“Aside from the midnight gunshots, I never really felt like there was a threat to me,” former PPI employee, Andrew Gordon, explains as we sit across from each other at the PPI office in Washington, DC. He had come in to prepare for his next trip to Yemen, the fourth and final mission since 2011. Andrew, along with another former PPI alum, Julie Younes, were going to Yemen as part of PPI’s new Technical Assistance Program, a branch of PPI that trains other organizations in the areas of sport for civic engagement, leadership development and conflict transformation. In Yemen, PPI is partnering with AMIDEAST, a U.S. nonprofit that works to strengthen cooperation between Americans and the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa, to increase civic engagement by creating sports teams for at-risk Yemeni youth.
Andrew grew up in central Washington, DC, his friendship with PPI cofounders Brendan and Sean Tuohey dates to their high school basketball team. In 2002, Brendan surprised Andrew by asking him to join Sean in South Africa to help develop what was then only an 18-month-old organization. Over the next 3 years Andrew would set out to help build a sports and life skill program that taught South African youth not just on the court, but also in life. After South Africa Andrew returned to the PPI head office in Washington, DC and spent the next 4 years overseeing PPI Operations in the four international sites and the program in New Orleans. Andrew left PPI in 2009 and spent the next 2 years living in Panama running a beachfront restaurant called Pipas, as in agua de pipa or coconut water.
“The country and people of Haiti have suffered in so many ways for centuries, but the resilience and courage I witnessed is forever with me.”
Andrew was living in Panama when the devastating earthquake struck Haiti in 2010. His first instinct was to immediately jump on a plane to assist with relief efforts. He did not go, but the opportunity to become involved in Haiti came later though his graduate school thesis experience. Andrew returned to the US to pursue his Masters in International Relations from the Fletcher School in Massachusetts. While working on his thesis, Andrew partnered with Mercy Corps, a global humanitarian aid agency engaging in transitional environments that have experienced some sort of shock such as a natural disaster, economic collapse, or conflict. Andrew spent 2 weeks based in Port-au-Prince and traveling throughout the island investigating the necessary factors that would allow for the transition from an emergency relief and recovery operations to a long-term development plan.
After Haiti, Andrew began working on building a consultancy profile, part of which is his work with PPI in Yemen. According to Andrew, Yemen is in a critical stage of its democracy building. There are significant food and water shortages, public health problems, and large population of young people without constructive outlets. His goal is to work with locals to create sport programs in the cities of Sana’a and Aden to engage youth in their communities as never before.
When Andrew first arrived over 1 year ago, part of his Needs Assessment involved meeting with key community members and government officials in Aden and Sana’a to figure out how best to recruit participants. The base of operations was an education center funded and operated by USAID and AMIDEAST that bustles each day with several hundred male and female students. By the end of the month, Julie joined Andrew and they were challenging Yemeni women and men to take more responsibility in their community and perhaps begin running their own projects. Andrew then returned to Yemen on his own in June of 2012 to engage a more experienced group of basketball players to join the participants from earlier in the year.
The February 2013 trip re-unites Andrew and Julie as trainers and will engage their participants in training workshops that will feature tools to help them think in more depth about a particular problem or need in their community that can be addressed via their particular community-based project. The workshops also feature long-term management principles, while going after a slightly older and more experienced group of post-college graduates with the hope that they will have the ability to continue the program. For Andrew, it will be his last time working with this group in Yemen. “I am going to miss the people I have encountered in Yemen. The potential for the young adults to organize themselves for better communities is limitless. Everyone we work with wants a better and active life. They soak up the information we share both on the court and in the classroom like sponges – with the hope that they then proactively engage community members as the leaders they now see in themselves.”