So, where to begin? I’m Coach James Hughes, now a Project Coordinator with PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland (PPI-NI), and this is my first blog post. I started my journey with PeacePlayers by helping out at Jingle Ball 2010 and Spring Jam 2011. I had never experienced a cross-community event like these in Belfast. The atmosphere created by bringing kids from different communities together was incredible and the coaching staff was fantastic. I was hooked!
Coming from a school in north Belfast, I have seen (and experienced) my fair share of sectarianism. Even as I write, I am starting to catch snippets of information filtering through about pipe bombs thrown at police officers. We’ve come a long way since the 1970s, but there is still a long way to go. So, knowing that there was an organization in the city striving to break down these divides was a comforting thought, and I knew I wanted to be a part of it. So, I took another, larger step into the organization by becoming a sessional coach for PeacePlayers in January of 2013. I was part of a small group of coaches that went with the coordinators to the twinning programs to coach basketball with one half of the group while the others went to undertake community-relations discussion with the coordinators.
I started taking on more of the community-relations discussions and became a lead coach after Christmas. Talking to the kids about their views and opinions was a new challenge. I was able to listen to their their stories and experiences, which they considered a normal part of life in an interface area. We talked about the likes of sectarianism, prejudice, and symbols. By the end of the program, some children had added members of the other school on Facebook. The sense of achievement in bridging these community divides is so tangible for us; this is what pushes me to keep working for PeacePlayers.
As Darryl Petticrew, Leadership Development Programme Coordinator, moved on to a new post with Ulster Rugby a few weeks ago, a spot opened up in the office. I had a chat with Gareth Harper, our Managing Director, about whether or not I’d be interested in the position, and of course I was. I have just finished my first week as a full-time member of the office and I love it! With Spring Jam only a few days away, there is a lot going on right now. There is so much involved in organizing an event like this. I can only tip my hat to the people who have done this in years prior. I’m grateful for this new opportunity to work full-time to unite and educate young people from Protestant and Catholic communities.