Fourth of July — A Time to Celebrate and Reflect

3690987934_9c5d7a3ee1_zOn days like today, America comes together. No matter their race, religion, or socioeconomic status, people are firing up their grills and gathering with friends and family to celebrate America’s freedom and independence.

There is no denying it — we live in a country with many divides. Here at PeacePlayers, we engage with people living on both sides of conflict on a daily basis, in communities where children are conditioned to hate others on the basis of their religion or race. But that is only part of the story…

736091_467169980014156_672272528_o (1)On this holiday of optimism, we want to honor the thousands of children playing for peace, their tireless
coaches who mentor them on and off the court, their parents for their bravery in letting their children be a force for peace, and finally you, our supporters, whose belief in the power of sport to bring people together enables this all to happen.

Tonight when you look up in awe at the fireworks that celebrate our country’s core uniting values of justice and freedom for all, take a moment to think about how far we have come, but also how far we still need to go to fulfill those ideals for people everywhere.

 

Happy Fourth of July from everyone at PeacePlayers International!

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PPI-CY’s Stephanie Nicolas Participates in UNOSDP Program

This week’s blog is written by our very own Program Coordinator, Steph Nicolas, who spent the month of June participating in a prestigious Leadership Development program in the United States.

Steph at the Sport and Social Impact Summit

Steph at the Sport and Social Impact Summit.

Some time ago, I received the amazing news that I had been accepted to take part in the United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace’s Youth Leadership Masters Program at the IMG Academy in Florida from June 7-19.

On Saturday, June 6, I was about to embark on this new adventure, an adventure that would help me and my organization develop in the field of sport for development and peace.

Little did I know that this unbelievable experience would change my own life forever.

Sitting in a room with 47 charismatic individuals of 30 different nationalities, not knowing anyone or where they were from, it overwhelmed me a bit. So many questions were running through my head: what is happening now? Am I in the wrong place? What do I do? How will I meet all these people? Will I be able to communicate? Or will I even enjoy myself?

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Steph and participants posing with NFL Vets Mark Brunell, Henry Lawrence, Hurley Tarver and Kenny Green.

However, all those questions vanished with the help of our great facilitators and the interactions we had between us. I met so many amazing people from around the world, each and every one of them with their own ideas, thoughts, values and perspectives on life and creating change. They made me understand that it’s not always about me, but about us as a team, a family and a community.

Throughout the two weeks that we were at IMG Academy, we tried so many different sports, from baseball, to wheelchair softball, American football, the real football (soccer), wheelchair tennis, wheelchair basketball, basketball, Tae-kwo-do, table tennis, badminton and rugby – sports that we do not have the chance to practice here in Cyprus.

In addition, our great facilitators taught us more about respecting different individual’s values, opinions and ideas, taking risks and challenging ourselves, communicating better, and last, but not least, opening up ourselves to others and showing them who we really are and what we live for in life.

As I sit here on my return flight to Cyprus writing this, I have gotten increasingly emotional. I wonder if the people around me think I’m crazy or something! But I am not a person who usually cries, except for when I watch movies. It was a great pleasure meeting so many amazing people and collaborating with each and every one them. It is my honor to call them my friends and family, and I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone hopefully soon. This was not a goodbye, but only the beginning of something bigger.

Steph and candidates at a conflict resolution seminar

Steph and candidates at a conflict resolution seminar.

I would like to thank UNOSDP, Global Action Initiatives and IMG Academy for providing us with this amazing experience and for giving me and my fellow participants the opportunity to meet and be trained by so many amazing people and organizations.

Thank you for an unbelievable experience that will be in my heart forever.

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Celebrating Another Great Year at PPI-ME!

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One last group photo for the year! Teams from Meiser, Kfar Saba, Tamra, and Nahariya.

