My visit to Athens, Greece

This blog was written by Cyprus Fellow Sean Wright about his recent trip to Athens. It was his first time there, and it made a lasting impression on him. 

This past week I got to travel to the city of Athens, Greece. The city is spectacular visually, but more importantly it has played a major role in the world’s history which is why I wanted to explore it.

Tuesday the 26th, I caught an early flight from Cyprus and arrived in the city of Athens around 11 AM. From there, I dropped my bags and was off to explore the city by myself. This is the first time I have traveled by myself, so I was a little nervous at first. That all went away when I saw the Acropolis.

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I don’t always take selfies, but when I do, it’s with the Parthenon in the background

This wonderful site sits on top of a hill that over looks the city, and has many structures built on it. Nothing is more grand than the Parthenon, the main building of Acropolis. This building was originally a temple for the Goddess Athena, the goddess of war and whom the city is named after. I stood there, jaw to the floor, thinking about how people could have even built this wonderful structure so long ago. How much detail was put into the carvings, the sculptures that amazingly were still intact, all of it was breathtaking. And then you start to think about all the historical influence this place has. Emperors, philosophers, artists, they all once stood where I was standing. This was a place where important wars were won and lost. This feeling of astonishment connects you to the past which I can only describe as humbling. Humble to be able to stand in a place where history was made, and where once upon a time was thought to be the center of the world.

Staying in the Acropolis, I went to check out the Theatre of Dionysus. Dionysus was the god of plays, so the people of Athens erected this 15,000 seat amphitheater in his honor.

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I paid good money for these seats. Too bad no one was preforming

I sat there imagining performers putting on a show, having a packed audience on the edge of their seats. Next, I went to check out the Temple of the Olympian Zeus. This place had a short life span as most of it was destroyed in a war around the 3rd Century AD. However, I felt a connection to this place because my family calls me Zeus. So here I was, at this great structure named after me. It was an honor to finally see how much the people of Athens admired me.

The next day, I went to the National Archeological Museum where I got to see many artifacts and sculptures that were all marvelous. I kept seeing these jars that had paintings on them depicting a story, a lot of them about Hercules. Every time I would see one of these, I kept thinking to myself that these images are going to come to life and start singing a story for me like in the cartoon movie Hercules. If you have never seen it, I highly recommend it. Doesn’t matter that it’s meant for children. The sculptures were amazing and the details that were put into them to depict the human body is amazing. Also, most of these sculptures were 3 times the size of me! I’m 6 foot 8 inches so I’m not small, but these things made me feel that way!

Next I went to the Acropolis Museum, where I got to learn more about the place I had seen the previous day. I learned how the columns were erected, why each building was so important, and how the respect and admiration of foreigners helped to conserve this historical landmark.

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The Acropolis from the Hill of the Muses.

Last, but certainly not least, I got to see where the first modern day Olympics were held, at the Panathenic Stadium. The structure itself is an amazing horseshoe stadium made of only marble, which is so beautiful. With all these modern stadiums trying to out-do one another, it’s this simple and elegant stadium that is one of the most beautiful in the world. I have tremendous respect for how significant this stadium is for modern day athletics.

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At the first Olympic Stadium. Of course I have the American flag over my head. USA! USA! USA!

The stadium is where countries came together to be a part of something special. As I was looking at it, I noticed that there seemed to be an abnormal amount of people there. Little did I know that it was 100 days until the 2016 Olympics in Rio, and the ceremonial lighting of the torch was taking place later that day. I missed out on a pretty cool opportunity, but I can’t complain. I got to see such a beautiful city, one I couldn’t imagine visiting just a few years ago

Overall, I had such a wonderful time exploring the city of Athens. The beauty, the history, the impact on the world, this place has it all. I can now check Greece off the map of places I’ve been.

P.S. You know what I hate? When customs at the airport doesn’t stamp your passport with enough ink, leaving you with no way of telling where you’ve been. C’mon man! Those are important!

Meet Sarah Frazier!

Meet Sarah Frazier the new International Fellow reflecting on her first few weeks at PeacePlayers International- South Africa and sharing her background.

Sarah Frazier during her first week in SA.

Sarah Frazier during her first week in SA.

