A Fresh Take on PeacePlayers

Coach Tessa and Coach Ryan

Coach Tessa and Coach Ryan during PPI-CY summer camp

Today’s blog is brought to you by PeacePlayers volunteer, Tessa Ramsay. Tessa is a high school English teacher who spent the summer helping out PPI-CY.

Since the writer of this blog is usually someone from inside the PeacePlayers organization, I have the opportunity, as an outsider, to shed some light on what the adults in this organization do. It is unlike any of the PeacePlayers staff members here to praise their work or brag about themselves; instead, they use their voices and ink cheering on and advocating for their kids, which is one reason why it is such a successful program. So here is a look at the adults who proudly wear the PeacePlayers-Cyprus logo on their shirts.

An intense game of 1 vs. 1

An intense game of 1 vs. 1

Back home in New York City, I am a high school English teacher. At the PPI-CY Summer Camp, I observed the interactions between coaches and players and was amazed at how deeply and naturally the coaches cared for their players. I kept thinking to myself, “these coaches would be great teachers,” until I eventually realized that they of course are teachers, ones that truly love their students.

Just like skilled basketball players, the PPI-CY coaches are always thinking of the next move—how can we make sure this player is more involved, how can we guarantee that this player feels safe, how can we reach more children to build this family? One coach kindly and privately reminded another of the specific struggle of an individual player to keep in mind when running practice. Then another coach proudly and publicly shared the triumph of another player’s awesome behind the back pass to the winning lay-up of a game. Two coaches even brought their two-month-old baby to camp so they could be there for their other kids.

Coach Bahar with our newest PPI-CY player, Maya!

Coach Bahar with our newest PPI-CY player, Maya!

As an educator, I’ve heard the word “patience” a lot. I must have patience with my students, with the budget, with myself. But this word had a new meaning here. I always assumed that you “had” to be patient, but these coaches seem to “want” to be patient. With three languages to attend to at camp, everything takes longer to be completed. That’s three sets of directions, three lists of expectations, three attempts at the same joke. The coaches take their time because they love what they do and they believe in what they do. What’s more impressive is that the players are patient, too. They listen attentively to the wisdom their coaches preach. And believe me, adolescents don’t just listen because they have to; they listen because they want to. They eagerly hang on the words of their coaches because they respect them. They adore them, really. I saw players save seats for their coaches in the camp cafeteria, and the coaches gladly plopped down next to them and started joking around. They shared music and tricks, they played late night pick-up basketball together, they did funny handshakes.

Coach Adam showing the participants the perfect defensive stance.

Coach Adam showing the participants the perfect defensive stance.

The humor and goofiness that was alive at camp is important to note because it was the enthusiasm of the coaches that really hooked the players. While so much about PeacePlayers is of course about finding peace, this solution cannot be attained if there is no connection. The coaches, with all of their careful planning and contagious excitement, were the reason the players felt comfortable enough to laugh together at the same silly trick their coach did, to start talking, and to begin sharing thoughts and ideas.

It’s clear that the one of the only ways to guarantee any change is to inspire those after you to carry on the mission. Even in just a week at camp, I saw how the Leadership Development Program (LDP) members absorbed the energy of their coaches and passed that on to the younger players. One LDP participant played a silly one-on-one game with a younger camper, and that younger player walked around camp the rest of the afternoon beaming with pride. Another LDP teenager volunteered to translate at a practice since they were a coach short for the afternoon. The LDP teenagers stayed up right until curfew to hang out with one another, just like their coaches did on the other end of the hotel lobby. These young leaders are taking what they learning, turning around, and teaching it almost immediately; it was a pleasure to see. It can take a lot to inspire adolescents, and the PPI-CY coaches make it look easy.

PPI-CY would like to thank Tessa for all of her help this summer! You will always be a part of the PeacePlayers family!

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PPI – Northern Ireland Holds Belfast Interface Games Flagship Event – the Game of Three Halves

PPI-NI participants getting ready to start the Belfast Interface Games at Seaview stadium

PPI-NI participants getting ready to start the Belfast Interface Games at Seaview stadium

PPI – Northern Ireland Operation’s Team Leader Debbie Byrne reflects on the Belfast Interface Games (BIG) Flagship Event – the Game of Three Halves, a fantastic night for PPI-NI.

