Each summer, in the mountain town of Agros, 64 Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot youth spend a week living together, playing basketball, and building new friendships at the PeacePlayers-Cyprus Basketball Camp. Since the end of an inter-ethnic war in 1974, Greek and Turkish communities in Cyprus have been physically separated by a UN-administered “Green Zone” stretching from one side of the island to the other. Most youth have no opportunities to interact with children from the other community, instead relying on propaganda and misinformation that spread fear and hate. By spending an entire week learning and playing together, these young people made tremendous progress in breaking down stereotypes and building real friendships. “We came here knowing little of each other and we have in these few days gained tremendous experiences, new friendships and a strong belief we can make things happen!” said a young female participant.
A highlight of the camp was former NBA player and Brooklyn Nets Assistant Coach, Doug Overton, and WNBA champion and beach volleyball athlete, Kelly Schumacher. Each day, PeacePlayers staff and the guest coaches led the participants through a host of special activities that included basketball skills training and competitive matches as well as film making, trivia games, conflict resolution seminars and other team building exercises. During an interview for a local Cyprus television news program Doug said, “It’s been great, this is my second time here and I brought my family with me. PeacePlayers is a wonderful cause and a wonderful program. I’ve learned so much about Cyprus and the history between both communities.”
This year the camp also featured young coaches in training from PeacePlayers-Cyprus’ Leadership Development Program (LDP). The LDP is made up of thirty 15-18 year-olds who are graduates of the youth programs and receive additional training to become coaches and community leaders themselves. After spending the past year developing their communication and leadership skills both on and off the court, 8 LDP participants were chosen to be assistant coaches for the camp. Each of the young leaders took on great responsibilities both on and off the court, learning what it takes to become good leaders and role models. While working with the LDP girl’s team, Kelly Schumacher said, “You cannot tell who is who on the court, they are all playing together and building strong ties day by day. I am proud to see them learn and grow so fast and I am also happy to be one coach they will keep in the memory from this experience.”
During the camp participants also attended conflict resolution sessions lead by two very well-known Cypriots working within the field of Peacebuilding, Nicos Anastasiou, founder of Cyprus Friendship Program, and Alexis Lyras, Professor of Conflict Resolution at Georgetown University. Nicos led participants through an activity that allowed them to explore their community’s stereotypes, as well as how they have changed their own personal perceptions through their new friendships, while Professor Lyras helped the participants realize that it is within their power to utilize the positive power of sport to create peace.
On the last day of camp Ambassador John Koenig from the US Embassy spent the afternoon with the campers, witnessing firsthand the impact that basketball can have on the lives of children. Ambassador Koenig was so impressed that he pledged he would do his best to support this initiative during the upcoming year, despite the dire cutbacks been made at the Embassy.
The “PeacePlayers Basketball Camp” was supported by the US Embassy’s Bicommunal Support Program, the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation and the Brooklyn Nets.