Who are your champions? Team USA, for winning the FIBA World Cup? Germany, for winning the FIFA World Cup? Maybe even Northern Ireland’s own Carl Frampton, world super-bantamweight champion? At PeacePlayers International-Northern Ireland (PPI-NI) we have our own champions we call Champions4Peace.
A little over two years ago, Joanne and a former International Fellow, Meghan Houlihan, established the “ambassador” programme. The ambassador programme was a steering group, a youth council of sorts, that provided feedback on our current programming. The goal is to develop young leaders that can help bridge divide between Catholics and Protestants in their communities.
Early last year the programme began to evolve and the Champions4Peace (C4P) programme was introduced. We had between 15 and 20 young people, aged 11-18, in the one group. At Summer Jam 2013, Donal Hegarty received the C4P of the Year award for his dedication and participation in meetings.
In the Fall of 2013, we split the group and created Junior C4Ps (11- 14yrs) and Senior C4Ps (15-20yrs). Throughout the ’13-’14 term, we seen the participants from both groups complete leadership training, attend monthly meetings and get away on some fun trips, such as the Clare exchange and watching the Northern Ireland women’s world cup qualifier. At the Summer Jam 2014, Brooklyn O’Hare was crowned C4P of the Year, for her upbeat energy, enthusiasm, and dedication to the programme.
This year the Junior C4Ps have grown as a group with 20 members from all sides of Belfast City. Our monthly meetings have been focused on arranging fundraisers, training in our three pillars (community relations, basketball and sport4change), and organizing social gatherings and group discussions on the current issues in Northern Ireland. This group of young people have been working incredibly hard to fundraise for our upcoming Belfast2Brooklyn trip. In just under 3 months, they will have raised a total of £1,100. They have accomplished this by through running a Car Wash4Peace, a Sponsored Onesy Dribble Walk, Shoot Out Sweep, and Pie4Peace Challenge.
This past weekend we had two great sessions with our junior C4Ps, a meeting on Saturday in which we discussed Community Relations, and a social night with the Senior C4Ps on Sunday. On Saturday we had a great conversation about the Peace Walls in Belfast, how they felt about them, what they imagined it would be like without them, and if they wanted them to come down.
On Sunday night, 21 C4Ps both junior and senior gathered in Peace House to watch USA vs Serbia in the FIBA World Cup Final. They shared pizza, conversation, and support for Team USA. The Junior C4Ps continue to form bonds that cannot be replicated in any other programme. These kids have now made friends for life during this programme. Including friends that they would never have had the opportunity to meet if it wasn’t for Junior C4Ps and PeacePlayers. As a group they will continue to fundraise together for the aforementioned Belfast to Brooklyn trip. This trip of a lifetime will see the Junior C4Ps putting what they have learned through the programme into good practice, by running a Game of 3 Halves event for their partner organization and partaking in a cultural exchange.
Joanne says that “I admire these kids, everything they do together, the opinions they have formed, the friendships they’ve been willing to have and the leadership qualities that are beginning to show. This is the next generation of PeacePlayers coaches and community leaders. I feel so privileged to be part of this programme and I know that coaches like Michaela Thompson and Ryan Stewart, who have been helping me with the Junior C4P group, certainly feel the same.”