.

Why did you get involved in PeacePlayers?

Coach Vito, Basketball Operations Manager for PPI-ME, was my coach at the time and asked me to help coach in Jaffa. I came at first for the basketball, but soon realized it was much bigger than that. After a while, I wanted to get more and more involved and started to go to twinnings in Jerusalem on a regular basis.

Why did you take a break in coaching for PeacePlayers?

Every Israeli citizen is required to be in the army for at least two years, if you are a female. It was a great experience that taught me to self-reflect a lot on what I do well and what I can improve upon. It taught me to care for others and look out for them. I have a lot of friends now that I made in my time with the army that I will have for life.

How did you get involved in PeacePlayers after the army and what is your role now?

I spoke with our Managing Director, Karen, because I wanted to get involved in the program as quickly as possible. I love the organization and its mission. I started coming to events and my role quickly grew from there. I am a Project Manager and am in charge of 22 teams and the events in which they take part. From twinnings and retreats to mini-fest and Peace League, I am very busy planning the programming year. Also, I coach one team in Jiser, where the kids do not speak Hebrew or English. At first it was a challenge, but you find ways to coach through hand motions and other things. Basketball is the language.

Do you feel like PeacePlayers is making a difference?

YES. So many examples like the LDP (Leadership Development Program), the teams we have in the north of Israel, and all of our kids that have been in the program for a while. You see the way they start to look at each other. They do not judge each other as Jewish or Arab, but as basketball players and then as friends. Over the years, we have seen real friendships form where kids are having sleepovers and dinners on a regular basis. PeacePlayers gives them the opportunity to meet and they take it from there. It is amazing. It’s small differences that happen at first, but those small differences turn into big differences. You can see attitudes change and they are not only becoming better basketball players, but better people.

Coach Heni and Coach Jack!

Coach Heni and Coach Jack!

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Anxiously awaiting to return to my family in the Middle East

Jamie with PPI - ME girls during happier times

Jamie with PPI-ME girls during a more peaceful time.

Today’s blog is written by PPI-ME fellow Jamie Walsh.

The past week and a half will stay with me for the rest of my life.

I certainly feel that way about my entire experience working for PeacePlayers in the Middle East, but I was not expecting to be here during a time of war. While tensions are always high in this region, now it seems like everyone is especially on edge, not sure what’s going to happen on a day-by-day basis. While many locals are unfortunately accustomed to the chaos, I went through an array of emotions, including distress, sadness, and eventually guilt.

Even though I was extremely prepared by coworkers of what to do in case the sirens go off, the first time it happened I was understandably shocked and frightened. Growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, this kind of situation is foreign to me in every possible way. However, I will say that what you see on the news is quite different from what it feels like to actually be here.

Once I got a little more used to the situation, the sadness eventually set in. I couldn’t help but constantly think of the kids in the program and how they were doing and feeling. No matter what side you are on or what your opinions are about the matter, there is no denying the fact that civilians on either side of the conflict should not have to live this way.

Last week, I wrote a blog pertaining to the fact that PPI-ME was still meeting and still a family despite the current conflict. I had tears in my eyes while on the phone with two of the girls, Toot (Israeli) and Aysha (Palestinian), interviewing them about their opinions and feelings regarding the situation. They both echoed similar thoughts: how could people do such horrible things, and how could people hate so much without even knowing anyone from the other side? Their maturity and depth at such a young age is truly one of the most remarkable things I have ever experienced. Whether it is because of the environment I was raised in or the differences in the types of challenges I faced, I don’t remember being nearly as aware or wise as a teenager. They truly inspire me and give me hope that one day more people will be able to see the world as they do.

Due to the contentious situation, the staff here felt it was best that I continue my work in Cyprus until things calm down a bit. While I completely understand their reasoning, I couldn’t help but feel a little like I was abandoning my family in the Middle East. I will never be able to put into words how much I love the people in this program and how much this place has truly become “a home away from home” for me. I continue to keep in touch with the staff and participants on a daily basis, and in many ways this situation has made the bonds between the PPI family stronger than ever. I am thinking of them every day and of all the other innocent people who are forced to live in this conflict while anxiously awaiting to return to my family in the Middle East.

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Children who play together CAN learn to live together!

At PPI-NI, participants have the opportunity to meet children from other communities that they wouldn't otherwise have; and friends can be made.

At PPI-NI, participants have the opportunity to interact with children from other communities that they otherwise would never meet.

This week, Coach James reflects on what was one of the most peaceful 12th of July celebrations Northern Ireland has seen for some time.

Usually during this time of the year, Belfast and other areas of Northern Ireland are hitting national and international news for all the wrong reasons, with images of factions from both sides of the historical political divide rioting, often with the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) in the middle trying to mediate and keep the peace .

Riots between between PSNI and factions in July and August 2013.

Riots between PSNI and various factions in July and August 2013.

This year, however, Northern Ireland experienced the quietest ‘Twelfth of July’ celebrations the country has seen in a long, long time. There was no fighting, no rioting, no petrol bombs, and no water cannons (a common sight on the news in previous years).