On Friday August 8, over 80 young people from North, South, West and East Belfast came together at Seaview Football Stadium in north Belfast for the annual PPI – Northern Ireland Belfast Interface Games (BIG) Flagship Event – the Game of Three Halves. It was a brilliant experience for the children to play in such a great venue with their parents cheering them on enthusiastically on the stands wearing colors that represented each side of the city! Not only did the children play Gaelic football, Rugby and Soccer against the other sides of the city but the children danced, chatted and became strong friends as they moved from station to station. North Belfast ran out as eventual winners but the experience of everyone on the night was that they felt they were part of something very special and positive.  The children recognized that they had been involved in something bigger than themselves.

Friendships are key to this event

Friendships are key to this event

Over the last few years the Belfast Interface Games and the Game of Three Halves have helped to develop young leaders who are better equipped to confront the issues that continue to divide Northern Ireland. The segregation of schools and communities continue to foster traditions of intolerance whereby parade-related disputes and rioting, criminal activity, intimidating displays of flags and murals, and youth-led violence remains commonplace. It is hoped that through participation in cross-community sporting programmes like the BIG camps and this Flagship Event, young people will develop positive personal relationships and therefore be less likely to engage in sectarian-fueled violence in the future.

Ulster Rugby stars Nick Williams and Jonny Murphy taking pictures and signing autographs with PeacePlayers participants

Ulster Rugby stars Nick Williams and Jonny Murphy taking pictures and signing autographs with PeacePlayers participants

We are very thankful to the US Department of State and the Department of Foreign Affairs for support our work in this area. The event was facilitated in collaboration with the Governing Bodies for Gaelic Football, Rugby and Soccer. The Ulster Council of Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), The Irish Football Association and Ulster Rugby donated their coaching time for free. Belfast Bus Company provided the buses free of charge and Seaview provided the venue at a vastly reduced rate: The US Consul on their Twitter feed said:

For two weeks leading up to the games, PPI-NI children have participating in our BIG camps to prepare for the big day. One of the key elements, which helped to make the night such a success was the help of many, volunteers – young and old. Hannah Byrne (daughter of Debbie Byrne) a volunteer on the night and at the BIG camps said, “the night was a brilliant experience! I enjoyed working with the kids and I had a lot of fun.”  Niamh Burns who is a PPI Coach in Training and a Senior Champion for Peace said that, “Volunteering for the BIG camps and the Flagship event was a brilliant experience!  It was amazing seeing the children working together and playing sports they have never played.  This is something I would love to do in the future.”

We are very thankful for all our supporters, partners and funders who made this night such a wonderful occasion, and a special thanks to the wonderful PPI-NI staff!!!

…and of course BIG would not be big without some element of basketball.

…and of course BIG would not be big without some element of basketball.

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First Impressions – Four Quarters: Benjamin Constable’s First Month With PPI-SA

It’s been four weeks since I landed in Durban, South Africa, the perfect amount of time to describe my experiences through a shameless basketball metaphor. Four quarters (or weeks) with PPI-SA International Fellow Benjamin Constable:

Benjamin Constable coaching New Orleans' youth during his first experience with PPI

Benjamin Constable coaching New Orleans’ youth during his first experience with PPI

Warm-up:

You could say I had a little more time to loosen up and stretch before starting in Durban. My first encounter with PPI was in 2007 during the World Adidas Nations Camp in New Orleans.  I looked like this (Thank goodness the bowl cut is now gone).

But PPI’s mission looked the same – use basketball to impact lives. It was extremely obvious how basketball had the power to to engage, challenge, and grow youth in New Orleans. Since then, I’ve had 7 years of following PPI’s progress, and finally have an opportunity to step onto the court for PPI.

1st Quarter:

For the most part, the first quarter was a blur, the defense was swarming (by defense I mean jet lag). Some days there were 12 hours of sleep, others none. Yet, as any good teammate realizes, the first quarter is about getting everyone involved, even the new guy on the team with defense all over him. And good gracious is Bryan Franklin a good teammate. He had everything lined up, from teaching how to say hello in Zulu, to how to update this blog, Bryan set screens to get me open left, right, and center. I saw everything from the bright beach front, to the bleak townships. It was a blurred but eye opening first week.