The end of the season is here, and PeacePlayers — Middle East likes to go out with a bang! This year, PeacePlayers organized two Minifests….on the same day! There was a Minifest in Jerusalem and one for the Northern teams. A Minifest is a great way to unite lots of teams and give the players a chance to get to know each other. And of course, Minifests are a great way for all the players to have fun together.

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An All Star (far left) from the Tamra/Nahariya team helps lead a basketball passing station.

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Learning to balance a plate on a stick in the juggling section.

The excitement at Minifest was palpable in the air. The kids were exceptionally excited because of the huge variety of activities to choose from: basketball, juggling, Kung Fu, bounce houses, and more. This year, the Northern teams from Kfar Saba, Meiser, Nahariya, and Tamra enjoyed going from station to station led by coaches and the Tamra/Nahariya All Star team. The All Stars were key in leading the Minifest and it proved to be a great chance for them to give back to the PeacePlayer community and to practice their leadership skills.

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Minis from Tamra practicing their Kung Fu skills.

PeacePlayers uses a long-term model whereby we keep investing in the same players year after year, and have them invest back in the programming later on. The skills learned by giving back to PeacePlayers are phenomenal for the participants. Some of the same players in Minifests from 5 years ago are the coaches of the players at Minifests today! We hope that with our work in the North we will expand this type of longitudinal programming in the upcoming year.

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Young Adult Volunteer reflects on time spent with PeacePlayers

Today’s blog post is written by Will Massey, an American who has been serving in Northern Ireland with Young Adult Volunteers. YAV  is a U.S.-based one-year service opportunity for young people, and during his time there, he began to volunteer with PPI-Northern Ireland. He reflects on his experience with PeacePlayers below. 

A few times this year I had gaps in my schedule. Tuesday evenings, Saturday afternoons, Monday mornings on occasion. I ran my programs at Whitehouse Presbyterian and I coached in Ballymena on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. What was left was my own time. That is, until Peace Players found a way to fill the slot.

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Will with one of twinning’s in Ballymena this past term.

 This could sound like a complaint but I promise, it is not. I became a Young Adult Volunteer to have new experiences in new places. And PeacePlayers has delivered. I’ve seen corners of Northern Ireland I certainly would have missed otherwise. I’ve done PeacePlayers programs in Ballymena, Larne, Castlereagh, Antrim, Craigavon, Carrickfergus and, as you might expect, Belfast. Some readers may object that these are not particularly desirable destinations, but part of the wonder of living abroad is discovering new areas, their features and character and expanding your mental map.

On my arrival I was eager to be useful as a member of the PeacePlayers team, and PeacePlayers has been eager to use me. This year was my first experience of coaching, sports development, community relations through sport and non-profit management. These experiences stretched me in new directions and equipped me to serve my communities in the future. And PeacePlayers-Northern Ireland is all about developing and equipping leaders; unfortunately I have a limited shelf life as far as Northern Ireland is concerned.

Of course, Peace Players did not bring me on as a volunteer to challenge me and develop new skills. I’m here to contribute to PeacePlayers’ exciting and expanding project in Northern Ireland. The staff and coaches work energetically to reach more children in more communities, always with their eyes on the prize: a peaceable society in Northern Ireland. And I am grateful that I had an opportunity to make my contribution to such an admirable mission.

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Volunteering quickly became camaraderie. Will pictured here with some of the PeacePlayers coaches

Apart from everything else, I am also so grateful for the connections I have made with dozens of coaches and hundreds of children and young people this year. Each of those relationships has been a blessing for me.

Thanks Peace Players!

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Mitzvah Project Leads to Life Altering Journey

Today’s blog is written by PeacePlayers International Mitzvah supporter, Reed Lipman. Reed is a rising senior at Riverdale Country School in New York.

When I first started supporting PPI, I did not realize the profound effect it would have on my life. My name is Reed Lipman and I have been involved with PPI since my Bar Mitzvah, when I asked my friends and family to donate money to PPI in lieu of gifts. I knew that this was a “nice” thing to do — mostly because everyone told me that it was generous to give my gifts to a charity. But really, what did I know? I was 12 years old, living a sheltered life in suburban New York.