Politicians have been talking to communities, including many young people, in the build up to the ‘twelfth’ and reported that everyone was calm and collected, wanting to keep things as peaceful as possible. Communities in Northern Ireland finally didn’t take part in violence with the usual ‘us versus them’ frame of mind. Talks were held between politicians and community leaders, and everyone came out the other side in one piece!

This all begs me to ask – After rioting and violence have broken out during this time of year for so, so long, how did this calm come about?

PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland (PPI-NI) has been working with children in areas that are most affected by this division of opinion for over ten years now. Children who once began with PPI-NI as 7-year-old primary 4 pupils are now nineteen and twenty years old, ages that would have fallen in the demographic group with the highest percentage of arrests according to last year’s riots.

Children from different communities come together to play basketball with PeacePlayers International - Northern Ireland.

Children from different communities in Northern Ireland come together to play basketball.

Year after year, PPI-NI brings in more and more young children from different communities with the aim of ‘Bridging Divides / Developing Leaders / Changing Perceptions.’ Our ethos is that ‘Children who play together can learn to live together.’ This year, PPI-NI saw around 3,000 participants (ages 7-17) come together through our programs. With our proven conflict management curriculum from the Arbinger Institute, and by using basketball as a tool to instill the lessons taught through the curriculum, I think it’s safe to say that PPI-NI is certainly making a difference in a lot of children’s lives.

Of course, there is still a lot of work to be done in tackling the challenges that continue to exist, but it is heartwarming to know that PeacePlayers is playing a part in this process.

Is the calm experienced during this year’s 12th of July celebrations the first sign that those who have learned to play together are beginning to learn to live together? I honestly can’t wait to find out.

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Reflections On One Exhilarating World Cup

Brazil and Croatia gather  before the first game of The 2014 World Cup, in  a scene that's eerily similar to the the PPI Pledge performed before all PPI games in S. Africa

Brazil and Croatia gather before the first game of The 2014 World Cup, in a scene that’s eerily similar to the the PPI Pledge performed before all PPI games in S. Africa

In this week’s blog, PPI-SA fellow Bryan Franklin looks back at his 2014 World Cup experience.

As sports fans everywhere take a much needed break from one of the most exhilarating World Cups ever, I can’t help but reflect back on what the past few weeks have taught us about the incredible power sport carries in our culture. It’s the power not only to bring people together, but to teach life lessons in the process.

If I’m being honest, I’m not a huge soccer fan. My interest in the sport consists of watching the above mentioned event every four years, reading an article or two on ESPN about the US qualifying campaign and playing an occasional pick-up game with people much more skilled than I. Yet the World Cup has this mystique about it. Something that just draws you in, so much so that for every game the U.S. National team played (many of which were at 10PM or later here in South Africa), I found myself surrounded by other Americans cheering on our team.

With the late start time, one may have thought we would have been alone in watching many of these games, but that was far from the case. Each time I gathered with fellow fans, there were individuals from all over the world there with us. In the U.S. vs. Ghana game, I watched in a house just outside Durban filled with international students from 5 other countries. For U.S. vs Belgium, I found myself at a lodge in the Sossusvlei Desert of Namibia, which had one of two TV’s in a 50+ mile radius, and individuals from Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Namibia, South Africa and

Soccer festival in Windhoek, Namibia

Soccer festival in Windhoek, Namibia

of course America gathered to watch the game.  Later that week, my friend and I attended a soccer festival in Windhoek, Namibia, and while the diversity was not nearly as strong, we found ourselves playing a soccer game of our own with 4 Namibians during halftime of the Argentina vs. Belgium quarterfinal matchup.

The lessons this World Cup provided didn’t stop there however. Examining the play itself, which was one of the most competitive in recent history with 50% of the knockout stage matches going to extra time, I can’t help but appreciate how important the team concept was. In a World Cup where big names such as Messi, Robben, Neymar and Suarez ruled the headlines, the winning team was one with no easily identified best player.  Such a balanced attack allowed for the collective talent of the team to shine through. It was a story very similar to the one that played out in the NBA Finals just a few weeks back. That concept of being part of a team, of striving for something bigger than yourself is one that we teach everyday here to the youth of South Africa. It’s a concept that may be best taught through sports but applies to nearly every area of our lives long after we’re done playing. 

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Happy Birthday, Mr. Mandela

Nelson Mandela with World Cup trophy after South Africa won the bid to host the 2010 tournament.

Nelson Mandela posing with the World Cup trophy after South Africa won the bid to host the 2010 tournament.

Nelson Mandela’s birthday is this Friday. He would have been 96.

The world lost a great man this past December. Nelson Mandela was the first president of South Africa, admirably referred to as the father of the nation, and a Nobel Peace Prize recipient. Mandela was arrested in 1962 for leading a campaign against the apartheid government in South Africa and served twenty-seven years in prison. Upon his release, he worked to end apartheid, thereby cementing his name in the history books.

Up through the early 1990s, even sport was segregated in South Africa. Rugby and cricket were affiliated with the white population, and soccer was typically known as the black sport (basketball was not popular at the time, but its presence, as we know, continues to grow).

Mandela, an avid boxer in his younger days, plays around with Muhammad Ali.