Benjamin Constable coaching his first day at Collingwood Primary School

Benjamin Constable coaching his first day at Collingwood Primary School

2nd Quarter:

The 2nd quarter was time for PPI to put on the full court press. There was really no other option. With the Primary School Programme (PSP) starting up in Durban, and Basketball Without Boarders (BWB) – Africa beginning in Johannesburg the same quarter, we needed to be everywhere.

Although the majority of the week was spent in the back court up in Johannesburg, a highlight was definitely the first day coaching Collingwood Primary School. It was shocking driving into the local township and seeing the hardships the majority of the students experience. But all the poverty wasn’t evident in the students – always smiling, always asking questions, and always abundantly eager to learn.

Half Time:

After a full quarter of relentlessly full court pressing, we needed to recover. And what better place to do that then in Drakensberg. “Where??” Many people are probably asking. Well, somewhere between Durban and Joeburg is Drakensberg Mountain. And, although the scenery could be described with words, this shot of Bryan Franklin really tells most of the story:

Bryan Franklin enjoying the half time break

Bryan Franklin enjoying the half time break

Not a bad place to take a half time drink break.

3rd Quarter:

With the defense backing off and a full week half court pressing in Durban ahead, there was finally time to get stuck into the programme. This quarter was my first opportunity to see one of PPI – South Africa’s biggest plays in action – the extravaganza. We had prepared for months for this event that would bring 100 players from four primary schools together, and as we walked into the Umlazi Indoor Stadium there was a wee problem – one of the two courts was completely covered with building supplies and debris – not the most basketball friendly conditions.

Before I set into a full panic attack, I turned to the rest of the PPI staff, and they appeared to be pretty unphased. Mtu, our finance and HR manager, turned to me and said “these are the things you have to learn to accept in South Africa, you just need to be ready to adjust to anything.”

And adjust we did. Somehow a schedule that involved playing 12 games in 2 hours on 2 courts, was managed with one less court. Even looking back now, I’m curious to how we pulled it off. But that’s the kind of challengers faced in a nation where social structures are fractured and basketball is a minor sport. Sometimes resources will instantly become unavailable, sometimes an entire team will not turn up to practice because they hear their coach was training players from another school, but always it seems people are ready to role with the punches. It certainly is a new way of having to approach a game.

4th Quarter:

After I had come to accept the unpredictability of South African court time, the 4th quarter came pretty easily. I just wish a game of basketball went for more than 4 quarters… Oh wait this game has 100 more quarters to go!

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NBA Shooting Legend Pat Garrity Coaches at PPI-Cyprus Summer Camp

Coach Garrity giving some inspirational words of wisdom to the players

Former NBA sharpshooter, Pat Garrity, coaching at the 2014 PPI-Cyprus Summer Camp

This week’s blog is brought to you by Pat Garrity, former NBA sharpshooter, who played professionally for the Phoenix Suns and Orlando Magic for ten years. Pat and former WNBA player, Evan Unrau, were VIP’s at PPI – Cyprus’ Summer Camp, which brought together 64 Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot children together to play basketball and build friendships. During the week-long camp, Pat shared an unbelievable amount of knowledge and passion for the game with our participants and coaches.

Pat leads PPI's participants through a variety of basketball drills

Pat leads PPI’s participants through a variety of basketball drills

In August I had the wonderful opportunity to participate in PPI-Cyprus’s annual Summer Camp. I’d gotten to know about PeacePlayers through a friend who also serves on PPI’s board. Through him, I met Brendan Touhey, one of PPI’s Co-Founders. During my career in the NBA, I had the good fortune to participate in a number of programs around the world that use basketball as a bridge to connect young people and develop leadership. The experiences all left me with long lasting relationships and terrific memories. Basketball has always been the centerpiece of my life. Since retiring from the NBA in 2008 and no longer able to do what I once used to on the court, I’ve found that teaching kids the game is the next best thing. So when Brendan called me earlier this summer and asked if I’d be interested in helping lead PPI’s summer camp in Cyprus, I gladly accepted.

I worked with a group of Turkish-Cypriot and Greek-Cypriot coaches whose love for the game was outmatched only by their talent in teaching and mentoring teenagers.

