Celebrating and paying tribute to the first Peace Players…

Everyone had an awesome time at PPI-NI's Jingle Ball basketball tournament!

Everyone had an awesome time at PPI-NI’s Jingle Ball basketball tournament!

Today’s blog is by PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland Managing Director, Gareth Harper. Gareth talks about PPI – NI’s Jingle Ball basketball tournament in relation to the ongoing efforts of the other PeacePlayers sites to commemorate the Christmas Truce, a time during World War I when British, French, and German soldiers stopped fighting, exchanged gifts, and played sports.

On 6 December 2014, PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland hosted its annual Jingle Ball basketball tournament. This year, the event recognized the 100th anniversary of the World War I Christmas Truce that took place on the Western Front on Christmas Day, 1914. The event was of several that PeacePlayers globally has been involved with to celebrate the courage of those first Peace Players who stepped into “No Man’s Land”, during a time of conflict, to show a different way.

Both the Christmas Truce and Jingle Ball are about coming together.

Both the Christmas Truce and Jingle Ball are about coming together.

The spirit of Christmas 1914 was on full display December 6, when 140 modern day Peace Players aged 9-14 years old from north, south, east and west Belfast came together to take over the entire bottom floor of Stranmillis College’s sports hall. The participants had been polishing their basketball skills for 12 weeks in the Beflast Interface League on their respective sides of the city. While playing on these integrated teams, they were able to not only develop practical basketball skills, but also take part in community relations discussions which allowed them to understand and learn about the communities and backgrounds their new friends were from. Their leaders, be it their coaches, parent, teachers or community leaders have been encouraging them into their no-man’s land to build sustainable relationships.

On 9 December 2014, PeacePlayers volunteers supported a commemorative screening of the French film “Joyeux Noel” from 2005, which the events of that Christmas Day 1914. The film depicts events through the eyes of French, Scottish and German soldiers. In addition, later this month, our PeacePlayers colleagues in Cyprus will be working with the British High Commission to commemorate the Christmas Truce; they are planning to recreate  a football match within the Buffer Zone. An international team that will include United Nations soldiers, representatives from foreign missions and diplomats will compete against a bi-communal Cyprus team, which will include PeacePlayers International -Cyprus players. The event, weather permitting, is scheduled for the 22nd of December. The symbolism of these events poignantly and powerfully support us in reflecting upon the bravery and courage of those first Peace Players whose actions 100 years ago continue to inspire all that we strive for today – bringing together divided communities through sport.

So this Christmas let us keep in our thoughts and prayers the Peace Players on the Western Front 100 years ago and all those since, whom in many areas of conflict, have proved and continue to prove that through sport and other means, there is a different way and that friendship works.

Friendships are one of the main reasons why our kids play.

Friendship is one of the main reasons why our kids play.



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Dribbling ball, dribbling ball, “Dribblin’ All The Way”…

Teams competed to prove they were the side of the city to beat!

Teams competed to prove they were the side of the city to beat!

This week’s blog recaps PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland’s Jingle Ball basketball tournament. This year’s tournament was particularly special as participants remembered the Christmas Truce.

The Christmas spirit was on full display last Saturday, 6th December, when 140 young people took over the Stranmillis College’s sports hall for PPI-NI’s annual Jingle Ball basketball tournament! This year Jingle Ball had an added poignancy as the event recognised the 100th anniversary of the World War I Christmas Truce that took place on the Western Front on Christmas Day 1914. The tournament was one of several events sponsored by PeacePlayers globally to celebrate the courage of those first Peace Players who stepped into “No Man’s Land” during a time of conflict to show a different way. The truce was celebrated and commemorated in a positive way through our tournament.

The Jingle Ball participants had been polishing their basketball skills for 12 weeks during the Belfast Interface League programme in their respective sides of the city. While playing on these integrated teams they were able to not only develop practical basketball skills, but also take part in community relations discussions where they developed an understanding of the communities and backgrounds their new friends were from. After 12 weeks of growing into tight-knit, competitive teams the BIL programmes came together – girls vs boys and juniors vs seniors – to prove they were the side of the city to beat, to show off their skills and of course to catch up with friends from the other areas.

