International Fellowships offer Americans unique opportunity to bridge divides, bring peace

South Africa International Fellow, Kristin Degou, during a basketball practice with her PeacePlayers team

South Africa International Fellow, Kristin Degou, during a basketball practice with her PeacePlayers team

While every individual involved in PeacePlayers is absolutely necessary, the 75 international fellows who have volunteered at each of the PPI sites since 2001 are an integral part of the PPI program. PPI’s International Fellowship program offers outstanding post-collegiate scholar athletes the opportunity to serve two year terms in any of the PPI sites: Northern Ireland, South Africa, the Middle East, or Cyprus. PPI Fellows provide basketball expertise to the children involved in the program, serve as mentors and role models, and act as neutral facilitators between PPI coaches and participants.

Megan Houlihan with a group of PeacePlayers in Northern Ireland

Megan Houlihan with a group of PeacePlayers in Northern Ireland

While each fellow must fulfill the expectations of the program, some join PPI already interested in a certain aspect of the organization’s mission. Megan Houlihan of New York joined the PPI family in 2010, when she worked as an International Fellow at PPI’s Northern Ireland site. One of her main goals for her time in Ireland was to inspire young girls in the area. “I really believe that involvement in sport allows young girls to develop a sense of self-confidence and assertiveness,” she said. “On a larger scale, that can play into the integral role women have in achieving peace in conflict situations.”

In addition to acting as a mentor, role model, and facilitator to the different groups involved in PPI, many International Fellows go above and beyond to immerse themselves in the divided communities in which they are working. Adam Hirsch worked as an International Fellow at PPI’s Cyprus site from 2010-2012. While in Cyprus, Adam organized 3 mural projects at disadvantaged schools. One of these projects was for the children of Agios Antonios Elementary School in Limassol. Agios Antonios is very unique in that it is one of a handful of schools in Cyprus that has students of Greek-Cypriot, Turkish-Cypriot, and Roma descent. The murals depicted the key elements of the PeacePlayers mission: hope, peace, and of course, basketball. Adam said of the project, “The finished product was more than just something nice to look at; it was something the kids could see every day and be proud of, showing the world just how much potential they have if given an opportunity.”

International Fellow, Adam Hirsch, in front of the mural at Agios Antonios in Cyprus

International Fellow, Adam Hirsch, in front of the mural at Agios Antonios in Cyprus

Upon completing their fellowships, alumni of the PPI International Fellowship program have gone on to careers in fields including finance, technology, sports management, social entrepreneurship, and international development and have attended graduate schools including the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Columbia University Business School, and Tuft’s Fletcher School of Diplomacy. Thibault Manekin, a 2003-2006 fellow from the PPI-South Africa program, said, “…one of [PPI’s] biggest lessons was how much we [Fellows] learned about people, and that’s translated really well into the work [I am] doing now.” Thibault currently heads Seawall Development, a company which is innovatively revitalizing Baltimore’s abandoned industrial landscape.

Adam reiterated the importance of his experience as a PPI Fellow, and encourages others to participate in the International Fellowship Program. He said, “I am so grateful to those who made this experience possible, but the impact of the PPI Fellows is ongoing, and there are a lot more children and communities that can benefit from our work.”

PPI is now accepting applications for the International Fellowship program. Applications can be found here.

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