Pat with the senior boys team

Pat with the senior boys team

Prior to arriving, the only thing I knew about basketball in Cyprus was that a former teammate of mine on the Orlando Magic, Darrell Armstrong, had played there in the days before he broke into the NBA. His career in Cyprus didn’t last long, though. He had to return back to the US early after his team’s gym was burned down by rival fans upset about the outcome of a game. After dinner one night, I mentioned the story I’d heard from Darrell to Michalis, one of the camp coaches, wanting to know if in fact it were true. Though he was only 12 at the time, Michalis remembered the game and told me about it in great detail. His ability to recall the episode in such detail illustrated an impression I’d formed early on in my interactions in the first days of the camp:  people here love basketball! As the week went on, this was evident not only in the outstanding coaches who helped lead the camp, but also in the passion and knowledge of the game possessed by the kids who participated.

Pat Garrity with U.S. Ambassador Koenig

Pat Garrity with U.S. Ambassador Koenig

For a week, I along with Evan Unrau (who just joined Stanford’s women’s staff; congrats Evan!) and Robbie Hummel (who just finished his playing career at Stanford), worked with a group of Turkish-Cypriot and Greek-Cypriot coaches whose love for the game was outmatched only by their talent in teaching and mentoring teenagers. In the mornings, we led 64 participants through fundamentals, and in the evening, the kids put what they learned into action in 5-on-5 games. On one of the nights, Evan, Robbie and I, with the help of some of the older campers,  led a coaching clinic for local coaches. Off the court, the PPI staff conducted a full regiment of sessions aimed at teaching leadership, tolerance, and cooperation. And of course, there was plenty of time for the pool and meals during which the kids could just hang out, uninterrupted by adults, reviewing their latest posts on Instagram, and more importantly, forming bonds which might otherwise never have been formed were it not for programs like PeacePlayers.

At the end of the last on-court session, we had a huge water balloon fight. The last night we had a dance, with a DJ, lights and all, and celebrated all the hard work that the kids, Ryan Hage (PPI-Cyprus’ International Fellow), Stephanie Nicolas (PPI-Cyprus’ Coordinator) and Jale Canlibalik (PPI-Cyprus’ Managing Director) put in to making it such a success.

Basketball has provided me a great deal, ever since I picked up the game in 4th grade. I’ve had a chance to play for some of the best coaches in the game and against the best players in the world. Basketball has taken me to China, Africa, India and throughout Europe. And as anyone who’s been around the game will tell you, it’s the relationship based on a common love of the game that form the longest-lasting memories. My time in Cyprus with PeacePlayers was no different.

Many thanks to all who made my experience with Peace Players possible. Thank you to US Ambassador John Koenig and the U.S. Embassy in Cyprus for supporting the program and taking the time to visit. Along with Evan, Robbie, Ryan, Stephanie and Jale, a special thanks also to the Hasmet, Andreas, Orhun, Bahar, Costas, Michalis, and Nicos who in addition to their contributions to the camp dedicate so much of their time year-round to continue to build the program and put PeacePlayers mission into action. And finally, a big thank you to the 64 campers for their wonderful attitudes, open-mindedness and effort. I hope what you learned this week fuels your improvement, not only in basketball but also as leaders on your team, in your schools and in your communities. I hope our paths can cross again someday!

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PPI-SA and SAPREF kick-off Third term

PPI-SA Participants from

PPI-SA Participants from Collingwood and Sukuma Primary Schools pose with SAPREF Representative Londiwe Myeza and PPI coaches and staff at last Friday’s Extravaganza

This past Friday PeacePlayers International – South Africa kicked off its third term with an Extravaganza at the Umlazi Indoor Sports Centre. These bi-monthly events bring together 4 schools across two communities. Kids participate in life-skills and ice breaker drills to get to know one another, before coming back together with their teams for an afternoon of basketball games. Last Friday’s Extravaganza included nearly 100 boys and girls from Collingwood and Assegai Primary Schools of Wentworth, and Sukuma and Mthethweni Primary Schools of Umlazi.

At this particular Extravaganza PPI was joined by a special guest, Londiwe Myeza of SAPREF. SAPREF which is the largest crude oil refinery in Southern Africa, recently came on board as a sponsor of PPI-SA, donating 50 basketballs. Londiwe joined us for her first Extravaganza to present the balls and spend some time with the kids.