Michael Morrow (Study USA) and Trevor Ringland (PPI-NI Chairperson)

Michael Morrow (Study USA) and Trevor Ringland (PPI-NI Chairperson)

With everyone eyeing a coveted Jingle Ball award, the competition level was high. But so was the Christmas spirit with Coach Joanne working her Christmas glasses and Coach Joe pulling off a Santa hat. It’s debateable whether the participants had more fun than the staff team this year! DJ Topper provided fantastic tunes and the volunteers from Google, Study USA and Young Adult Volunteers were on hand to keep the energy levels high. PPI-US Director of Development Brian Lemek’s natural coaching talent also shone through as he refereed some intense games, and members of the PPI-NI Board of Directors stepped up to the almost impossible task of choosing the winners of the spirit and hustle awards!   Although there was no overall winner of the tournament, North, South, East and West were all represented in the awards ceremony, either as a team or with individual players receiving awards, which made it a winning day for everyone. Jingle Ball is always a huge success and the 2014 edition was the best one yet! Friends were re-united, new friendships formed and we can’t wait to do it all again next year because everyone had a ball – no pun intended!

Everyone had a ball at Jingle Ball - no pun intended!

Everyone had a ball at Jingle Ball – no pun intended!

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A Trip Down Memory Lane to Harborfields High School

PPI's Taylor Brown (pictured left) working as a Fellow in South Africa.

PPI’s Taylor Brown (pictured left) working as a Fellow in South Africa.

Today’s blog features PPI Director of Finances, Human Resources & Administration Taylor Brown. Taylor is a graduate of Harborfields High School in Greenlawn, New York. He recently had the special opportunity to work with some of their students on a class project.

Last week, three 10th grade girls (Ava, Mikayla and Caroline) from Ms. Da Silva’s Advance Placement World History class from Harborfields High School in Greenlawn, New York, reached out randomly to PeacePlayers for a class project.  Their assignment from Ms. Da Silva was to research and interview an international non profit organization and present their findings to the class.

As coincidence and luck would have it, PPI’s Taylor Brown just happened to graduate from Harborfields in 2002, played on the men’s Varsity basketball team and would be in town for his sister’s wedding that coming weekend. So, on Friday December 12th, Taylor stopped by his high school alma mater. He met the girls working on the class project, Ms. Da Silva and spoke about his experiences with PeacePlayers, his time at Harborfields and how he ended up being fortunate enough to join such an incredible organization.

Taylor also got the chance to meet with the current New York state winning Harborfields High School Men’s Varsity Basketball coach, Chris Agostino, and is planning to join the team for some of their practices over Christmas break.

Ms. Da Silva’s class votes next week to determine which of the organizations they’d like to support.  Let’s hope they choose PPI!

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PPI-ME Coaches Travel to Cyprus for Leadership Development

Lunch with U.S. Ambassador Koenig

Lunch with U.S. Ambassador Koenig

International Fellow Ryan Hage recounts the Leadership Development Retreat that doubled as an exchange between PeacePlayers-Cyprus and PeacePlayers-Middle East.

PPI-CY LDP working on basketball skills

PPI-CY LDP working on basketball skills

PeacePlayers International operates four year-round international sites – South Africa, Middle East, Cyprus, and Northern Ireland. As a Fellow, I read about each site and see pictures of events they have on Facebook, but because we spread out across 3 continents, it is very challenging for sites to meet in person. Luckily, two weeks ago I and the rest of PeacePlayers-Cyprus had the please of hosting three tremendous young leaders from PPI-ME during our fall leadership retreat. We had Heni, Program Coordinator for PPI-ME, as well as Aysha and Duha, former participants who are now coaches at PPI-ME.

The weekend was focused on turning our current Leadership Development Program participants into coaches one day. The exchange was extremely beneficial to both programs and is something we will try do more often.

