PeacePlayers Holds First Interregional Peace Camp in Cyprus

Over 100 young people came together for basketball and peace at the 2015 PPI - CY Summer Camp in Agros, Cyprus

Over 100 young people came together for basketball and peace at the 2015 PPI – CY Summer Camp in Agros, Cyprus

From July 21 – July 26, PeacePlayers International – Cyprus hosted their annual Summer Camp, bringing together young leaders from other PeacePlayers projects around the world, including Northern Ireland, the Middle East and South Africa, to showcase how sport can be used in promoting peace. Former New Orleans Jazz star, Aaron James, former member of the Turkish Women’s National Basketball Team, Şebnem Kimyacıoğlu, adidas General Manager of South East Europe, Lawrence Norman, Head of Programmes at the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, Derek Bardowell, and Founder of Reach Sports, Mthokozisi Madonda, also joined to help empower young people to become leaders, teaching valuable life lessons through the use of sport.

Former New Orleans Jazz star Aaron James promoting friendship at the 2015 PPI-CY Summer Camp

Former New Orleans Jazz star Aaron James promoting friendship at the 2015 PPI-CY Summer Camp

Aaron James, a member of the National Basketball Retired Players Association, said: “It’s a wonderful initiative and I am delighted to do what I can to help. Basketball is a great sport for bringing kids together in a team setting. I was very impressed meeting some of the young leaders and I know they are going to become real role models in their communities.”

Şebnem Kimyacıoğlu added: “Witnessing the power of this program, which brings together youth from communities that under normal circumstances do not interact has been incredible. One of the goals of PeacePlayers is for the participants to apply their acquired leadership and peace-building skills to their communities. With the progress I have seen at this camp alone, I am excited and hopeful for the future.”

PeacePlayers International (PPI) was founded in 2001 on the premise that “children who play together can learn to live together.” Through a groundbreaking peacebuilding-and-leadership development curriculum, PeacePlayers International uses basketball to bring children together and teach them proven tactics for improving their communities, impacting youth in 15 countries across the globe.

Founded in 2006, PPI – Cyprus brings together 8-18 year old Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot boys and girls to play together, learn together and build positive relationships that overcome generations of mistrust and formidable physical barriers to interaction. PPI-CY is currently the only year-round bi-communal youth sports organization on the island.

The camp was funded through the European Union’s Cypriot Civil Society in Action IV financial assistance package within the framework of the ‘Promoting Peace and Wellness in Cyprus’ project with co-funding and support from the United States Embassy in Cyprus, the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, adidas and Jotun.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cyprus, Global

PPI Partners with Thunderclap!

We’ve partnered with Thunderclap to help spread the word about our Summer Camp and the work we do all year round! If 100 people support our Thunderclap by tomorrow (Monday, July 27), we can make waves by showing the Internet the powerful effects sport can have! All you have to do is pledge your support below!

Join us — we’re so close to meeting our goal!

Leave a comment

Filed under Global

Coaching for Peace

Rebecca and her All-Stars team are all smiles ahead of a big game

Rebecca and her All-Stars team are all smiles ahead of a big game

Today’s blog post was written by Rebecca Ross, a professional American-born basketball player who as a child moved with her family to Israel. For the past year, she has coached a PeacePlayers All-Star team, which competed in the Israel Basketball Association’s elite league.

In the summer of 1997, when I was 8, my family moved from Miami to Givat Ze’ev, a large West Bank settlement northwest of Jerusalem. Part of my acculturation process involved learning to hate Arabs and to hate Arabic. This past year, as coach of Jerusalem’s all-star 9th-10th grade girl’s basketball team (a team in the Peace Players project), I have learned to love Arabs and to love Arabic.

My six secondary school years in Jerusalem largely coincided with the Second Intifada. That is, the period in my life when I spent the most time on buses (as many as 6 a day because of my own basketball practice) and was also the period when many of those buses were attacked. I woke up every day fearing that a suicide bomber would decide to explode himself on my bus on my way to school. I used to see every Arab on the street as a terrorist; I was suspicious of all Arabs — men, women, and even children. When the mother of one of my high school classmates was killed in a suicide bomb attack, I was traumatized. I grew up convinced that Arabs were our enemy and that they were malicious, horrible people who just wanted to kill all the Jews.

