This week, we hear from PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland (PPI-NI) Managing Director Gareth Harper. Gareth took up the position of Managing Director in March 2009, having previously worked as Programmes Manager with Rural Community Network NI, a regional rural community development organization.
On Saturday morning, my wife and I were taking our two daughters for breakfast in Newcastle—my home town in County Down—as a treat at the end of their first week back at school after the Christmas break. When I’m with my girls, as much as possible, I try to keep the time sacred and normally I don’t even have my phone with me, let alone answer it. But this time I had it, and the number came up as international which usually means it’s one of my extended PeacePlayers family members in DC, Cyprus, the Middle East or South Africa. So I took the call.
However on this occasion it was not one of my “PPI siblings”; it was a gentleman of the French press. I’m still glad that I took the call. The man’s name was Olivier, and he explained that he had been sent to Northern Ireland to cover the riots in Belfast. Just before I jumped in to say that I would only be interested in talking to him about the positive work that PeacePlayers and others have been doing and that I am fed up with only the bad news being reported (well, he did interrupt my sacred family time!), he explained that after three short days he had come to recognise that both the local and international coverage of the current situation was presenting in his view a highly disproportionately negative image of the city of Belfast and indeed of Northern Ireland.
Yes, he had witnessed the rioting first hand and he had been shocked by what he saw. But he had also been able to get lunch, walk around the city and to talk to people going about their daily routines. He decided and had taken it upon himself to invest in seeking out what he suspected to be behind the negative. His investigation led him to me for a meeting at Peace House on Monday morning at 10 a.m. Olivier was delighted to hear about the great work which PeacePlayers and others been involved with, about the Game of Three Halves, the Belfast Interface Games and the fantastic work being done by the Gaelic Athletic Association, Irish Football Association, and Ulster Rugby.
He decided that he wanted to present an alternative and perhaps more proportionate picture of the actual situation and reality. This for me is great and indeed depressing all at the same time. It took a French journalist only three days to see that there are many more positive than negative stories to be told about Northern Ireland. Wouldn’t it be brilliant if we all took the time to invest in thinking about what a great place this is? Perhaps then, we could think about how it can still get better.