The girls came a couple days early to explore the new setting and learn about the current conflict. They experienced traditional Cypriot Meze food and were able to travel to both sides of the island, learning about the history of the conflict. Visitng the United Nations buffer zone, an area that divides the island, and St. Hilarion Castle, were really interesting to the girls. The girls also had the opportunity to meet and have lunch with the US Ambassador to Cyprus, John Koenig. The girls shared with the Ambassador their experiences in Israel and their recent trip the United States. Ambassador Koenig really enjoyed the lunch and was happy to have the opportunity to learn more about PeacePlayers outside of Cyprus

Aysha and Duha(Top) and Heni(Bottom) tell their stories to the Cyprus LDP

Aysha and Duha(Top) and Heni(Bottom) tell their stories to the Cyprus LDP

Before the retreat, Heni devised a plan with Stephanie, our own Program Coordinator, on what the retreat would be about and what we wanted the kids to get out of it. She was integral for planning the weekend and we loved having a new perspective from someone with new ideas. We both learned a lot!

On Saturday night, Heni spoke about her experience with PeacePlayers, going to the army, which is mandatory in both Israel and Cyprus, and then coming back to PeacePlayers afterwards. This was extremely important because a lot of our kids go to the army and we want them to stay involved afterwards and become coaches/employees of PeacePlayers-Cyprus one day. Heni told me afterwards, “It was a great weekend because we really saw a change in the kids in only three days. They made huge strides in taking the lead and understood a little bit better on what it is like to be a coach. Also, it was amazing to have the kids see how we are all a big PeacePlayers family no matter which site we are from.”

Duha (left) and Ryan (center) PPI-CY International Fellow working together

PPI-ME and PPI-CY working together!

Aysha and Duha were also a gigantic hit at the retreat. They spoke after Heni about the conflict through their eyes and why they became PeacePlayers coaches after they graduated from the LDP program. It was really important for them to be there and mix with the LDP participants from Cyprus and show how similar all the PeacePlayers are from both sites. Our kids listened so much more when they spoke because they are the same age and are peers. They were also great at giving feedback to the Leaders after they coached their mini coaching sessions. “I liked how they became better at coaching as the practice was progressing and they got to learn from each other on what they need to do to become better coaches. I love the whole mission of the weekend and getting to know everyone. They are the best!”

We are so thankful the three tremendous and inspiring girls from PPI-ME could join us and hope that it is an exchange that continues for years to come not only between our two sites, but also with all the sites!

All PeacePlayers are family!

All PeacePlayers are family!

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Filed under Cyprus, The Middle East

Malak and Romy – A New Movie from PeacePlayers

In the past year PeacePlayers International helped more than 4,000 girls and boys from Northern Ireland, South Africa, Cyprus and Israel use the sport they love to make peace in their communities. We are proud to share this new 5 minute movie featuring Malak and Romy, two young women who are working together to build bridges between Jewish and Arab youth through the game of basketball.

Please help spread Malak and Romy’s message of peace by sharing their movie on Twitter and Facebook using @peaceplayers and enter a raffle to win a FREE PeacePlayers Basketball!

Thank you for your support!

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The Christmas Truce: 100 Years of Sport and Peace

British and German soldiers play football together in No Man's Land during the Christmas Truce

British and German soldiers play football together in No Man’s Land during the Christmas Truce

One-hundred years ago, on the Western Front during World War I, soldiers emerged from their trenches in what can only be termed a Christmas miracle.  German and British soldiers, hardened by five months of fighting, entered No Man’s Land not in the spirit of war, but for a moment of peace, cooperation, and… sports!

Yes, as German and British soldiers across the Western Front organized an unofficial truce in order to wish each other a Merry Christmas. They traded food, clothes, whatever they had on them, and took time to talk to the other side. Then, they began playing. The most famous of these games is believed to be a football game between the Lancashire Fusiliers, a British infantry regiment, and their German counterparts, on the northern French coast. While the soldiers did not have a football to kick around, they did have an empty rationed beef tin.

The integrated team comprised of Protestant and Catholic students from Wheatfield Primary School and Holy Cross Primary School are Super Sports Day champions for 2014!