Mandela, an avid boxer in his younger days, jokes around with Muhammad Ali.

When he was elected to office in 1994, rather than attend a celebration hosted by one of the many local embassies, Mandela attended a soccer match. Richard Lapchick, present at the time, asked him “Mr. President, with all the diplomatic parties being held in your honor, why did you come here to the soccer match?” to which Mandela responded “I wanted my people to know that I know that because of the sacrifices our athletes made for so long, I became their president earlier than I would have without those sacrifices.”

Mandela recognized the power of sport. His nation hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Many people were outraged as Mandela was trying to garner support for the Springbok team, a team composed almost entirely of white players. However, when Mandela first stepped onto the field in the green Springbok jersey – a longtime symbol of division in South Africa – and shook each player’s hand, the crowd erupted in cheers, chanting his name. Mandela was able to unite the country through the power of sport, something even diplomacy failed to do. He also played an integral role in securing South Africa’s bid to host the 2010 World Cup.

Mandela with Springbok captain Francois Pienaar after winning the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

Mandela with Springbok captain Francois Pienaar after the team won the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

We at PeacePlayers International recognize the power of sport to create peace and bring about social change. Sport can bridge divides and change perceptions, foster relationships and promote camaraderie. Despite what is going on in the areas around them, our players around the world continue to come together through the shared love of basketball. It’s a beautiful thing.

To quote Mandela, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.”

Thank you, Mr. Mandela, and Happy Birthday.

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A PeacePlayers Wedding In Cyprus!

The bride and groom take a pic with PPI-Cyprus!

The bride and groom take a pic with PPI-Cyprus!

Fellow Ryan Hage, along with many other PPI-CY members, had the pleasure of attending former PeacePlayer-Cyprus fellow, Adam Hirsch’s wedding near Kyrenia this past week!

July 4th, America’s independence day, was the reason for celebration for most of our family and friends back in the States last week. But PeacePlayers-Cyprus had an even more joyous occasion to celebrate the beautiful Friday evening at Korineum Resort near Kyrenia. Beloved former fellow Adam Hirsch married his longtime girlfriend, Fatosh Arabacioglu!

Loved ones from near and far came for the celebration of the two’s union, including some of Adam’s best friends and family from not-so-close California. This being my first wedding on the island, I had no idea what to expect or what a Cypriot wedding would be like.

It became apparent very quickly that it would be a blend of both cultures, with a beautiful ceremony outdoors held in both Turkish and English. Adam’s Turkish was very impressive even though I had no idea what anyone was saying, haha. The live band gave a mix of current hits and traditional Cypriot music, with a team of Cypriot dancers coming out midway through the reception. This was obviously my favorite part because it was very well choreographed and unlike anything I have ever seen before.

Many associated with PeacePlayers-Cyprus came out for the affair, with many board members and the PPI-CY staff, former and present, in attendance celebrating the moment. I am always reminded how great the people associated with the organization are, which is what makes all of the great work we do possible. We were very thankful to be invited to this event and wish Adam and Fatosh many years of happiness!


"I do"

“I do”

The beautiful reception area

The beautiful reception area



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Overcoming Adversity in the Middle East

Some of the girls chatting and eating dinner together before the basketball games

Some of the girls chatting and eating dinner together before the basketball games.

If you have turned on the news lately you can see that currently things in the Middle East are not so peaceful, to put it mildly. This is a hard time for everyone with tons of emotions flying around. However, members of the LDP (Leadership Development Program) still found a way to come together even though everything and everyone else going on around them is is telling them to fall apart. The mixed group of Israeli and Palestinian teens met for a special Iftar (Ramadan breakfast) meal at sundown and then played basketball games for an additional two hours. The kids laughed and talked per usual, having fun and playing together like they always do. I asked some of the kids how they felt to come together like this in such difficult times.

Bringing it in at the end of some competitive basketball games!

Bringing it in at the end of some competitive basketball games!

LDP participant Toot commented, “I think it is very important that we all met despite what is going on around us because it shows that we not only can come together when things are easy, but also when things are difficult. This just goes to show how effective PeacePlayers is and how much this program has changed the way we think. We are putting our frustrations towards a peaceful path instead of feeling revenge and anger as other kids our age do. I wish everyone would realize that the other side is also human and they are just people like us. I wish every single person living in this conflict would realize we are all just people and we shouldn’t judge others just by what we see in the media.”

LDP posing for a picture at the end of the event

LDP posing for a picture at the end of the event.

Another long time participant, Aysha Faqih, added, “What is going on in our countries affects our lives in a big way, but it does not affect how we feel about each other. No matter what happens, we love each other, and we have a bond that nothing can break. PeacePlayers has taught us that we don’t have to think and feel the way many others do, that we can look at the situation a different way and see everyone as people.” Many other LDP members echoed similar feelings in between games and chatting with each other about daily life. Everyone agreed that no matter how bad things may get here, and no matter how much harder this current situation becomes, we will all stick together and remember the important lessons PeacePlayers has taught us. We will remember that we can overcome any bridges or divides that are thrown our way because the friendships we have formed as a result of this program can never be broken.

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Filed under The Middle East