Me playing pickup with a PPI-ME participant in Israel.

Me playing pickup with a PPI-ME participant in Israel.

Later that year, I began to understand. I took a trip to Israel and spent some time with PPI where I hung out with Jewish and Arab young female basketball players.

These young women would never have met if they didn’t play in PPI’s mixed basketball league. Off the court, they came from different backgrounds, practiced different religions and lived in communities that didn’t interact. But on the court, these girls were teammates and much more. I began to see that the friendships and bonds being formed through basketball is what PPI is all about.

After this first trip to the Middle East, I wanted to continue to support PPI. Living in New York, I knew I could best support by fundraising and creating awareness, so I organized two parent-child golf tournaments that were both successful and a lot of fun.

In the summer of 2014, I traveled again to PPI in Israel hoping to touch base with the kids and the people who ran the program. Now a junior in high school, I helped run a twinning between a Jewish and Arab school and was an assistant coach during practices for one of PPI’s boy’s teams.. During the visit, I met Khaled Zaki, who joined PPI when he was a young man and has since graduated from PPI’s Leadership Development Program (9 years later!). Talking about our love of basketball, our schools and our friends, I realized we had a lot more in common than I ever thought we would. But Khaled also told me about the dangerous neighborhood he was from and about the conflict between the Jewish and Arab people in his area. It was eye-opening that someone so close to my age was so aware of political conflict and the dividing lines between communities of people who live next to one another.

My friends from PPI-ME and my hometown come together for the basketball clinic I organized in New York.

My friends from PPI-ME and my hometown come together for the basketball clinic I organized in New York.

Last year, the tables were turned when Khaled and 30 of PPI’s young leaders came to Washington, D.C. and New York during a US State Department cultural exchange. During their trip, I organized a basketball clinic and then invited the whole group over to my house to hang out, play games, and eat dinner. It was so much fun having them at my house playing ping-pong, air hockey, XBOX and listening to music. We all realized that even though we come from such different places, we have the same interests and talk about the same things.

What started out as a Bar Mitzvah project has turned into an experience that has opened up my mind to different cultures, social conflict and how kids everywhere can unite through simple things such as sports. I am grateful for the experience I have had with PPI and I am excited to carry on the relationships I have developed with PPI’s players and coaches in the Middle East. I hope other kids take the time to get involved with PeacePlayers and get to know some of the children whose lives have been changed simply because they were given the chance to play basketball.

 

To find out how you can get involved with PeacePlayers International CLICK HERE!

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PPI-SA Celebrates the Youth at the 25th City Wide Tournament

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Earlier this month PeacePlayers International – South Africa hosted The 25th City Wide Tournament with the theme of “Celebrating the Youth of South Africa”. Each year PPI-SA hosts two tournaments, in June and October bringing together every Primary School Participant. While the October tournament allows youth to play with their teams against other schools in a winner take all style event; in June children are placed on mixed teams and play with youth from other PPI Schools throughout. It is incredible to see the progress throughout the day. At first participants are nervous and hesitant to play with youth they have often times never met before, but by the end of the event countless new friendships have been formed

PPI students present their Youth Day posters at the 25th City Wide Tournament

PPI students present their Youth Day posters at the 25th City Wide Tournament

and relationships built.

This year’s tournament had a special feel to it as well. Every year South Africa celebrates Youth Day on June 16th. The day commemorates South Africa’s Youth’s actions in the Soweto Uprising in 1976. Following the announcement stating all advanced subjects in school would be taught in Afrikaans (The language of the Apartheid Government), over 3,000 students and teachers took to the street in a peaceful protest. They were met by heavily armed police vehicles, tear gas and eventually live ammunition. The heroism of the youth on that day lead to a revolt that spread across South Africa and garnered international attention, exposing the brutality of the Apartheid Government. The day not only celebrates the actions of the youth but also the power the youth have to help change and shape their communities.

