This September, PeacePlayers International is thrilled to welcome PPI-CY alum Gunnar Hagstrom to the staff at global headquarters in Washington, DC! Gunnar, who just completed two years as an International Fellow in Cyprus, comes to DC as our new Organizational Learning Specialist. He will be working closely with Program Director Brian Cognato to build PPI’s emerging Technical Assistance Program. Previously, Gunnar worked as an Assistant Men’s Basketball coach for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). At MIT, Gunnar worked in all aspects of the program and helped lead MIT to its first two D3 NCAA Tournament Appearances. In 2007, Gunnar graduated from Clark University in Worcester, Mass. with a degree in Business. In 2008, he received his Master’s in Business Administration, also from Clark University. While at Clark, Gunnar was a four-year member of both the men’s basketball and men’s baseball teams. Read our chat with Gunnar below to learn more about the newest member of the global team!
Tag Archives: Gunnar Hagstrom
This past week PeacePlayers Cyprus International Fellow Gunnar Hagstrom traveled to Ethiopia to visit the work of Worldwide Orphans Foundation (WWO), an organization that “transforms the lives of orphaned children and helps them to become healthy, independent, productive members of their communities and the world.”
Gunnar left from Cyprus and spent one week in the capital city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa.
The purpose of Gunnar’s trip, conducted under the banner of PPI’s technical assistance program, was to help the foundation assess the possibility of expanding and enhancing their “Orphan Soccer League,” a youth soccer league for a number of orphanages and organizations in Ethiopia that work with vulnerable youth. As mentioned in our blog about Technical Assistance Program Director Brian Cognato’s trip to Latin American, members of the technical assistance program have traveled all over the world in the past few weeks, including trips to Buenos Aires, Argentina; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Sana’a, Yemen. Through the technical assistance program, PPI is working to use our institutional knowledge to support other communities and programs to improve their surroundings with sport.
Gunnar worked in Addis Ababa for 7 days and spoke with staff members of WWO, WWO children, and the head of the sport commission in Ethiopia to find out what was in place already, what could be improved, what the communities served would value most, and how best to create that value. In between meetings and discussions, Gunnar was able to work directly with the children, playing classic PPI games like “Sit Down Clown.” The local staff and individuals that Gunnar met, including his ever-charismatic WWO guide Million, were very hospitable, hard-working and dedicated hosts.
According to Gunnar, “One of the best things about sports is that the kids develop a passion which becomes an opportunity to dream.” Helping some of the most underprivileged children in the world see that they have the ability to turn those dreams into reality is what the work of WWO is all about, and PPI is honored to have been able to play a small part in supporting WWO in pursuit of that goal.
This week, PPI-CY got a special visitor from Durban, South Africa, PPI Fellow Taylor Brown. It is quite rare that PPI Fellows have an opportunity to visit other PPI sites, so we felt quite lucky to be graced by Taylor’s presence. His first weekend here PPI-CY held two twinnings, giving Taylor an opportunity to see what a twinning in Cyprus is all about. Taylor was quite comfortable with the kids, and the children were thrilled to have another special visitor.
Over the next two days, Gunnar and myself took Taylor all over the island to PeacePlayers basketball practices in both the Greek-Cypriot and the Turkish-Cypriot communities. Spending hours in the car together traveling between the different teams was a great opportunity to talk about Cypriot history and to compare and contrast the different successes and challenges PPI-SA and PPI-CY face. PPI-SA is much bigger with a larger local staff than PPI-CY, Taylor’s roles are a bit different. In addition, PPI-SA is primarily focused on HIV/AIDS education (1 in 3 people in Durban are HIV positive). But one thing we do have in common is our love for the kids, and an understanding the important task at hand.
This week’s blog is written by PPI Fellow Taylor Brown, whohad the opportunity to travel from South Africa to visit PPI-Cyprus over the Easter holiday. He recounts his experience below.