Late last August, I moved back to Jerusalem to play on the city’s professional women’s team.  My basketball career has always included coaching as well as playing, and so I accepted a position to coach the 9th-10th grade girl’s team that is part of the same club as my professional team. I had heard that the girls team had Arabs on it, but that fact didn’t really register with me until my first practices with the team when I heard the Arab girls speaking Arabic with each other. I was filled with a visceral revulsion. The sound of Arabic just drove me crazy and brought me back to the trauma of my youth. But from practice to practice and without even noticing it, I found myself thinking a lot about my Arab players. Because they are simply great girls. Girls who just want to play ball and have a fair shot at success in life, and yet who were born in a very complicated place that doesn’t see them as human beings and that doesn’t give them a real chance to succeed.

The integrity of our team was tested on November 18, when early in the morning four people were killed in a terror attack at a synagogue about an 8-minute drive from the gym where we practice. As a religious Jew, I was shocked and hurt when I first heard about the attack, but when I showed up to practice later that day, everything was normal. By then, everyone knew all of the details of what had happened, but I didn’t mention the attack — I decided to leave all of the politics off the court. The girls practiced normally; they smiled and enjoyed as usual. After that practice I understood that even though we live in “war,” we can still make a difference through the small things.

Peace is a very big word, but I believe that until we have Peace, we need to learn how to live together and get along. When I see my young Arab players get along so well with my Jewish players, it gives me hope and fills my heart with happiness. Almost every kid loves sports, and sports are an amazing way to bring all the different peoples, cultures, and religions together.

If someone had asked me a decade ago on my bus to school if I could ever imagine myself studying Arabic, I would have looked upon that person as if they were insane. And yet, that is what I am now doing. The author of my Arabic textbook (an 89-year-old French monk named Yohanan Elihai who has lived in Israel since 1956), writes that “language is the key to the heart.” My heart was opened by my Arab players and so it feels natural for me to want to learn how to communicate with them in Arabic. I guess when you come from love, and basketball is my love, anything is possible.

Play ball.  Ela’ab eltaba.

Leave a comment

Filed under The Middle East

PPI Summer Camp Begins!

Today, PeacePlayers International participants from each of our sites are coming together for PPI’s annual Summer Camp in Agros, Cyprus! For the next six days, these campers will enjoy intensive basketball and classroom training, while getting to know what it’s like to be a PeacePlayer in another part of the world. On the court, they’ll be perfecting their skills with the help of former New Orleans Jazz star Aaron James and Turkish basketball star Şebnem Kimyacıoğlu. Off the court, they’ll learn from experts in leadership development, conflict resolution, and nutrition.

Thank you to adidas, the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, the European Union, the United States Embassy in Cyprus, Jotun, and the National Basketball Retired Players Association for helping make this camp possible!

PPI Summer Camp Begins!

Participants are ready to go!

Check back to get updates about what’s happening at the camp and make sure to like us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to follow the fun!

Leave a comment

Filed under Cyprus

Danielle Green At The ESPYS: An Inspiration For Us All

Two nights ago, Danielle Green, a combat veteran, won the Pat Tillman Award for Service at the 2015 ESPYS. Her story has inspired all of us here at PeacePlayers and we wanted to share her story and her acceptance speech with you. If you haven’t seen it, it is well worth a few minutes of your time.

Danielle said it best: “We can all find a purpose on this earth larger than ourselves.”

Thank you to Danielle and all the other people in this world fighting for something larger than themselves.


Leave a comment

Filed under Global

Net Gains: Former Basketball Standout Combines Service With His Love Of The Game In South Africa

PeacePlayer International — South Africa Fellow Bryan Franklin, a graduate of Stevens Insititute of Technology, was featured in their alumni magazine the Stevens Indicator!

This article has been reprinted below with permission. You can find the original here.


Bryan Franklin ’12 admits that as the child of an African-American father and Caucasian mother, he knew he was di­fferent from his classmates growing up in Colorado in the 1990s. “I just didn’t look like everyone else,’’ he says. “For a long time I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin.’’

PPI-SA Fellow Bryan Franklin

PPI-SA Fellow Bryan Franklin

Always interested in race relations and multiculturalism, Franklin was appalled when he learned about apartheid, a system of racial segregation in South Africa from 1948 to 1994. He also realized that, as a child in America, he was lucky to have positive role models.

And Franklin is committed to being a positive role model. In a big way.

Today, Franklin is a Fellow with PeacePlayers International (PPI), a sport for development non-profit that uses the game of basketball to educate, unite and inspire young people in culturally and politically divided communities to become leaders. Founded in 2001, PPI has reached more than 65,000 participants and trained more than 1,100 youth leaders. PPI has locations in Northern Ireland, Israel and the West Bank, Cyprus and South Africa. Stationed in Durban, South Africa, Franklin began his two-year commitment in April 2014, living in the KwaZulu-Natal province.