PPI’s integrated team comprised of Protestant and Catholic students from Wheatfield Primary School and Holy Cross Primary School

And so the they took to the pitch. Young men from opposing trenches, who the day before were shooting at each other, put down their weapons to enjoy playing a game they all loved. The final score: a 3-2 victory for the Lancashire Fusiliers. However, on this day, all the soldiers were victors as they had the chance to get away from the horrors of war and enjoy good times and good cheer with one another.

The ability of sports to take people away from conflict, create oases of peace, and transcend divides, whether they be trenches, borders, or nationalities, is truly amazing. At PeacePlayers, we work everyday to provide these opportunities to all our program participants. That is why throughout this month, each PeacePlayers International program will link up to the global commemoration of the Christmas Truce by showing how it is an example of the power of sport to transform lives. In addition, we will be posting across social media using #ChristmasTruce, and we encourage everyone to do the same in solidarity with efforts to raise awareness of this special day.

Already, other organizations have made efforts to showcase the Christmas Truce. This past week, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon joined British and German ambassadors on the lawn of the UN headquarters in New York City for a penalty shoot in honor of the Christmas Truce. How will you you honor the Christmas Truce? Show us.



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A Very Cypriot Thanksgiving!


The whole PeacePlayers International – Cyprus crew enjoying Thanksgiving dinner!

Today’s blog is brought to by International Fellow Ryan Hage and his experience with his first Thanksgiving in Cyprus.

Thanksgiving in America is traditionally a time of eating way too much food and watching football all day long while you fall in and out of sleep on the couch. It has been this way since the very first Thanksgiving and will continue for the rest of time. It is also a time of thanks for what we have and the love that we are surrounded with.

Being so far away from home, I did not think I would be able celebrate this great occasion this year. I did not think the island of Cyprus even knew what a turkey was much less have one to purchase. After pretty much giving up before even trying, former Cypriot Fellow extraordinaire, Gunnar Hagstrom, emailed the whole PeacePlayers-Cyprus team to remind everyone that it is tradition that the Fellow cooks the Thanksgiving meal for the rest of the team. The challenge BEGAN.

Fellow Ryan Hage and Fiona the turkey!

Fellow Ryan Hage and Fiona the turkey!

I went to the largest grocery store on the whole island and actually found a turkey! There were only three in the whole store (maybe the only three on the island??). I may have called my mother thirty times over Skype, but the turkey actually tasted good! My coworkers and friends were nice enough to cook the sides so all I had to do was focus on the big turkey. Many familiar Thanksgiving sides like mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie were brought but also things like “Cypriot Stuffing” was brought that was a different and delicious form of stuffing I have never had before. Overall, the day was a gigantic success. I got to spend it eating with my closest friends on the island, most of whom were PeacePlayers workers and coaches.

I have so much to be thankful for these days. I have been here for almost a year and have made life long friends that I call my “PeacePlayers” family. I have a job that lets me share a game I love while also promoting peace at the same time. When I tell people about what I do, they always say that it’s a dream job. And it is. I will never be able to thank everyone enough on the island who have made me feel like a part of their family and invited me into their homes for food and great conversation. PeacePlayers is a special organization with exceptional human beings. I am thankful to be a part of it and will always be thankful that I was lucky enough to experience this in my life.

PeacePlayers coaches and Ryan coaching very hard.

PeacePlayers coaches and Ryan coaching very hard.


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Filed under Cyprus, Global

With Twinnings, Seeing Is Believing

Our coaches and players creating team cheers for Twinning practice.

In today’s blog post, PeacePlayers International – Middle East Fellow, Heba El-Hendi, writes about the beginning of Twinnings season. Twinnings help bridge the divides between the different communities involved in PeacePlayers.

Our Twinning season has finally started! The Twinning program functions as PeacePlayers International-Middle East’s core as it aims to bring communities, Jewish and Arab, together to change perceptions and bridge divides. Each community we work with is paired, or twinned, with a community from the other side of the conflict to practice with twice a month. Usually the paired communities live in close proximity to one another but because of the situation, rarely do they interact on a positive, regular basis. By making the practice a fun and meaningful interaction through drills, relays, and scrimmages, youth are able to associate positive attributes to the ‘other side’. Yet, these changed perceptions take time.