In the spirit of celebrating diversity and the youth, PPI-SA partnered up with Coaching for Hope, a programme, which uses football to create better futures for young people in West and Southern Africa and its grantees, like Whizz Kids United. In total, over 450 children from 8 different communities came out to celebrate youth through sports.

Thank you to the South African National Lottery for their support of the 25th City Wide Tournament

Thank you to the South African National Lottery for their support of the 25th City Wide Tournament

The event started with a performance from community activist and Rapper, Mhligo; and ended with each PPI Primary School presenting what youth day means to them to the crowd. In addition PPI staff member Sbahle Mkhize and coaches Thando Msweli and Gabriela Goccovah were recognized for completing the HSBC Women Empowerment through Sports Programme.

Check out the video below for a quick recap of the event. PPI-SA would like to give special thanks to the South African National Lottery for the underwriting of the 25thth City Wide Tournament, and to Coaching for Hope for their contributions.

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A Day at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

Earlier this month, two of our interns, Reed and Jake (high school students from New York), took the day off of work to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In this blog, they reflect on what they learned from the experience.  

Jake and Reed on their adventure in DC.

Jake and Reed on their adventure in DC.

During World War II, Hitler and his Nazi regime devised a plan to cruelly annihilate the Jews of Europe. Their tactics involved using stereotypes and already strained relationships between many Jews and non-Jews, to rally the people behind an atrocious, uninformed idea to create the ideal Aryan society.

As young Jews ourselves, we feel it is important that we honor and remember all of the 6 million Jewish people who lost their lives during the Holocaust. But we must do more than just remember; we must work to put an end to today’s conflicts. Visiting the museum while interning at PeacePlayers, an organization that is helping youth overcome fear, hate, and violence, helped us realize once again the importance of teaching peace.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC.

At the Holocaust museum, we stood in a model train car that carried many Jews to Auschwitz. The carriage was small, and when we stood in there with 8 other people it felt claustrophobic and uncomfortable for us. As we read that the Nazis would force over 100 people into these cars for multiple days, the feeling of fear those people must have felt overwhelmed us. We learned that when trips were made during the winter, many froze, and during the summer, many died of suffocation in these cars. Actually standing in the model train helped us better understand the brutality of the Holocaust and the pain and suffering many Jews experienced.

It also made us think about all the suffering that is still being experienced around the world and the pain many people endure on a day-to-day basis. We reflected on the millions of homeless people living on the streets. It made us think about all the conflicts and fighting around the world. It made us realize how lucky we are to live in a peaceful part of the world with all of the resources we may need. It made us realize that we should appreciate our lives and try and help others. It made us realize that change is necessary.

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My Journey Has Just Begun

This week’s blog is written by one of PPI-CY’s most enthusiastic leaders, Christiana “Mush” Miltiadous. Mush had an outstanding season and is really coming into her own both on and off the court.

Mush holding one of her hard earned  trophies!

Mush holding one of her hard earned trophies!

Hello readers! My name is Christiana Miltiadous, also known as Mush, and I am 17 years old.

I have been playing basketball since 2012. When I first started I knew the basic rules, but not how to actually play the game. I always loved sports, but when I started basketball I became more passionate about sports and particularly about basketball. Years ago, I wasn’t really in a good place. I had a really short temper, I preferred to just stay alone and listen to music. I wasn’t a good student. I almost stayed back a year. But when I started basketball everything changed! I met a wonderful coach that kept motivating me even when I didn’t believe in myself. He kept encouraging me and kept saying if you want something you need to try your best and you will achieve it! He helped me become a better person on and off the court. That’s exactly what I did! My grades started getting better and my confidence increased; especially when I joined PeacePlayers – Cyprus. I have met some incredible people who inspire me to be the person I am today. I’m very grateful for that. They taught me a lot of things such as to have respect for the other person in every aspect of life and that everyone is the same no matter their country of origin or religion. We are all a team! A FAMILY!