Slowly but surely the kids start to get the hang of the ice-breaker Walk the Plank

Slowly but surely the kids start to get the hang of the ice-breaker Walk the Plank

The event kicked-off with fellow Ben Constable walking the kids through a New Zealand original ice breaker called “Walk the Plank”. In this particular ice breaker, kids are asked to dance around the court. While dancing they’ll receive commands like “Life Preserver”—in which three kids must cross arms in a circle—or “Life Boat 5”—where 5 kids must make a straight line at half court. Anybody who incorrectly executes the command is out until we get down to one winner. As an added twist, as the players are receiving commands they must come together in groups with children from other schools to help facilitate interaction.

After this quick and fun warm-up, each team played two games against the schools from the other community (i.e. Collingwood Primary faced off against Mthethweni and Sukuma Primary Schools), before breaking half way through for the presentation by SPAREF.

Players and coaches alike were sad to hear the final whistle blow as the games came to a close. However, the fun didn’t stop there. When the buses got stuck in traffic on their way back to the arena to pick up the kids, something amazing happened. The boys and girls didn’t just automatically retreat to hang-out with their teammates, but instead continued interacting with players form a different school. In one corner of the gym there was a dance circle, where Mthethweni and Assegai took turns being the center of the show. In another, players from all four schools lined up to cheer on Fellows Ben Constable and Bryan Franklin in an impromptu dunk show. Finally, outside in the parking lot, Collingwood and Sukuma primary school participants sat down and shared some post-game snacks. For everything that happened Friday afternoon—from basketball games, to basketball donations, from winning to losing, and plenty of cheering in between—it was these small moments afterwards that proved the event a great success.

PPI-SA would like to give a special thank you to Londiwe Myeza and SAPREF for their generous donation and support of the program.

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Fantasy Football for a Cause

MeaninfulWins2

Nearly 40 million people compete in fantasy football leagues every year for a combined total of $2 billion in prizes. However, for many, fantasy football isn’t about the prizes, but the camaraderie and friendly competition. The prizes are just an added bonus.

Entrepreneur John Ellis and Assistant GM to the Texas Rangers Thad Levine competed in the same fantasy league for years when they got an idea – what if the money people use to enter a league was put towards charity? Imagine the millions of dollars that could be raised for nonprofit organizations.

Ellis and Levine recently founded Meaningful Wins which allows fantasy football players to compete in leagues for the charity of their choice. Leagues are first set up on commercial platforms such as NFL.com, ESPN.com, and Yahoo.com just as usual. After doing so, they can then register on MeaningfulWins.com. Each league player then receives an email asking them to register, pay their entry fees, and then choose a charity to play for, upon which completing this information they will receive a tax-deduction receipt. At the end of the fantasy season, the winning player’s charity receives the money!

While any charity can be selected and benefit from this process, Meaningful Wins features ten selected charities, PeacePlayers International being one of them. We are honored to be a featured charity of Meaningful Wins and encourage all of our supporters and friends to register their fantasy leagues on MeaningfulWins.com and choose PPI as their charity.

Everyone loves playing fantasy football, so why not play for a cause?

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An Epic and Fleeting Experience: Basketball Without Borders

Peace Player Bryan Franklin looking over the top 60 young talents from Africa

Fellow Bryan Franklin looking over the top 60 young talents from Africa.

Basketball Without Borders Africa is a four-day event that occurs annually in Johannesburg, South Africa, bringing together some of the continent’s top players. PPI-SA fellows Ben Constable and Bryan Franklin were fortunate enough to help out with the program earlier this month.

If you read this blog, you already have an appreciation for sport’s natural tendency to bring people together. However, few sporting events demonstrate this to the degree of the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders Program. If you asked Chris Clunie, former PeacePlayer and current Senior Coordinator for the NBA’s International Basketball Operations, if Basketball Without Boarders Africa ticked all three boxes for Peace Players International (Bridging Divides, Developing Leaders, Changing Perceptions), the answer would be a confident “yes.”

Fellow Ben Constable poses along with some Basketball Without Borders team members and supporters.

Fellow Ben Constable poses with several Basketball Without Borders team members.

And how could it not? Rarely can you gaze onto a court containing 60 of the best African players from 20 nations all while talking to a Zambian Coach about how the influx of South Sudanese refugees to Australia will change the youth basketball landscape. Then walk onto a court to be dunked on by a seven-footer from Senegal, save a little face by high-fiving Dikembe Mutombo on your way off the court, and then quiz Clarisse Machanguana on her foundation in Mozambique.

