The Superhero in All of Us: Former PPI Intern Co-Founds Non-Profit

Today’s blog highlights Ellie Lewis, a recent PPI-DC intern and sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill. Ellie recently co-founded The Superhero Project, a non-profit designed to teach patients that their greatest superpowers are creativity, courage and kindness.


Ellie Lewis and Jack Davis started a non-profit that brings together patients at the UNC Children’s hospital. (Photo via The Daily Tarheel)

Former PPI-DC summer intern Ellie Lewis is making superheroes come to life for patients at the UNC Children’s Hospital. Along with her partner and fellow sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill, Jack Davis, the two launched a non-profit. The organization partners with the Children’s Hospital and local comic book artists and UNC students to draw personalized superheroes for every patient they interact with.

“The Superhero Project is about bringing to life the un-seeable,” Lewis said. “It’s about giving kids a chance to be celebrated for the strengths inside of them. By creating superheroes, we are showing patients, families, and students that there are superpowers in us all.”

The idea for The Superhero Project was born when a pediatric patient came up to Davis studying in the lobby of the UNC Hospital and wrote ‘good luck on your test tomorrow’ on his notebook. The simple act resonated with him, and he set out to develop a project that connects patients while building community.

From there, Davis and Lewis connected on the idea in Washington, D.C. where they were working at different internships. Lewis was drawn in by the idea of using superheroes as a way of connecting with the kids. “We really want to see eye-to-eye with the patients and our way to do that is using a love of superheroes. It’s so easy to geek out and love superheroes because they save the world. But, they are a basic symbol of power and strength that anyone from five-years old to 50 can recognize.”

Currently, The Superhero Project is in developmental stages before it launches at the UNC Children’s Hospital. In preparation, Lewis is gaining experience with her fellow club members, learning about each other’s strengths as well as gaining training on interacting with kids and families, and providing emotional support and encouragement. In addition, she and Davis partnered with Ben Bolling, a UNC postdoctoral fellow and panel director at NC Comicon to cultivate connections with local comic book artists.

Eventually, Lewis would like for The Superhero Project to celebrate the kids in a unique way by publishing a comic book that incorporates all the superheroes together. “We want to illustrate that their fight every day is truly super.”

What the International Day of Peace Means in PPI-CY

This week’s blog is written by Cyprus Fellow Sean Wright about celebrating International Day of Peace and what it means to PPI-CY. 

This past week the whole world got to celebrate International Day of Peace, a day which is very close to our hearts here at PPI-CY. We even have Peace in our name! Our goal, just like the other PPI sites across the world, is to bring peace to the region we are working in. For us here in Cyprus, that means bringing together the divided sides of the Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots. pp_2016_july-306Every day here at PPI-CY is International Day of Peace. Our mission is to bring these two sides together through the sport of basketball where cultures, languages, and religions are not at the forefront. By having the TC’s and GC’s do this, they are able to build life long friendships that would never happen without PPI.

It’s nice to have a day recognized by the whole world as a Day of Peace, but in reality it’s not enough. One day of the year is not enough to change the world. Every day should be considered International Day of Peace. The world would be a better place if everyone acted as if International Day of Peace is every day. At PPI-CY, we live by this: our work is solely for the purpose of bringing peace to this divided country through sport. Making the world a better place to live is ultimately what this International Day of Peace represents, and we are making that happen. A world where Peace comes before Hate is one that would benefit everyone in all walks of life.

In last week’s blog, it was mentioned that we at PPI-CY got to partake in the UN’s videoconference regarding the International Day of Peace. It was a tremendous opportunity to see people from all over the world come together and talk their experiences with peace or the lack there of in their respective countries and communities. This was just a small select group in regards to the whole world, but it was img_2041reassuring that there are others fighting to make the world a better place to live. We believe that this is one of the most important internationally recognized days the world has on the calendar, if not the most, and should be treated as such. If people all over the world could take what they learned from this Day of Peace and try to live each day as peaceful as possible, than one day in the future we could be living in a world full of peace.

Say Hello to Coach Jess!


Meet Jess, the newest member to join PPI-ME!

