This week I want to take the opportunity to introduce all of our readers to an integral member of our PeacePlayers Cyprus family, Stephanie Nicholas. Stephanie is a Greek Cypriot who grew up playing basketball in Nicosia. As a result of her participation in the game of basketball Stephanie became involved in bi-communal activities (programs that bring together individuals from the Greek-Cypriot community and the Turkish-Cypriot community). I recently had a chance to sit down with Stephanie and ask her a few questions pertaining to her experiences and perceptions regarding the division on the island.
She candidly told me stories of her parents and grandparents having fled their homes in the North never to return again, stories of her father having fought in the war and her mother recalling hiding under tables in a small mountain village while bombs fell nearby. Yet as these experiences are an inextricable part of her family’s history Steph stresses that this is history. Remarkably, her parents encouraged her and her sister to not be shaped by their past and to remain open-minded young women. “Even though my family lost their homes and my dad even fought in the war, that hasn’t stopped them from supporting my beliefs and my involvement in bi-communal activities.”
Inspired by her participation in the bi-communal activities and the sports that were such key parts of her childhood, Stephanie went on to study Sport Science and Coaching at Bedfordshire University in the UK where she also played on the women’s basketball team. After graduating in 2011 from the undergraduate program, Stephanie returned home to the island and when she heard about the PPI Cyprus summer camp she quickly contacted us and offered to help out in anyway possible. Inspired by her experiences, Steph returned to England this year to complete her master’s degree in Globalization and Sport at Loughborough University. With inspiration from her experiences in sport and building bridges across divides, she began her thesis“Divided Cyprus, Intercommunal Tensions and the use of Sport for Conflict Resolution.” Stephanie is now putting the finishing touches on her thesis and has returned to establish her life once again in Cyprus.
With a hopeful heart she is optimistic about her country’s future. But she believes that it will take a lot of work to solve the problems between the two communities and it must start with the youth. With programs such as PPI, she aspires for the youth of the island to loose the stigma and the negative perceptions of being friends with someone from the “other community.” She hopes for the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot kids to “grow up and learn that we work as one, we live as one and that nothing else separates us.”
Stephanie exemplifies the attitudes and perspectives we seek to transmit to the youth involved in PeacePlayers. We are grateful to have a volunteer who is so dedicated to the mission of PPI Cyprus. With a heart like this it is no doubt that Stephanie will have a tremendously positive influence on many Cypriot kids’ lives for many years to come.