I feel as though my fellowship opportunity down here in SA was somewhat meant to be. My original interest in joining PeacePlayers began over 10 years ago shortly after I started working at Google. At that time, I made the decision to stay in NYC & continue working at Google, but things came full circle about a year ago, when I learned about a unique opportunity which I took as a sign that now was my time to become a PeacePlayer and join the team down here in South Africa.

I recently joined PeacePlayers-South Africa as a Senior International fellow – but before I jump into my first impressions & experience during my first few weeks here, I wanted to share a little bit of background about myself, also found in my bio on the website.

“Sarah grew up in Hadley, Massachusetts, and graduated from Cushing Academy in 1999, where she played basketball, soccer, and softball. Sarah attended Connecticut College in New London, CT, where she played basketball for four years, captaining the team her senior year & achieving NESCAC all academic status during her sophomore year.

Prior to joining PeacePlayers, Sarah worked at Google for ~11 years, where she held roles across many different parts of the organization including their e-commerce & large customer advertising sales group as well as on the Global Marketing & Business Development team, spending time in 3 office locations (NYC, San Francisco, & most recently, Boston). Her work on the Global Marketing & Development team at Google sparked her interest in international travel & opportunities to work in a more global capacity. As a Senior Fellow, Sarah will be focused on working with the PeacePlayers South Africa Leadership team across various aspects of organizational development, business & programming strategies, fundraising/marketing, & local staff mentorship/development. She loves watching any and all sporting events live or on television and is a die-hard Notre Dame fan.”

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Sarah Frazier with participants from Umlazi during her first extravaganza.

And now for my initial thoughts during my first 3 weeks down here in Durban:

During my first 2 weeks down here in Durban programming was not in-session which gave me some time to get settled and also meet the local staff, coaches, and area coordinators I will be working with over the next year. I attended a great PDP training session lead by Ntobeko & our team of strong coaches. It was also helpful to see the preparation that goes into planning for the kickoff of a new semester of programming sessions.

Last week was definitely a highlight for me to see the PPI-SA programming in action, making my first trip to Umlazi, one of the largest townships we work with here in SA. Umlazi did not disappoint and I was thrown right into the mix with the kids, coaches, and local staff upon arrival at the courts for my first extravaganza experience. Seeing the integration of life skills as well as basketball skills practice was the highlight for me. And for a good laugh please have a look at this video where bill tong and I participated in one of the ice breakers w the kids where you had work together with someone from another school/team at the extravaganza to carry a basketball down and back without using your hands at all. Required communication & coordination w/ your partner that’s for sure! All of this was topped off w/ a “Zulu Burger”, more technically referred to as a “gwinya” locally here in SA.

This week I have started to meet with more school site leads to be introduced to management staff, including Glenmore & Durban Primary Schools. I feel fortunate to be joining such a great team of people & look am looking forward is what is to come & opportunities for me to add value to the programs here in SA & continue working closely with the staff & leadership team!

Soccer Star in Ukraine Gives Back

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Shakhtar Donetsk FC’s Darijo Srna

Darijo Srna, captain and midfielder for the Ukrainian Football club Shakhtar Donetsk FC, has recently made headlines by donating 100 laptops to the children of boarding schools in Donetsk, Ukraine.  Donetsk is an industrial city in Eastern Ukraine that has been going through extreme conflict due to the war between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists.  Many people had to leave the city for a period of time, but have recently started to make their way back to their abandoned homes, with fighting halted but fear of the unknown weighing down on the citizens.  Heating and hot water systems are often not in operation, and people do not go out into the streets.

 

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Children on their new laptops (via shakhtar.com)

Darijo however, has been able to become a beacon of good fortune in an otherwise difficult time for the children of Donetsk.   His donation of laptops is not the only help he has given to the youth of this conflicted area.  He has also given 20,000 tons of tangerines to children in schools across the city, as well as stationary and sports equipment.  His generosity comes from his belief that children are the future, and should have the opportunity to grow and develop, even during difficult times.  While growing up in Croatia, he was from a region that was famous for their tangerines, but he also saw the tragedies that can result from living in a region that is in conflict, and wants to give back to the city that has given him the opportunity to play the sport that he loves.

This is just one example of the power that sports and athletes can have on helping children affected by areas of conflict.  PeacePlayers International works every day to unite, educate, and inspire children in divided communities through the power of sport, and the work of athletes such as Darijo Srna is an inspiration to all.

