Basketball is an integral part of PeacePlayers International. Outsiders who are not fully educated in our programing might believe that it’s the most important aspect of our mission– after all, we operate on the premise that “children who play together can learn to live together.” That said, the most important outcome of PeacePlayers is the relationships that develop between the children both on and off the court.
Our P7 participants (10 and 11 years old) recently completed PPI-NI’s eight-week twinning program; many left with a changed perception of the “other” community and made new friends, too! Once participants have spent a number of weeks getting to know each other and are comfortable with their teammates, they are introduced to a new term during the Community Relations session: sectarianism. Sectarianism, the act of treating someone unfairly based on his/her religion, is a problem that exists within everyday society in Northern Ireland. PPI-NI coaches discuss sectarianism with the kids on a frequent basis and use examples of sectarianism to highlight the benefits of having diversity and differences within a population.
The following conversation took place as PPI Fellow Meghan Houlihan led participants in a Community Relations activity called “The Line of Sectarianism.” The children were faced with hypothetical situations and decided as a team whether or not the act displayed sectarianism.
Meghan: “Catholics playing football with Protestants. Is that sectarian?”
Kids: (mixed reviews): “No…” “Yes!” “Noo.”
M: “That’s a great example! Can you say it a little louder?”
Boy: “We play basketball with everybody here, a mix of Catholics and Protestants. If you’re not mean to each other then it’s not sectarianism.”
M: “Exactly. Perfect. People playing together is not sectarian.”
Next situation read aloud:
Girl: “Catholics and Protestants talking about their differences.”
M: “Right, we do that the first time we get together. We do the similarities and differences, right? We do that with your class and then with your team. Is that a bad, thing– to talk about differences? (Kids: “No”) Think it’s a good thing? (Kids: “Yeah”) Exactly. So we did that when we joined our teams, and we got to learn about each other, talking about our differences and similarities.
Girl: “Is this kind of one? My granny lives by the peace wall and people throw things over.. is that…?”
M: “What do you think… sectarian? Do you think that’s sectarianism?”
(Girl shrugs, unwilling to commit)
M: “Why don’t you ask your team?”
Boy: “What is it?”
M: “If people are throwing things…”
M: “If people are throwing rocks over the peace wall. Do you think that would be sectarianism.”
(Chatter ensues amongst the kids)
Kid: “… and they throw potatoes, too.”
M: “Is that an example of sectarianism?”
Kids, all: (emphatically) ”Yeahhhh.”