High fives all around during a Twinning drill.

Twinned partners, specifically newly twinned teams, often face some challenges at the beginning. It’s difficult to navigate the different cultures, new faces, and different languages. Many come nervous or scared to the first Twinning because of these challenges. Our International Fellow, Courtney Boylan shares what she noticed at the Twinnings: “At the beginning the players were hesitant to interact with each other and as coaches we needed to aid those interactions through certain drills.” In these ice breaker drills players dribble balls to the center and interact briefly with each other through high fives and other minor gestures. “By the end of the Twinning, interactions were happening naturally,” says Courtney. By splitting of into small integrated teams and adding a little spirit of competition through relay races, the players find that they take on a collective team identity and cheer each other on to complete the basketball task. “During the relay races, it didn’t matter if one was an Arab or a Jew. They were all focusing on having fun and being a good teammate,” reflects Courtney.

Players mixing it up and playing with someone from the other side.

Through the youth, parents and the community are also introduced to the Twinning phenomenon. Because of this, PeacePlayers not only impacts the youth, but the community at large. PeacePlayers encourages parents to attend and watch the Twinning so they too can see and become comfortable with the concept. Recently, we held our first Twinning of the season with Tamra and Nahriya teams and the parents responded very well to the Twinning after they saw their kids enjoying themselves in a safe and warm environment. With these special basketball practices, Arabs and Jews break yet another barrier. Generally, the Twinnings are held in the communities both teams come from. Meaning Jews are going to Arab communities and vice versa. This allows both to share where they play and introduce new areas to the youth.

We are……PeacePlayers. Another successful Nahariya/Tamra Twinning.

In the past Twinnings have been a great success, and we hope this year will be no different. Aysha, a Palestinian member of the Leadership Development Program and a PeacePlayers coach, shares some of her hopes for this year’s Twinning season. “I hope that the kids grow the idea that peace is possible by taking the PeacePlayers route. I hope through twinnings the kids will open up to the idea that Jews and Arabs can live together without having the problems we face today. It’s important for the youth from both sides to have fun in the Twinning and to have a chance to get to know someone from the other side. Not just know them by name, but also know their culture and traditions. Through this, I hope they see the similarities they both share.” Seeing is believing with the Twinnings. Jews and Arabs are interacting face to face and this way they are altering age-old stereotypes, and breaking the cycle of fear all through basketball.


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Chantelle Hutchinson’s PPI-NI Journey from Age 7 to Work Experience!

Chantelle at 12 years in 2010

Chantelle at 12 years in 2010

In this week’s blog post, Chantelle Hutchinson, 16, from East Belfast, Northern Ireland, looks back on her journey as part of PeacePlayers.

Hi, my name is Chantelle. I am 16 years old from East Belfast in Northern Ireland. For many years I have been involved with PeacePlayers. I started as a young girl of only 7 years old learning how to play basketball. I am now a 16 year old with a passion for basketball that plays for Phoenix Basketball club and the Northern Ireland Academy.

Back in the day when I first started PeacePlayers, I was involved in the Community Centre League (CCL). Every Wednesday night we met with the other side of the city to play basketball, have community relations chats and activities, and bring peace to the four areas of Belfast divided by conflict between Protestants and Catholics. I am now involved with the Senior Champions4Peace (C4P) programme. Senior C4P aims to bring together young people aged 15-20 from all over Belfast to help promote peace and to become young leaders that are “Baggage free and Out of the Box”. I have also volunteered during the summer to coach at the Belfast Interface Games (BIG) and at Game of Three Halves events.

16 years old Chantelle, designing the PPI-NI progression Wedge! She is the best person to work on this has been her path!

16 years old Chantelle, designing the PPI-NI progression Wedge!