Mush's athletic and academic awards proudly displayed in her home

Mush’s athletic and academic awards proudly displayed in her home.

This year, I saw a big difference in my basketball skills but also with my academics. My school team won the Pancyprian Championship and we were given the opportunity to play against Greece. My PPI family came and supported me at the match, shouting my name and writing it on a banner. On top of that, my town team won the U18 Cup Finals and the Championship.

This year I played my first match with the senior women’s team. I was the second leading scorer and I was seen by the national team coach. He invited me to try out for the national team. Unfortunately, I wasn’t picked but that didn’t stop me from keeping up my hard work and practicing everyday so I can achieve my goal.

Besides the basketball improvement, I improved my study skills; as a result I was on the honor roll with a GPA of 19.167 out of 20. This made my family, coaches, friends and myself very proud.

The lesson I was taught is that it’s not easy to achieve your goals, but with hard work and determination you can achieve anything you want even if they might sound crazy.

Mush and Nicos at PPI-CY's annual spring tournament in April

Mush and Nicos at PPI-CY’s annual spring tournament in April.

I just want to say a big thank you to everyone that helped me in different ways and supported me through everything, my family, friends, and my coaches at PPI. A BIG THANK YOU goes to coach NIKOS MASHIAS, for believing in me when I didn’t and helping me not only with basketball, but in my personal life. He always said “you can do it! Just try!” and he motivates me every day!

The journey has just begun!

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Our LDP Participants Do More than Just Play Basketball…They Even Cook!

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The LDP at the Master Chef event after happily feasting on the home cooked meals

Our Leadership Development Program (LDP) members aren’t just good at playing basketball….they can also cook! During the LDP kickoff event back in December, LDP participants gave suggestion of what events they wanted to see happen and Master Chef was a top priority for them. This week, they proved their skills in a PeacePlayers-run Master Chef competition.

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Mussa preparing the mix for the mskhan dish.

In a nutshell, Master Chef is a cooking competition to see who is the best chef. For this LDP event, we wanted to make it a special cultural experience, so we had each Master Chef group prepare their meal in a house of an LDP member. We had four houses hosting our four LDP teams: two Palestinian and two Jewish homes. What was wonderful about the LDP Master Chef was that each team collaborated on the traditional dishes they wanted to make together. This, of course, was a competition so they kept it in mind to think about the presentation, creativity, and taste.

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Presentation was key! Check out this team’s shakshuka and sides.

I want to put things in context here — In divided Jerusalem, between East and West, it’s almost unheard of to have youth from both sides interact regularly and build meaningful relationships. It’s even more uncommon to visit each other’s home. It’s beautiful to see our PeacePlayers members open their homes to their friends and transcend the divides found here.

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Neta and Aysha taking a picture with their innovative masterpiece, an entire loaf stuffed with deliciousness and dessert.

Neta, a Jewish Israeli member of PeacePlayers for 5 years from Moshav Ora who hosted a team at her home said, “We are always talking about each other’s cultural foods, so it was nice to finally taste it!” The team at Neta’s house faced some challenges and had a couple last minute cancelations so it was essentially Neta and Aysha, from Beit Safafa, creating their entire main dish and dessert in two and a half hours! And let me tell you, they pulled it off flawlessly. “It was special for me to invite Aysha into my home, and even though if was not the first time, this time it was very special because we created something together and I saw how great our relationship is even off the court. Our great relationship on the court eventually led to an even better relationship off the court. We worked great together!”

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Warq dwali, arab salad, and mqloba on the far right made by Jewish and Palestinian participants.

