This week PPI Fellow Gunnar Hagstrom recounts his trip to Morocco to deliver Anatomy of Peace training to children at the Sidi Moumen Cultural Center (IDMAJ). The journey to the center began last August in Agros, Cyprus and concluded this March with an impromptu wedding in Casablanca.
On March 11th I was thrilled to be on a plane heading to Casablanca, Morocco where I met up with PPI-ME Managing Director Karen Doubilet and PPI-ME Director of Basketball Operations Vito Gilic. We were going to Casablanca to work with the children and coaches of the Sidi Moumen Cultural Center (IDMAJ) on how we at PeacePlayers use sport for peace. Sidi Moumen is the largest neighborhood of Casablanca and also arguably the poorest. The center creates an opportunity for the kids of this neighborhood to have access to different extracurricular activities, English lessons, math tutoring, sports etc., becoming a second home to many of the children. During last August’s Arbinger Institute “Anatomy of Peace” training in Agros, Cyprus, four members of IDMAJ flew to Cyprus to take part in the week-long seminar, so this was a great opportunity for us to reunite with old friends and see what kind of impact the training really had.
We were greeted at the airport by members of IDMAJ who were actually on their way back to Casablanca from a conference in Chicago. I found out right off the bat that some of the Arbinger language had clearly stuck with this group, as Rabab Rmaini (coach at IDMAJ) greeted me with a hug, and then expressed that she was “really in the box” right now because their flight in Frankfurt got delayed 12 hours. So, at least we were off to a good start!
In between traditional Moroccan meals of Tajine and couscous, venturing through the old Bazaars, visiting the Hassan II Mosque (the third largest mosque in the world), sitting down in Rick’s Café (from the movie, Casablanca), and touring through the city, we were still left with enough time to actually work with the program.
On Saturday the training began, as Karen and I led a three hour Anatomy of Peace Seminar for the 31 children and 8 coaches of the sports program of IDMAJ. We focused our talks on the most central aspect of the Anatomy of Peace, which is seeing others as people, not as objects. The kids got a real kick out of this, as they had a chance to come up with stories from their lives (and usually quite embellished stories) where they had been involved in conflict in the past. Later on, Vito took the group outside and ran team building drills until the rain and darkness came.
On Sunday, Vito and I ran an on-court basketball training. Using the concepts and the language from the classroom session of the Anatomy of Peace, Vito has developed many different basketball drills that demonstrate how we get in and out of conflict. By the end of the session we still couldn’t drag the kids off the court. They were running up and down outside for 3 hours, and I am convinced they could have kept going for 5 more hours.
After the basketball training, Karen, Vito and I prepared to say our goodbyes. After an exchange of gifts, hugs and thank yous, we were brought to the upstairs of the Centre, and they dressed us in traditional Moroccan wedding attire. What we didn’t know was that they had planned a going away ceremony for us, which was to put us through a traditional Moroccan wedding. I was to marry Karen, and Vito was Karen’s father, giving her away. Not only were there 40 members of the Centre there, but many of them brought their parents and siblings. There was even a professional photographer! After the traditional exchange of dates and milk between the bride and groom, and the drawing of Henna tattoos, there was eating and dancing and traditional music. This was a truly amazing and eye-opening experience. To the kids, coaches, volunteers and members of Sidi Moumen, PeacePlayers says thank you for making this moment such a memorable one.