Twinnings and the need for SPF 50

This blog post was written by Cyprus Fellow Sean Wright about his past week involving another twinning and getting burnt on the beach.

This past weekend I got to experience another twinning. Twinning’s are when the Turkish Cypriots (TC) and the Greek Cypriots (GC) come together for a practice.

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Getting ready to warm up at the twinning last Saturday the 16th

Saturday, Coach Sevki brought his players down to from Iskele (TC) to the town of Kiti to have a fun day of playing games with the players from Coach Mike’s program (GC). It was another successful twinning. Everyone looked to be enjoying themselves. There were more kids this time which was awesome! Seeing kids choosing to spend their Saturday’s playing basketball with kids who don’t speak their language is wonderful. To see the older kids who have been through the program for years hanging out together, both TC’s and GC’s, reinforces my belief that what we are doing here at PeacePlayers is changing the world for the better. I love saying that my job is not just being a basketball coach, but someone who is helping to change perceptions in the community.

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My man Ali with the two handed jam!

After the twinning, Jess and I got to check out the town of Larnaca which is near Kiti. Larnaca is another beautiful place right on the beach. It was a gorgeous day so we just walked around window shopping. The next day we went to the beach in Ayi Napa and had a nice Sunday Funday. I have fair skin, so I have to use sunscreen most of the time (I know my mom will be proud). But, for some reason on that day, the spray SPF 30 sunscreen didn’t want to cover my body so I proceeded to get burned (Mom, it wasn’t that bad). Now I don’t mind getting burnt, BUT, I do mind when the sunscreen you think is covering your whole body is only working on some of it. So now I’m tan in some areas, and not so tan on others. My mission this weekend is to even these patches out.

Tuesday I got to attend my first coaches meeting. We went over logistics for our spring tournament in May. Also, we went over some details for summer camp which takes place at the end of July. Both are going to be very fun and exciting. Overall, the meeting was very productive and successful.  After the meeting, Nicos, Jess, and myself went to watch a EuroLeague playoff game between PANATHINAIKOS ATHENS (Greece) and LABORAL KUTXA VITORIA GASTEIZ (Spain) at a sports bar. Turns out that a guy on the Greek team went to the same High School as me, Our Lady of Good Counsel. His name is James Gist, and he went on to play at the University of Maryland so I got to follow his career a lot back then. It was a nice surprise to see someone I’ve met before playing on one of the biggest basketball stages in the world. His team did not win, but he had a great game.

Next week is the Easter Holiday over here so I’m off of work. I am traveling to Athens, Greece for a few days to check out such a pivotal city in the world’s history. I am extremely excited for this as I’ve never been to Greece before.

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Pay it Forward: A Story

This week we talk to Conor Keenan. Conor is a member of PeacePlayers International-Northern Ireland’s Champions4Peace programme and former twinning participant.

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Conor (pictured right) at Jingle Ball 2015 with fellow Champion4Peace participant, Liam.

Conor began his journey with PeacePlayers when he was 7 years old, during a twinning programme in his primary school, Holy Cross Boys. 10 years later, Conor has come full circle and is now a voluntary coach in the very school in which he was first introduced to the organisation. Conor tells us about his community, the religious divide and his experience with PeacePlayers in the video below.

Sunday Night Lights

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Jessica Mendoza with her colleagues on Sunday Night Baseball

Two weeks ago, the 2016 Major League Baseball season officially kicked off.  The Kansas City Royals hosted the New York Mets, for a match up between the two teams that faced off for the 2015 World Series.  The game not only marked the first Sunday night game of the year, but also marked the debut of the new “Sunday Night Baseball” team on ESPN.  Dan Shulman, Aaron Boone, and Jessica Mendoza make up the new team of MLB game analysts. What makes the debut of this new team so special, is that Jessica Mendoza is now the first female to become a full time MLB game analyst on ESPN.

Jessica Mendoza is an outstanding athlete, as well as an exceptional broadcaster.  She helped Team USA to a gold medal when she played on the national softball team, and her collegiate career proved that she is nothing more than an elite athlete.  Her softball-playing prowess helped land her a job at ESPN covering college softball for the network.  Eventually her phenomenal work covering softball landed her a job covering Major League Baseball.