Over the Easter holiday, I had the wonderful and unique opportunity to visit the PPI program in Cyprus. Having been in contact regularly with the PPI Fellows in Cyprus, Adam Hirsch & Gunnar Hagstrom, throughout our 2-years abroad with PPI, I was eager to learn about the current state of the conflict in Cyprus and PPI-CY’s work in bringing together participants and communities from the North (Turkish) and South (Greek) sides of the Island through basketball.
The PPI programming highlight of the trip was my participation in the 2 Twinnings held at the UN Buffer Zone basketball court on April 5th. Before the games featuring mixed teams started, the PPI-CY staff developed and led fun and interactive teambuilding activities to help foster the interaction. Also, having the opportunity to meet the Cyprus coaches and other members of the PPI family and lending a helping hand at practices with PPI-CY participants was blast.
In addition to consistent consumption of haloumi, kebabs and souvlakis, we also had time for some tourist activities. The two highlights were a Saturday night Bazoukia, a traditional Greek evening full of music, dancing and food, as well as a visit/hike to the breathtaking Saint Hilarion Castle in North Cyprus.
Thanks to everyone in Cyprus for making the visit an unforgettable one, and we hope to have some of you down in South Africa sooner than later!!
On Saturday February 4, PeacePlayers International – Cyprus was proud to partner with the US Embassy’s Micro Access Program to put on a special basketball clinic for 35 Turkish-Cypriot youth. The Micro Access Program works with Cypriot youth to bring them free English language education. Most of the kids come from areas where English language is not readily spoken or education is not available, making this opportunity very special for them. Learning English provides the kids with a great opportunity to go to university abroad.
On Saturday PPI-CY International Fellows Adam Hirsch and Gunnar Hagstrom ran a 3 hour basketball clinic, covering all aspects of the game from ball handling, passing, shooting and defense. Most of the children had no prior basketball experience but were enthusiastic as the fellows ran them through many creative games that challenged them physically and mentally. One such game involved them getting into teams of 4, and trying to figure out how to carry the ball across the court with only 3 feet touching the ground! Some kids carried their teammates on their backs, while others tried walking on their hands. The team that won showed the best teamwork, putting all their hands in the middle for the smallest kid to sit on like a seat.
Afterwards, everyone went out for a delicious lunch where the fellows could interact more with the youth. Many of them had never left Cyprus before, but were looking forward to attending University next year in places like the UK, Germany and Turkey. It was a great experience to get to the know the kids who have a bright future ahead of them.
The Micro Access Program is run through The Management Center, a center founded in 2001 whose goal is to provide sustainable development support to Cypriot society. They offer language education, jobs training courses and does local economic research and policy recommendations. PPI-CY has partnered with the Management Center often to run special projects like last Saturday’s clinic. For more information and pictures about PPI-CY’s special activities, please join our Facebook Group today!
This week, PPI Fellow Taylor Brown, who is serving in South Africa, recounts his experience in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, co-facilitating a training of trainers for IREX, a Washington, DC based non-profit, with programs in Kyrgyzstan.
On Friday, December 9th, I was excited to begin the lengthy journey to Bishkek from Durban, South Africa, to train 30 Kyrgyz coaches/physical education teachers on the many aspects of using sport as a tool for social and youth development. I had the privilege of co-facilitating the training with David Cady, a native of St. Louis, who has had 30+ years experience coaching at the high school level and running team-building workshops around the world. The initiative is part of a larger IREX program called “KICK” (Kyrgyzstan Innovations in Coaching Kids), whose objective is to use sport as a medium for teaching conflict management and to build mutual understanding among Kyrgyz coaches and youth from different regions and ethnic and religious backgrounds. The program is funded by a grant from SportsUnited, an initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
The specific segments of the training that I delivered on behalf of PPI were “Coaching is More than Winning,” Sports and Life Skills, the Anatomy of Peace and describing PPI’s Twinning Programs across our four sites. My personal highlight was facilitating “The Anatomy of Peace” portion of the training, using PPI’s basketball drills to reinforce the Arbinger Institute’s valuable lessons and methodologies on conflict resolution. I was nervous leading up to the session, primarily because of the language barriers (Russian, Kyrgyz, and Uzbek are the primary languages spoken in Kyrgyzstan). Luckily, I received endless amounts of support from the global PPI family. PPI Technical Assistance Program Director Brian Cognato (who also was of great help in developing the training curriculum) and Cyprus’ PPI Fellow Gunnar Hagstrom offered encouragement and advice, as they had facilitated the Anatomy of Peace in non-English speaking environments before.