This week I have been doing my work experience at PPI-NI from 9am-5pm. I thought this would be a great experience to learn new things about PeacePlayers and also to coach young kids basketball instead of sitting in an office all day.

On Monday morning and throughout the week I have been attending many Twinnings between primary schools. At many of these Twinnings I have been coaching my own team and also doing community relations activities with the kids which is very similar to when I was there age. I also attended the Belfast Interface League- which is very similar to what I attended when I was a young girl- only it is more developed.

I first had to get on the very lively bus with kids jumping everywhere to take the East BIL to the West BIL. This was great fun and I met some really interesting and fun kids who just wanted to play basketball – just like myself when I was their age. I have also helped out around the office and learned what really goes on behind the projects and events to help make them possible. This was such a jaw dropping experience just to see all the planning that really goes on just to make one event happen.

Overall this week has been amazing and one that I won’t forget. I have gained many new skills and have helped me to improve on my coaching and working with kids and also it has made me realise all the goals that I want to achieve in life and in the future.

Chantelle in a cross- community tournament

Chantelle in a cross-community tournament

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Filed under Global, Northern Ireland

Champions for Peace Retreat a Huge Hit


In this week’s blog, PPI Staffer, Ntobeko Ngcamu, reflects on PPI-SA’s recent Champions for Peace Retreat to Spirit of Adventure. 25 high school students across 5 communities who had shown leadership potential on and off the court were selected to take part in the re-launching of PPI-SA’s Champions for Peace Programme at this 2 day retreat.

After a huge bang of a City Wide Tournament, PPI-SA has done it again taking a select number of our Leadership Development Program (LDP) participants to a Champion for Peace Retreat (C4P).

For PPI, This was a way of showing appreciation to our top players. The goal of the Camp was to enhance our participants’ leadership and teamwork skills as well as help them face some of their fears.

The weekend was a blast, filled with fun, laughter, tears—of joy and fear—and bonding sessions between players and coaches alike.

Ntobeko leads the kids (and one zebra) in an ice breaker on day 2

Ntobeko leads the kids (and one zebra) in an ice breaker on day 2.

From the first activity we saw participants crying because of fear, laughing, helping each other, gaining self-confidence, making friends, breaking their comfort zone and showing their talents. It was so amazing. As we went from activity to activity, participants consistently would refuse to do them out of fear or nervousness, but many times, with the support of their teammates, ended up doing them. The weekend was filled with highlights, but two stood out to me.

In one activity called the Snake Pit, participants crawl through a tight space where you can’t see so far as the person in front of you. The only way to move forward is to feel your way through. I remember one participant from Molweni named Thandekil refused to participate and went to hide in the toilets. However, 2 boys from her group (Thetha from Lamontville and Silas from the City) went and comforted her and then motivated and her to do it. I remember she was crying going in the snake pit with these 2 leaders with her. Coming out she was still crying, but this time with a smile on her face. Her response to why she was crying and laughing at the same time, “I can’t believe I did that. If it wasn’t for my teammates there’s no way I could have made it through”.


Participants prepare for their raft build and race activity!

My second highlight goes to Team A. Upon arriving we were split up into three teams (A-C). I remember in the first activity (a scavenger hunt around the game reserve), half their group got lost in the bush, and they placed last. In the second activity (where each team built a raft to race), their raft sank in the middle of the dam.  They had to swim back to the shore and re-build their raft while the other groups sat there and laughed at them. But they did not lose hope, did not stop trying, did not blame each other and continued to work as a team. They later went on to finish first in a majority of the remaining activities. Big high five to team A.

To close, I would say this camp has been a great platform to integrate and unite these participants. I remember when we were all on the bus heading to Spirit of Adventure. Participants were almost entirely sitting with their own teammates.  The ride back home was completely different. Participants were talking with new friends, singing together, and exchanging numbers. It was another example of how PPI-SA is able to consistently and effectively bridge divides and change perceptions. When we say we are family we truly mean it.

PPI-SA would like to thank the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation for their support of the Leadership Development Programme and Champions for Peace Team, for whom without this retreat would not have been possible.

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