Last weekend members of PPI – ME’s Leadership Development Program for Palestinian females embarked on the first of two weekend retreats. The program is funded by the U.S. Consulate’s Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), which seeks to promote democracy, leadership, youth and gender empowerment.
Within the framework of the program, 16 Palestinian young women meet weekly for basketball and leadership training. They also participate in field trips, social action projects, round-table discussions with female Palestinian leaders and more.
The first MEPI-LDP retreat took place at the scenic Kibbutz Ein Gedi, near the coast of the Dead Sea. Arriving on Thursday evening, the girls settled in before going to dinner and then to the gym for a late practice. The weekend included four coach-training sessions in just over two days. In those practices, PPI – ME’s Manager of Basketball Operations Vito Gilic taught the girls the secrets of being a coach. These lessons are an integral part of the LDP, and they highlight a coach’s role as the leader of their team and their community. As a part of their practical training, the girls were required to lead their counterparts in a basketball practice, and to receive feedback from their trainers.
The boys’ LDP team has already produced two certified coaches, Khaled and David, who grew up with PPI – ME and now lead younger players in PPI – ME’s programs. Hopefully, soon we’ll witness coaches coming from the girls’ team as well.
On top of the practices in the gym, the LDP girls held two Leadership sessions. In those sessions the girls had lively debates on the character of a leader, the message leaders should send and how a coach can be a leader off the court. In particular, the group discussed gender dynamics in their culture, and discussed some of the challenges that young women face in their society.
Other than basketball and leadership training, some time was dedicated purely for fun. The guesthouse in the kibbutz offered an indoor swimming pool. The girls went to a nearby hot springs site, bathed in the Dead Sea and covered themselves in the region’s famous black mud. They also had a bonfire in the evening, roasting marshmallows and making chocolate fondue.
Exhausted, they returned home on Saturday night. Only two days later, some of the girls would play their next game in the Israeli Basketball League. But surely the next time they step on the court they will feel that they understand better not just how to work as a team, but also what it is like to be a leader – a person who can impact not only the game she plays, but also the community she lives in.