Following the training of trainers, the next steps of the KICK program include:
1. The 30 training participants will write proposals for $1,000 grants to use to develop sporting programs and events to use either in their own communities, or between communities.
2. 5 coaches from the program will be selected for an April 2012 exchange visit to David’s school, Webster Groves High School, in St. Louis.
3. The 5 coaches will collaborate to develop a Youth Sports Camp in Kyrgyzstan in the summer of 2012.
On a personal note, the trip to Kyrgyzstan is something I will never forget. In addition to the training, we had the opportunity to meet with government officials, participate in/observe sports programming and meet many wonderful people that were very eager to share their culture and past experiences. At the end of the training, David and I received numerous traditional gifts from the training’s participants, as they expressed their gratitude to us for taking the time to build capacity and inspire social development in their communities – many doing so in poem form! Thank you to everyone that made the week-long visit such an unforgettable experience.
With the NBA lockout in its 134th day, many are fearing the pains of a winter without professional basketball. But in Cyprus at least, there is plenty of basketball to hold us over. In the Greek-Cypriot community there are 9 Division 1 basketball teams: APOEL, AEK, Achilleas, ETHA, Keravnos, Omonia, Apollon, AEL, and ENAD. Every season the 9 teams play each other twice, followed by playoffs where the champion automatically qualifies to compete in FIBA’s EuroChallenge competition where they will compete against the best teams of Europe, Russia and Turkey.
In the Turkish-Cypriot community there are also 9 teams: Gonyeli, Near East University, Eastern Mediterranean, Akdeniz, Kucuk Kaymakli, Soyer Sport, Koop, Karaoglanoglu, and Yeni Cami. But other than the number of teams, there is very little in common between the Greek-Cyprtiot and the Turkish-Cypriot basketball leagues. For the Turkish-Cypriot teams there is no opportunity to advance to play in the EuroChallenge, and the talent levels and team budgets are much lower. In the Greek-Cypriot community, teams have annual budgets of 120,000 t0 700,000 euro, while on the north the budgets are around 35,000 euro. For this reason every team in the Greek-Cypriot league is able to draw up to 3 American players (usually coming out of low end D1 colleges) and a host of other European professional players, while there are usually only 1 or 2 Americans and Europeans playing in the entire Turkish-Cypriot league.
One thing that makes professional basketball in Cyprus special is how it feels like a small family. At every game you see the same faces in the crowd, and the same coaches standing on the sidelines. And while players will switch jerseys from season to season, you can pretty much guess who the starting 5 will be year after year. And there are plenty of current and former PeacePlayer staff among the ranks. Former PPI-CY Coordinator Marios is now the head coach of ENAD, friend of the program Mihalis is assistant coach for Karavnos, PPI-CY coaches Antonia and Alexi play and coach for Achilleas, while current PPI-CY Coordinator Athanasios (aka T-Bone) plays for Omonia. Last season PPI-CY International Fellow Gunnar Hagstrom played in the Turkish-Cypriot league on the Lefkosia Devils with PPI-CY Board Member Ercan Basaran. I had the pleasure of watching them win their first 3 games before the team was disbanded due to lack of funds.
But one of the best memories from professional basketball in Cyprus was during my first few months on the island, when PPI-CY Board Member Orhun Mevlit, was head coach of Gonyeli. They were already in the second round of the playoffs when Orhun asked Gunnar and myself to join the team as his assistant coaches. We gladly accepted, and spent the next month sitting on the bench with the team, working with the players and coaches, as they made their way to the championship.