Franklin, a stand-out on the Stevens men’s basketball team for four years (and captain during his senior year), was attracted to the combination of service and basketball that PPI o­ffers and, since he serves as a basketball coach and teacher, he feels the program is tailor-made for his talents.

“The nice thing about being a fellow with PPI is that I get to have a hand in lots of different pieces of the organization. I assist in the fundraising and marketing of the organization, oversee the operations in one of our communities, and am also co-leader of our Leadership Development Programme, which includes everything from setting program goals to overseeing coaches to writing and updating our life skills curriculum and organizing events,’’ he says.

KwaZulu-Natal is an area burdened by the impact of AIDS and HIV, unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse, poverty and strong cultural divides. PPI works with youth between 6th and 12th grades, and then employs former participants as coaches. Franklin works face-to-face with the children, both boys and girls.

Bryan with PPI-SA participants

Bryan with PPI-SA participants

He acknowledges that some days it’s hard to see so much pain. “I realize that I can’t change everything, but if only one life is changed for the better during my time down here, then to me it’s worth it. That’s my goal, one person at a time,’’ he says. His commitment to service was heightened during his college days, calling Stevens “the place where I grew up.’’

“It was during my time at Stevens that I discovered my passion for giving back to the community. I joined Alpha Phi Omega (a service fraternity on campus) and then continued as I got involved with Hoboken Grace Community Church. What better feeling than helping bringing a smile to someone’s face?’’ he says, adding that the service work continued when he worked as an AmeriCorps VISTA member at Rising Tide Capital, a non-profit in Jersey City, New Jersey, that helps people in low-income communities start and grow their own businesses. “With my passion specifically for basketball and for travel, PeacePlayers is a dream job,’’ he says.

He firmly believes that all college students should get out and see the world.

“Travel has a way of providing incredible perspective that can’t be gained in a classroom and for me, it changed my life.’’

Franklin is still undecided about what’s next for him when his journey with PPI ends in 2016. He’s considering graduate school and has dreams of starting his own non-profit or ministry one day. ❖ — Lisa Torbic

Leave a comment

Filed under Global

A look in the vault: PeacePlayers at the ESPYs

Tonight are the 23rd annual ESPY Awards. The ESPYs are an awards show presented by ESPN which celebrates athletic achievements in individuals and teams, as well as other sports-related performance. Back in 2007, PPI was awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award (an award that’s been given to Nelson Mandela, Jim Valvano, Muhammad Ali and other sports legends) for our work in Northern Ireland. You can watch the clip from the show below:

The ESPYs will air tonight at 8 p.m. (EDT) on ABC.

Leave a comment

Filed under Global

Can sports save the world?

Here at PeacePlayers, our belief that “children who play together can learn to live together” is something that we integrate into everything we do. Sport for peace and development is still a relatively new field, and so finding evidence to support what we do is always exciting. The infographic below displays a few of the many benefits. Sports are becoming increasingly important as a tool for peace, and we are very proud to be a part of an industry that strives for change!

Can Sports Save Mankind?
Infographic by:

Leave a comment

Filed under Global

Mitzvah Program Spotlight: Alexa’s Basketball Tournament

This week we are featuring a young PeacePlayer, Alexa. Through our Mitzvah Program, this 6th grader planned a charity basketball tournament for her Bat Mitzvah, which she celebrated on May 30th. To learn more about PPI’s Mitzvah Program, CLICK HERE.

Hi, my name is Alexa. I live in Washington, D.C. and go to Maret School. While preparing for my Bat Mitzvah, I didn’t know what my service project would be, so I did what any person would do — I turned to Google for help.

PeacePlayers International was the first project I learned about that I really felt a connection to. I love playing basketball and I loved the idea of kids creating change. I also felt connected to Israel and Ireland (some of the places where PPI works) because I have ancestors from those countries.

Alexa and a friend at her tournament.

Alexa and a friend at her tournament.

I was also happy to see that girls participate in PPI programs, and women are PPI coaches, because creating more opportunities for girls in sports is so important to me.

I looked at the toolkits PeacePlayers provides for kids who want to do a project and I even got to call Adam, PPI’s Deputy Director of Development and Communications, for advice, which was very helpful.

I jumped into the many things that needed to be done. At first I was very overwhelmed, but I was able to break the project down into the key steps: making a flyer, reserving the gym, getting the word out, getting sponsors and referees, lining up the equipment, and registering players.

Through the whole process, my friends and family were there to support me and some kids even did some of their own community service by helping me prepare. It was great to see people getting into helping out and contributing to the tournament.

