Ryan (far right) visits a PPI family in East Jerusalem.
This week, Ryan Hitz, a student at Brigham Young University-Hawaii, writes about his experience visiting PPI – Middle East this summer. He was part of a larger group that visited the program, which included NBA GMs, USAID personnel, and PPI Global leadership.
I was first introduced to PPI-ME almost two years ago, when I sat in a business lecture given by Professor Chad Ford (of ESPN.com and Brigham Young University, Hawaii), where he talked about PPI and the impact it has had on his life and others. As he shared photos and then a video, I was touched with how this organization has been able to have a profound impact on the lives of all those involved. The feeling of caring and peace was literally tangible. I left searching for this feeling. Having run successful businesses for more than a decade, I was at the time a business major. I looked deep within and could see I was really passionate about helping people. I changed my major the next day, opting for conflict resolution and joining the peace-building program led by Chad Ford.
Recently, I was invited to participate in the PPI program in the Middle East. This was a dream come true. Having learned so much about the program, I was finally able to observe and experience it first-hand. The week-long trip was filled with non-stop basketball drills, games and twinnings, which started literally hours upon arrival. On day one, I met the program staff, and I knew that PPI – ME had special leaders in place. When I saw the way the staff spoke of the children and how the children in action responded to them, I could see the mutual feeling of love and appreciation that existed between them. Everyone I met who was involved in the program was just beaming with excitement and joy. The court was full of cheers and applause, as well as laughter, and then tears. The tears came when a young Palestinian woman named Aisha rolled her ankle coming down hard after a charge to the basket. A fellow student, Mason Isom, and I were asked by Galit Sahar to help her take Aisha to the hospital.
In talking with Vito Gilic’ (PPI – ME Director of Basketball Operations), I said, “I have a hard time telling them apart”. He replied, “Isn’t that beautiful? That’s the success of the program.”
Ryan and a PPI youngster work together on a drill (photo: Joel Dzodin).
Mason and I carried Aisha off the court, up a large flight of stairs, and out to the car. Other than seeing each other on the court and smiling, this was our first formal introduction to Aisha. Accompanying Aisha to the hospital, Mason and I got a glimpse into the real life of another. As the doctors asked questions in Hebrew and then in Arabic we did our best to try to understand what was going on. When we were motioned to push Aisha to another room we did so. Sitting there in an unfamiliar medical center enjoying each others’ company was probably one of the most memorable experiences of my trip. The point is that one does not have to travel 10,000 miles to have a great experience. It happens when we slow down and connect with each other’s humanity. We did our best to help Aisha laugh and not think about the excruciating pain she was feeling. As we left the medical center we drove her home. Galit, Mason, and I sang “No Aisha No Cry” to Bob Marleys’ famous tune as we drove her home.
A bus trip up north was scheduled the next day and Aisha was there to join the team even though she was injured and not able to play. This is truly the essence of what it means to be a team player. Other team members lifted her up and helped her to get around as they too wanted her to be there with them.
When others ask me, “What was the highlight of your trip to PPI – ME?” I tell them: the people and how they have touched my life.
For many, peace seems like a lofty goal that is not actually possible. I am here to tell you it is possible. If children from opposing areas can play together then they can live together.
On our last night, we went on a walking tour of the East Jerusalem neighborhood where Aisha and several other PPI – ME kids live. We were able to meet with two PPI families and while the languages spoken may not have been shared, the ability to connect and feel love towards the other was. These moments are times I will forever treasure in my mind.