With many good relationships between PPI-CY and the professional basketball community in Cyprus, we see great opportunity for future partnerships such as inviting professional players to PPI-CY tournaments, holding professional coaches trainings, and inviting PPI-CY teams to attend professional games and even play during halftime. All of these ideas would be fun for our kids and a great opportunity to give put the spotlight on PeacePlayers’ mission of uniting the youth of Cyprus through sport.
Two weeks ago PPI-CY hired Athanasios Souflias to be its new Greek-Cypriot Coordinator. Athanasios was born in Greece, but he has moved to Cyprus to work for PPI-CY full time. His role as Coordinator will be to assist the International Fellows in overseeing all of the Greek-Cypriot teams, as well as coaching two teams himself. In this week’s blog, International Fellow Adam Hirsch sits down with Athanasios to learn a little bit more about him.
Adam Hirsch (AH): First of all, you are a big guy, how tall are you?
Athanasios Souflias (AS): 208 cm, or 6 feet 9 inches.
AH: So I guess you play basketball?
AS: I do. I played in Larissa, my hometown where I grew up. Larissa is in the center of Greece about 3 hours north of Athens. Then I got a scholarship to play basketball at Southern New Hampshire University. I played D2 ball there for 4 years as I got my Sports Management degree.
AH: What was it like living in America for 4 years?
AS: It was a great experience for me. I developed my basketball skills, I worked on my English, and I learned a lot from other cultures. I made friends with people from a lot of different places and I loved eating at subway. On the road trips, my African-American teammates would teach me how to rap. Mostly 50 cent and G-Unit.
AH: Did you have a nickname?
AS: Yeah, T-Bone, my assistant coach in college called me that as soon as he met me because I was tall and thin, like a string bean.
AH: Ok T-Bone, what did you do after graduating?
AS: After college I went back to Greece to play professional basketball. I started with a team called Xanthi in northern Greece. I spent 3 years there before playing for Komotini and serving 1 year of mandatory military service. Then I moved to Thesoloniki and played for Aias, which was the most fun because Thesoloniki is a wonderful city where basketball was started in Greece. While playing for Aias, I averaged 15 points and 9 rebounds a game. After just one year there, I moved to the island of Crete to play for Ofi for 2 years. It was also a great time, and in my second year we won the championship.
AH: How did you end up with PeacePlayers in Cyprus?
AS: I saw the advertisement for a PeacePlayers coordinator in the newspaper. I thought it was a really interesting opportunity it involves both basketball and my sport management degree. Plus I really enjoy work with kids and the idea of bring kids together for a good cause was really inspiring to me.
AH: Had you heard about Cyprus before?
AS: Yes. I have been to Cyprus like 5 times before to visit friends. I love Cyprus, the slow pace of life is great, but it’s too hot.
AH: Now that you have been here for a week, what do you think so far of PPI-CY, and more importantly, the 2 International Fellows, Gunnar and myself?
AS: I think PPI-CY is a great organization, I am impressed by the work they are doing. Bringing kids together from different communities is not an easy thing, but it is really important. I think the Fellows are great, they have been showing me around and I can see all of the effort they put into the organization. But they gotta hit the weights, because Adam is too skinny and Gunnar is too fat.
AH: Haha ok man thanks for the interview, Ill see you on the basketball court…
“This is Armenia”, were the first English words I heard when I arrived in Yerevan, Armenia at 4 am. I had just got into the car that was taking me from the capital of Armenia to Tzakhkadzor, a small camp in the mountains of North East Armenia. While I was searching to find how to buckle my seatbelt I heard these words, and was motioned that, no seatbelts are necessary. Right away I knew I was in for a trip that I had never experienced before.
