This week’s blog post comes from International Fellow Chris Schumerth, who has been a part of the PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland (PPI-NI) team since August of this year. Here, he shares three PeacePlayers highlights from 2012.
1. Coaching at Jingle Ball. Of the nearly 200 children who showed up to the event, I was entrusted with twelve primary school boys that made up our team called The Jazz. The boys came from different schools around Belfast, and several of us were getting to know each other for the first time. We spent the day together, playing five basketball games and participating in various community relations activities.
My group was full of energy, which came in handy on the court. We won our first three games, then tied our fourth. We thought for sure that a win in our fifth game would earn a trip to the finals. But we gave up a lead in the final minute and lost! We were a little bummed out, but to our relief the finals match-ups were announced, and we had earned a spot anyway. We cruised in the championship, winning easily.
2. A fall residential conversation with staff members and program participants. In all our programming, we are always seeking ways to integrate sport with conversations about our experiences with prejudice, sectarianism, stereotypes, conflict, etc. Those things can be difficult for adults to talk about, let alone kids. But on this particular day, in an activity that ended a weekend we spent with about a dozen teenagers, they totally met us there, speaking openly and honestly about very difficult topics. The activity asked everyone how comfortable he or she was with certain groups of people: the police, Protestants, Catholics, homosexuals, Chinese people, etc. Not surprisingly, the activity led to a lively follow-up of stories, and several kids were quite vulnerable. Some of the views expressed were a bit uncomfortable, so we talked through that. I can’t speak for anyone else, but after the activity ended, I felt closer to everyone who had participated and I’m quite certain it was memorable for all the kids involved.
3. Working with the PPI-NI staff. When you spend a lot of time with people, you get to know them. Their strengths, their quirks, their passions, and their differences. I have learned that Joanne Fitzpatrick develops long-term, positive relationships with the schools we work with. That Darryl Petticrew is brilliant with kids. That Tony McGaharan possesses an endless energy. That Megan Lynch is one of the most organized people I know, and the office is better off for it. That Gareth Harper is incredibly clever at raising the funds it takes to sustain a charity in Belfast.
As a team, we certainly have our own diversities of skillset, religion, political conviction, and life experience, but the obvious commonalties that we share are commitments to kids, basketball, and peace-building. We all want a better future for Northern Ireland, so we continue to learn how to leverage our differences in ways that make the team better.