The concentration of basketball wealth at Basketball Without Borders is staggering and motivating, but what stands out to people who work in areas of social development, who understand that growing the game is a continuous unrelenting process, is how epic, yet fleeting the event is.

There is definitely an awareness within the NBA as to what needs to be done to grow the game in regions like South Africa. Coach Lionel Hollins summarized it pretty well in an interview regarding BWB’s work:

There are seed programs in Senegal, there are seed programs in South Africa that African NBA players and African scouts have implemented, and now you have to teach coaches in order to have them teach the players. That’s where the talent gets stronger and the interest gets higher. But the players need to start playing younger. Most African players are not playing until they’re 15, 16, 17 years old, whereas American players are starting to play at 8, 9, 10 years old, which gives them quite an advantage. When you don’t have a lot of facilities, there’s not a lot of opportunities for formal leagues to be played.

There seems to be a disconnect between the resources the NBA provides and the most efficient way to develop the game in young basketball nations. BWB does a phenomenal job in creating a temporary spectacle once a year, providing an ambitious goal for young African players to work toward, a Mecca for people in the African basketball scene to network. Yet, what is still lacking is incentive for coaches to work at the most junior levels, professional development for coaches at the most junior levels, and consistently accessible facilities for athletes. As we look ahead, we know that this is what is needed to continue growing the game we all love across the African continent.

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In The Name of Basketball: Evan Unrau Bridges Divides at the PPI-Cyprus Summer Camp

The whole gang

Evan Unrau with PeacePlayers coaches and members of the Leadership Development Program

Today’s blog is written by former WNBA player, Evan Unrau. Two weeks ago, Evan along with former NBA sharpshooter, Pat Garrity, flew to Cyprus for the PeacePlayers Summer Camp. Each year the camp brings together 64 Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot youth for six days of basketball training, conflict resolution, and leadership development.

Evan with the winners of one vs one finalists

Evan with the winners of one vs one finalists

My name is Evan Unrau, and I have recently returned home to Los Angeles after spending a week in Cyprus as a PeacePlayers – Cyprus VIP for their summer basketball camp.  As a Division I collegiate coach and former elite athlete, I have devoted my life to the game of basketball.  I have been blessed with the chance to play and coach at the highest level and have developed a philosophy about my involvement in the game – it’s all about people.  Sport has the unique ability to unite people across ethnicities, religions, socioeconomic backgrounds and other qualifiers.  When the opportunity arose to partner with PeacePlayers International and assist with their summer camp in Cyprus, I jumped at the opportunity.  I hopped on a plane and made the 14-hour journey to Cyprus filled with excitement and a bit of uncertainty as to  what lay ahead for the next 10 days.  To my delight, I was met with one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  PPI-Cyprus fellow Ryan Hage met me at the airport, and we began an adventure for the ages.  In my days leading up to the camp, I was introduced to my fellow VIP partner, former NBA star Pat Garrity.  Pat is a highly accomplished man on paper, but the real life version is so much better.  Pat has a passion and intellect for the game of basketball that is rare to come across.  Together we toured Cyprus and were treated to its wonderful cuisine and sights and were introduced to a team of PPI staff members whose passion for their cause is truly beautiful.

Evan and Pat with US Ambassador

Evan and Pat with US Ambassador to Cyprus, John Koenig

The day of camp came, and we took a bus to the hills of Agros where camp was to be held. The  views were spectacular!  It is here that we met other camp workers and many of the PPI players attending camp.  What a special group of people!  There was an air of excitement as our PPI camp journey was beginning to take form.   It was in sitting with the PPI coaches that the story of Cyprus and its embattled past began to take from.  A country divided between Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots, I began to meet the people living the present day struggle to become a country united.  The camp itself was scheduled to include sessions focused on leadership development, team bonding and basketball skill sessions.  Myself and Pat were in charge of the basketball component of camp, but it was outside of the basketball court where I found the true value of PPI’s mission.  In a room with PPI coaches and community leaders, we participated in activities aimed at joining the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot campers together and learned more about one another and finding a common ground.  With many of the players having the ability to speak English, we engaged with this wonderful group of kids and found ourselves talking and laughing a ton.  It was in these sessions that the power of PeacePlayers began to take form.

