The PeacePlayers – Cyprus twinning program is an island-wide network of basketball teams that provide boys and girls ages 11-15 in Greek-Cypriot communities and Turkish-Cypriot communities basketball and life skills education sessions two times each week, culminating in monthly integrated bicommunal “twinnings.” Our twinnings are the opportunities for our participants to come together and play on mixed teams with kids from the “other” community on a regular basis.
Nearly every other Saturday throughout the school year, one of our Turkish-Cypriot teams and one of our Greek-Cypriot teams join their twinned team from the opposite community in the United Nations Buffer Zone for a morning of basketball. Thanks to the support of the UN, PeacePlayers have access to a court inside the neutral territory of the Buffer Zone. The events are hosted at Ledra Palace, a once well-known luxury hotel in the heart of Nicosia, Cyprus’ capital. Ledra Palace has since been converted to the home of the UN Troops stationed in Cyprus. The United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) provides PeacePlayers access to their court, transportation for our youth to arrive in Nicosia from their particular community, and even pizza after the games.
On the court we mix the kids and create teams that are represented by both sides so that they have the opportunity to get to know someone from their twinned team. At the beginning the kids are hesitant, often never having met nor spoken with a kid from the opposite community. In order to break down those initial social barriers we start with activities that focus on individual one on one connections. Each child is partnered with a kid from the opposite team to compete in silly relay races. Nothing breaks down the initial hesitancies like laughing together with someone.
Check out the video of a dance session that took place on the court during this past weekend’s Iskele and Engomi girls twinning:
After a few fun games, and lots of laughter, the kids are assigned to mixed teams for competitive basketball scrimmaging with their new teammates. This combination of silly and competitive activities helps form new bridges between the children once the initial barriers have been broken down. At our most recent twinning, Zeynep, a Turkish-Cypriot girl, had just played in her first twinning. Afterwards her mother spoke to our coaches about her daughter’s experience:
“I was really nervous to let my daughter go to the buffer zone, I’ve never been down there myself. Then she came home afterwards and was so excited about having played basketball with her friends, and having made new friends that love the same game she does.” – Zeynep’s Mom
Without PeacePlayers, children like Zeynep would not have the opportunity to meet kids from the other community. And by bringing youth together on a regular basis, week after week, these new faces they first see on the court become new teammates and even friends. The initial fears and uncertainties of stepping outside of one’s own community begin to disappear both from the child’s perspective and in Zeynep’s case from the parent as well.