I had signed up to Volunteer at the Our Lady of Armenia summer camp, a camp set up for orphans and underprivileged children of Armenia. The Our Lady of Armenia center was established in 1988, after the earthquake in Gyumri, Armenia left over 500,000 people homeless. For me, this was a chance to get back to my roots and to be able to bring pictures and stories back to my Grandmother from her homeland (my Grandmother is from Kharpert, Armenia, which is currently eastern Turkey). For the children who attended the camp, this was a chance for them to travel outside of their cities, towns, homes for maybe the first time. To get to interact with other children from all around Armenia, and take part in activities that they normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to do.
I was absolutely amazed by the children. While we had many barriers to verbal communication, their enthusiasm and energy was infectious for everyone at the camp. Many of these children came to the camp with just a plastic bag filled with a couple t-shirts and pairs of socks for the two weeks, but that didn’t matter. My role in the camp was ‘Sports Teacher.’ So every morning I had 5 groups of 30 children coming to play basketball with me. It was unbelievable, many of these children had never played or seen a basketball before, so I’d say it was more of a ‘relay races’ station than basketball, but they all seemed to enjoy. What I noticed in the sports stations is that most of the children didn’t have shoes. They had a pair of sandals or a pair of dress shoes, so when it came to sports, they just preferred to go barefoot on the cracked pavement.
One of the days, the entire camp took a field trip to go to Lake Sevan, the largest lake in Armenia situated in the mountains. This was eye opening for me, as I was informed early on that almost none of the kids could swim or had even been to a lake before. When we arrived, the counselors and volunteers formed a human barrier that the kids couldn’t go outside of (about waist deep), and we spent hours teaching the kids how to swim. Even though the water was much closer to the Atlantic Ocean than the Mediterranean, the children splashed around in the water for the entire day.
On the last day we said our goodbyes. The 200 children, teary-eyed, gathered their belongings and hopped onto busses to take them back to their homes. For many of these kids, this was their first opportunity to see what lies outside of their daily lives. Even for many of the Armenian counselors of the camp it was their first opportunity to leave home without one of their parents or an older sibling. The work that Our Lady of Armenia does is astounding. The amount of children’s lives that have been saved and been improved because of their selfless efforts is immeasurable.
On July 4th, PeacePlayers-Cyprus International Fellow Gunnar Hagstrom traveled to Razlog, Bulgaria to represent PPI-CY and join other members from Civil Society Organizations from across Europe in combining forces to create a “PeaceBook Manual.” Below he describes his experience:
The week-long conference saw participants from Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Turkey, Bulgaria and Macedonia, along with myself, come together to share ideas on peacebuilding practices from a wide range of different activities; sports, creative writing, acting, outdoor leadership, and entrepreneurship.
The trip to Bulgaria was a great opportunity to get back in touch with some old friends from previous work that PPI-CY has done with the members of the St. Cyril and St. Methodious schools in Bulgaria, as well as create new partnerships throughout the region.
While we spent significant parts of each day sharing ideas between each other on best practices, we also got an opportunity to experience life in the mountains of Southwest Bulgaria. After spending five days in Bulgaria, I came to find out that life in Southwest Bulgaria has the same characteristics of life in Cyprus: of a lot of eating. Much like how life is in Cyprus, food and camaraderie is a top priority. We spent hours trying all of the local dishes, from Tripe Soupto every kind of cheese and meat you could ever imagine.
My visit to Bulgaria also introduced me to a couple of new concepts, the first being the Cyrillic alphabet. My main goal of my week in Bulgaria was to learn all of the letters of the alphabet. For us Westerners who are accustomed to the latin alphabet, looking for Razlog on a bus going through the Balkans becomes increasingly difficult when I learned it was spelled Разлог. Additionally, in Bulgaria, when they want to shake their head ‘YES’, they shake it side to side, and when they want to say ‘NO’ they shake it up and down. This made for a handful of confusing interactions.
The trip to Bulgaria was a great experience, and when the PeaceBook Manual is completed it will be distributed to over 2,000 organizations in the Euro-Meditteranean and European regions.