To my surprise, I was greeted with a group of kids that were already well versed in the game of basketball, which is a huge testament to the coaches of PPI.

Evan leading the girls team through a series of basketball drills

Evan leading the girls team through a series of basketball drills

Basketball time!  I had no idea what to expect when planning my workouts with the PPI athletes.  What level of basketball talent were they?  What kind of drills and terminology had they been exposed to?  Would they look at me like I had 4 heads?  To my surprise, I was greeted with a group of kids that were already well versed in the game of basketball, which is a huge testament to the coaches of PPI.  With the assistance of PPI coaches and senior leaders as translators when needed, we worked hard and got even better!  As impressed as I was with the players on the court, my interaction with them on the walk to the gym and in the moments shooting around before and after practice really showed their personalities, and they are WONDERFUL!  I learned about where they are from, their families, what kind of music they like, who their favorite players are and why they are part of PPI.  As their stories unfolded, I began to truly understand the power of PPI’s initiative – that kids are kids and when you bring them together in the name of a cause, such as basketball, memories and relationships are formed which shed the burden of history that has been thrust upon them.

Evan with the PPI - Cyprus coaches and young leaders who assisted with many of the practices

Evan with PeacePlayers coaches and young leaders who assisted with many of the practices

I can’t thank the coaches and organizers of PPI enough for letting me partake in such a wonderful event.  To PPI-Cyprus fellow Ryan Hage, thank you for your time and enthusiasm.  No one has more energy than you!  To Stephanie, you organized a well-oiled machine and provided the ultimate summer camp experience.  To Jale, who behind the scenes helped make a vision into a reality.  To the PeacePlayers coaches: Hasmet, Andreas, Orhun, Bahar, Costas, Michalis, Nicos, and Robbie, you guys are a basketball player’s dream to have coach them.  To the U.S. Embassy in Nicosia and Ambassador John Koenig who so graciously helped fund and take the time out of his busy schedule to attend the camp.  And finally, to all the campers,  THANK YOU!  I had the time of my life and am thrilled to add PPI-Cyprus to my ever expanding family in the name of basketball.

In case you missed it, check out this fantastic video recap of the camp made by Tessa Ramsay, a volunteer for the week at camp:

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So Long, Jamie!

International Fellow Jamie Walsh is heading back to the U.S. tomorrow after nearly two fun and fruitful years with PPI – ME. We made a short slide show for Jamie to thank her for her hard work, dedication and spirit. We’ll miss you, Jamie!

Check out the slide show below.

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BIG is BACK!

This week Ella Harper (9-year-old daughter of PPI-NI Managing Director Gareth Harper), shares with us some video footage she captured at the Belfast Interface Games (BIG) camp held at St John’s GAC in West Belfast. Building on the success of the prior two years, the B.I.G. this year included three days of summer camps in North, South, East and West Belfast. Around 85 children ages 9-13 received training from professional coaches skilled in Gaelic football, rugby and football. Following the summer camps, all participants took part in the flagship Game of Three Halves where they competed against groups from other parts of Belfast in these three sports.Below, Ella and her sister Alana (10 years) share their experiences of their fist BIG camp.

So girls, how was it?

Ella: It was great fun! I was a bit nervous at the start, but I really enjoyed helping my dad out with the games and meeting and playing games with my new friends.

Alana: It was the same for me at the start, but when we got to the gym and started playing, I got stuck right into it.  We were put onto new teams and had to come up with a new team name – we were called  “the Mighty Seamus’s Ducks.”

What was your favourite part?

Ella: I really liked the 4 ball passing game. It was hard to start with, but we got the hang of it.  The game helped me to learn the names of my new teammates.  I also learned how to pass a rugby ball, I have played Gaelic before but never rugby, so that was cool. My team was called  “the Haribo Heads.”

Alana: I really enjoyed playing all the sports and meeting new people. I also enjoyed hanging out with my dad.  The Sports Jeopardy Quiz was great, even though I didn’t get too many of the questions right – I answered “Brian O’Driscoll” to everything.  We also played a cool game called “Empires” – we got to know who everyone’s favourite celebrities where, my dad confused everybody by picking Ozzy Osbourne.

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