Tony McGaharan first became involved with PeacePlayers International as a volunteer several years ago. Recently, he returned to the program as part of a two-week work study. Below, he shares his thoughts on his experience and how the program has developed since he first encountered PPI – NI.
What a week!
I have been involved with Peace Players International for many years and so, when the opportunity came up to choose a local organization for my 2-week work-study placement, there was no doubt where I wanted to volunteer.
This time last year, I was living and studying in Sweden and was the Head Coach of a professional women’s basketball team in the city of Umea. I then spent the summer in the United States, working as a coach for an 8-week basketball camp. I returned to Belfast in September to complete my undergraduate studies at Stranmillis University College, a local teacher training institution.
One of my favorite memories of PPI-NI goes back to my first Jingle Ball. I could not believe how many kids were packed into the sports hall; it was organized chaos. The energy, the buzz and the excitement was overwhelming. I then remember being asked to coach a team. I was privileged to be asked to coach a cross-community team with a mix of Holy Cross Girls and Wheatfield Primary school pupils. It was incredible to witness the power of sport in breaking down prejudices. The girls came together at the start of the day quiet and distant from one another, but by the afternoon they were sharing high-fives and heaps of laughter.
Throughout the day, there were numerous games, competitions and role-playing. As a young coach and future educator, I was blown away by the talent of the PPI leaders. I remember watching Ryan Douwie for the first time (now the Director of Basketball Operations in PPI- South Africa) at Jingle Ball and leading a warm-up for approximately 200 kids in attendance. It was like watching a magician at work! You could not keep your eyes off him and he amazingly held the attention of those young children for a full ten minutes.
This past week, I have been involved with a few twinnings in Antrim, working with both primary school children and secondary school pupils. Gareth Harper, Managing Director, has been exceptionally accommodating and has taken the time to guide me through the strategic direction of PPI-NI, as well as recent developments and ideas for the future. I have been involved in their weekly Operational Meetings, where the entire team encouraged me to share my ideas and thoughts regarding PPI-NI programming.
Over the past several days I have experienced a passionate team of people, whose deep commitment to advancing the mission of PeacePlayers is evident in every aspect of their position – whether they are facilitating community relations activities, coaching basketball, developing relationships with teachers, or working behind-the-scenes in the office.
Working with the good people at PPI-NI has been a real privilege. I have enjoyed every moment of coaching with them on the court and have shared lots of laughs on the road and in the office. A particular favorite of mine is when Rory and Meghan, two Fellows here from the U.S., felt a craving for an American meal, which inevitably led us to make a quick pit-stop on our return trip from Antrim. You should have seen their faces light up when they saw those golden arches. I have never seen people happier than they were to be in McDonald’s!
Now, years after my first experience of PeacePlayers, this work-study has allowed me to discover that PPI-NI has changed in a way I didn’t think possible.
It has gotten better.
- Tony McGaharan