I learned a lot about myself while planning the tournament and pushed myself to overcome some of my fears. To sign kids up from outside of school, I had to go to basketball games and go around my synagogue to promote it to complete strangers. At first it was stressful, but I got more confident and better at it the more I did it.

Finally after the preparation was done, the tournament day came. I had a lot of initial concerns that people would sign up but not come, or that people would forget, but when I got there and kids were already warming up I felt so relieved. Some of my basketball coaches even came to help ref. I was excited to show them and everyone else that my love for basketball was more than just about playing the game.


Some tough competition at Alexa’s tournament!

The tournament flashed by and I couldn’t stop smiling because everyone was there to support PeacePlayers and me, and they could see how proud I was to be doing my Mitzvah project for a cause that I feel so strongly about. When the day was over and I met my fundraising goal, I couldn’t have been more relieved for how smoothly it all went. After that, I felt I really deserved to be a Bat Mitzvah.

Thinking back on it now, the experience taught me skills that I continue to use in other parts of my life. I definitely feel more confident in my abilities to plan and arrange my own things.

I will never forget how amazing it felt that because of my tournament, kids around the world were learning to resolve conflict. Now, whenever I play basketball I feel a connection to the PeacePlayers around the world because I know that basketball can bring kids together and create lasting change.


Participants at Alexa's successful tournament!

Participants at Alexa’s successful tournament!

Leave a comment

Filed under Global

A Q&A with Tom Etzel of the Global Peace Building Foundation

Since 2012, PeacePlayers International has enjoyed a partnership with The Global Peace Building Foundation (GPBF). GPBF contributes to the building of global peace by supporting organizations and projects that restore, rebuild, and transform relationships that have been broken due to prejudices, stereotyping, hatreds, and fears. Like PPI, GPBF believes that work at the grassroots level will contribute to sustainable peace.

We at PeacePlayers got the chance to sit down with GPBF Founder and President Tom Etzel to speak about this sector of the non-profit world and his experience with PPI. 


What sparked the idea for the Global Peace Building Foundation?

September 11, 2001 was the major catalyst in my commitment to peace building. My 25 year-old niece, Katie McCloskey, was on the 97th floor of the World Trade Center when American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower and my high school friend, Ken Waldie, was aboard that jetliner.

GPBF Founder and President Tom Etzel

GPBF Founder and President Tom Etzel

I needed an outlet to channel my grieving energies in a positive way during the aftermath of that tragedy, so I decided to enroll in the mid-career Masters Degree program at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. I wanted to gain an in-depth global perspective and find a clearer vision of world affairs and efforts toward globally building peace. After completing my studies in July of 2010, I successfully established the Global Peace Building Foundation (GPBF).


GPBF gives funds to organizations that operate under the Contact Theory, specifically via youth programing. Why is this the sector of the non-profit world that you dedicate your time and money to?

Contact Theory is a central tenet of peace building based on the belief that negative attitudes, such as stereotypes and prejudice, can be reduced by promoting contact and familiarity between conflicting groups. Governments sign treaties and aid organizations spend billions of dollars a year, but only people can make peace. The change in attitude and beliefs, which happens in the formative stage of a young person’s life, creates the conditions necessary for youth to form lasting relationships built on mutual trust and respect. Amid the complex and shifting landscapes, this trust is the bedrock for sustainable peace.


How did you first hear about PeacePlayers and what drew you to our organization?

I found PPI while I was doing research for my thesis at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. PPI was one of my case studies. I interviewed Trevor Ringland, a former Ireland rugby star who won the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2007 ESPN ESPY Awards with Dave Cullen for their work with PPI. I found him to be very inspiring. GPBF grew out of the thesis, including the GPBF-PPI relationship.


You visited our program in Northern Ireland not too long ago, what was that experience like?

We visited PPI-NI as part of the GPBF due diligence process. We wanted to learn more about how PPI incorporates the peace education curriculum with the game of basketball.

Tom meets with PPI staff during his visit to Northern Ireland

Tom meets with PPI staff during his visit to Northern Ireland.

We learned a great deal about the history of The Troubles and how PPI-NI is working at the grassroots level to bridge the divides for the next generation. We enjoyed meeting the staff and children. They were very friendly, welcoming and inspiring.


With so much continuing conflict in this world, what is one piece of advice for people working in this field whether that person is a participant, facilitator, or donor?

The field of peace building is very complex. There are many components that must work together to make peace sustainable. My advice is to find a niche and be committed to a long-term approach supported by qualitative results. A short-term and quantitative results-driven approach lacks efficacy in sustaining enduring change.

Leave a comment

Filed under Global