The reality TV show Master Chef is full of obstacles for the chefs to overcome. The same goes for PeacePlayers…except ours weren’t necessarily planned. Duha, a Palestinian member of PeacePlayers for nearly 9 years from Bait Safafa, hosted a group of LDP members at her home. As they were preparing maqloba, wraq dwali, and a side salad (all traditional Palestinian cuisine), the electricity just goes out! They had to go outdoors and prepare parts of the meal using the remaining sunlight. Yet, their dish was phenomenal! Maqloba, literally meaning upside down, is a dish of rice, chicken, eggplant, and cauliflower all cooked together. At the end, the dish is presented by taking a tray placing it on the top of the pot and then flipping the pot. Their side dish was warq dwali, which is stuffed grape leaves. For Duha, “it was fun to learn how to cook these traditional foods. I really enjoyed how we all split the work between us and worked to a common goal. Even more so, we had to trust each other to do our best in our work.”

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Making Msakhn at Aya’s house. Msakhn is a traditional Palestinian dish made with bread, onion, and chicken.

The atmosphere as all the teams arrived to the hall with their food was amazing! Everyone there was excited to present their food, and their hard work, to the judges and to see what their friends had made. I can say personally, it was an eclectic meal that left me with a wonderful food coma. I was more than surprised by the professional level of our LDP members! Let’s hope we do this again next year!

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M&E is contagious. Who would have thought?

It could be argued that monitoring and evaluation is not the most exciting topic in the world. There is not much glamour in identifying the key “indicators,””outcomes,” “outputs,” “activities,” and other M&E jargon of an organisation, let alone throwing all of that data into a meticulous and lengthy spreadsheet. But when it comes to long-term sustainability and internal learning about your organisation, it could be argued that few things are as important.

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PPI-NI’s Junior Champions 4 Peace at a recent meeting

The process can be a bit confusing, especially when the topic of quantifiable, qualifiable data is brought up, or an argument erupts about having a goal with “too many changes,” but when facilitated successfully (S/O to Julie Younes – PPI Director of Monitoring and Evaluation) it can be a transformative and progressive tool to help your organisation learn, develop and grow. At PPI-NI we are all about sharing knowledge and, as timing would have it, we were recently able to take some of our learning and apply it to our own programming, as well as to the clubs and organisations in our community.

Last week, PPI-NI put their learning into practice. After delivering a successful Game of Three Halves to over 200 children and young people Tuesday and Wednesday, PPI-NI representatives delivered a “Club Together” programme with eight clubs from different communities in the Portadown, Northern Ireland area. The goal of the day was to bring clubs of varying experience and community backgrounds together to share ideas and knowledge. Facilitators Joe Smith (PPI-NI International Fellow) and Ryan Stewart (PPI-NI Fast Track Coach) took the clubs through the topics of leadership, inclusion, club development and club management. The day was highly successful and culminated with all clubs, new and old, putting in place an M&E plan to bring back to other members of their respective organisations.

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The PPI Design a Programme Template Joe and Ryan used to deliver their “Club Together” Training

PPI-NI also wanted to make sure we began practicing what we preach.  After the first day of training, Project Coordinator Joanne Fitzpatrick began applying the learning to the Junior Champions 4 Peace (C4P) programme, starting with the problem statement and theory of change. With the ultimate goal of the Junior C4P programme being “to fully equip the young people of the C4P programme with the skills and knowledge to be the next generation of PeacePlayer coaches and leaders in their communities,” Joanne then explored the outcomes, activities and outputs. These outputs (the tangible products of program activities) allowed her to develop a memorandum of understanding (MOU) and action plan for the Junior C4P programme. The M&E knowledge that Joanne gained through the training allowed her to apply more structure for the C4P programme moving forward, allowing for a better, more valuable experience for the kids.

PPI-NI will continue to constantly improve not only ourselves but those around us. As the great Mahatma Gandhi said, “Live like you will die tomorrow, learn like you will live forever.” When taking this mantra to heart, there is no stopping your path to improvement!

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