There are many critics who think that Jessica should not be in the MLB broadcaster’s booth because she is a woman and has never played professional baseball before.  In response, Jessica has been able to let those comments roll right off of her, as she is only concerned with receiving constructive criticism about her opinions related to the baseball field – not about the fact that she is a woman.  Jessica is an inspiration to girls everywhere who dream of having sports broadcasting careers, or any career in sports for that matter.  She is a great example of someone our PPI female (and male!) participants can look up to as PPI works to empower girls and young women, especially in our Middle East program, where 75% of the participants are girls!

Thank You, Kobe.

This blog post was written by Cyprus Fellow Sean Wright as a tribute to Kobe Bryant, who played in his final game this past week after a 20 year career with the L.A. Lakers. 

Kobe Bryant started his career in 1996 and at that time I was 4 years old so I don’t remember his early years, but in the next years following, I started to witness something spectacular. I got to grow up watching Kobe play the beautiful game of basketball, and play it to the highest level imaginable.

My first thought of Kobe is him flying through the air going up for a monster dunk, wearing the number 8, and having that awesome afro. I immediately fell in love with his abilities on the court. The early 2000’s Lakers teams were such a treat to watch. But as much as I loved watching Kobe play, and even how he was my favorite player for a time, I always wanted them to lose in the Finals. For some reason I can’t explain, I always wanted the other team to win.

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Kobe going up for a sweet dunk. I had this poster in my room as a kid.

The 76ers, Pacers, Nets, you name it. I was always cheering for the other guys. Now that I think about it, I think that I was giving Kobe exactly what he wanted. He relished the fact that so many people didn’t want him to win. He loved the fact people were always against him. That just added more fuel to the fire that gave him that edge over every team and player he ever played against.

Even in the late 2000’s when he won another 2 championships, I still rooted for the other team. This time he was hitting fade away jumpers like they were lay-ups, wearing the number 24, and had shaved the afro off. He was still dunking on people, but not as regularly. His competitive nature hadn’t diminished at all, rather he worked even harder to maintain that level of excellence that players start to lose with older age. That is all because of his work ethic, only matched by a select group of players to have ever played this game.

There are countless stories of players coming in for practice at 7 AM, only to see Kobe drenched in sweat having already worked out for 2+ hours before a 2 hour practice. That’s what made him great.

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Kobe hitting his signature fadeaway jumper in the NBA Finals

He realized at an early age that he wanted to be great and figured out how to achieve that, and did it. A lot of people in sports and in life want to be great at their craft, but aren’t willing to put the extra work in to achieve that level of greatness, myself included. I consider myself a hard worker and I put in some extra work when I wanted to, but I was nowhere near the level of Kobe. I wish I had that work ethic, as I’m sure everyone does. He did it EVERY SINGLE DAY! If you look up dedication in the dictionary, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a picture of Kobe Bryant in the gym by himself shooting jumpers, probably around 5 in the morning.

The last thing about Kobe that made him a special player is the fact he played 20 years for the same team, the Los Angeles Lakers. You don’t see that often in this game anymore. Even Michael Jordan played for two different teams ( I’m glad MJ played for the Wizards, as they are my favorite team and who wouldn’t want the greatest player ever to be on your team?). Kobe stuck with a team that had so many highs, but also a lot of lows. He stayed through multiple coaching changes and players coming and going. But if you turned on a Lakers game, the only constant you could count on is Kobe Bryant for the last 20 years. To think that next year he won’t be on that court wearing the purple and gold it’s sad. We won’t get to see that Mamba scowl anymore after a game winning shot. We won’t see him flying through the air dunking on everyone and putting them on posters. The basketball community throughout the world is mourning the end of such a special career.

To this day whenever I shoot anything into a basket, wether it be a basketball into a hoop or a piece of garbage into a garbage can, I still catch myself sometimes yelling “Kobe!”, and I know I’m not the only one! I could go on and on about what Kobe has meant to basketball, myself, and the world, but I’ll leave it with this.

Thank you, Kobe. Thank you for being you. Thank you for being the player I wanted to emulate on the basketball court. Thank you for being the player who loved the hate. But most importantly, thank you for demonstrating what hard work is, and inspiring the next generation of basketball players. You will be truly missed.

“Mamba Out”

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P.S. – He scored 60 in his last game! 60! And the game winning shot!