Hi! My name is Jessica Reiser, and I recently joined the PPI – Middle East Team. I am super excited to be working closely with many teams in Jerusalem as a coach and field coordinator.

I was born and raised in the suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio. Sports was always a big part of life. My brother, sisters, and I grew up going to Cincinnati baseball, football, and basketball games. Basketball, in particular, has always held significance in my life. I’ve been playing ever since I can remember, whether it was shooting hoops in our backyard, trying out for the school team, or playing pickup games in the park. I was the kid at summer camp you could find on the courts during every second of free time.

After high school, I spent nine months in Israel studying and volunteering. By the end of the year, I knew this was the place for me. After that year, I went back to Ohio to study before making plans to return to Israel, majoring in International Relations with a concentration in the Middle East at Ohio State University.

I moved to Israel in August 2011 with a group of 25 other new immigrants. We lived on Kibbutz Saad in the south of Israel and were soon drafted to the Israeli army, where I served in a Public Relations unit in the Air Force for two years.

After the army, I got a job in customer support at a high-tech company in Tel Aviv. Within a few months of adjusting back into civilian life, I realized something was missing. I hadn’t had much time to play basketball while I was in the army, and I wanted to get back into the swing of things. I saw a post on Facebook for a women’s league called “Basketball with Love,” and I emailed them immediately. I started practice that week, and I have to say it has been one of the best decisions of my life.

By the beginning of 2016, I had been working in high-tech for two years. It was time


Jess (back row, right) poses with her teammates

for a change. My coach suggested that I look into the Wingate Institute’s Basketball Coaching Course. The course was fascinating and made me think how important the game was to me when I was growing up and how much I wanted to help show the next generation how beautiful the game of basketball can be. If I could help kids develop skills on and off the court, then I would be happy.

I always wanted to move to nonprofit work and make a real difference in people’s lives. For me, it has been really challenging to live in Israel during times of war and feel scared and helpless. I believe that most people just want to live their lives in peace. I think education is the key ingredient to move forward in the peace process. I especially like the idea of using sports education as a tool for social change.


Jess (left) and new PPI Fellow James lead a practice together at Keshet School in Jerusalem

I heard about PeacePlayers International through being in the basketball world in Israel and thought it was a perfect match for me. I’ve always wanted to be part of the peace building process. Building peace from the ground up, from personal relationships like we do in PPI, in my opinion, is the best way to change the situation for the better, and I’m proud that I can now say I’m a part of it.

Celebrating International Day of Peace by Having a Voice

This week’s blog comes from PeacePlayers International-Northern Ireland (PPI-NI) participant, Nora Sullivan. She tells us about her experience and involvement in the Northern Ireland Executive’s ‘Together: Building a United Community’ Engagement Forum.” 

My name is Nora Sullivan, I am 16 years old and from North Belfast. I am a participant and Champion4Peace at PeacePlayers Northern Ireland. On September 20th, I was given the opportunity to attend “Together: Building United Communities” Engagement Forum (T:BUC), which was centered around the importance of children and young people in peace-building. The event examined approaches and initiatives that involve bringing young people together from different communities in order to bridge divides.


Nora winning ‘camper of the week’ at PPI-NI’s second annual basketball camp earlier this year in July.

At the event, we evaluated previous peacebuilding initiatives in Northern Ireland and discussed more strategies of how we can make our separated communities a united one through young people. I was interested in attending this event as I felt it was important young people have the opportunity to express their views and ideas on the topic that affect our lives in various ways. Following the event, I gained more knowledge and understanding about the goals of improving community relations, and ways to go about it. After seeing survey results carried out about how people feel the relationship between Catholics and Protestants has improved and hearing stories of others experiences who attended cross-community camps, I feel the experience was a worthwhile one.

Screen Shot 2016-09-21 at 17.26.39.png

Nora with her fellow Champions4Peace (from left) Shauna, Connor and Liam at the T:BUC Engagement Forum this week.

PeacePlayers has taught me to look beyond anyone’s religion, and to accept anyone and everyone into society because even though it may not seem like it, we all have similarities and can all get along.

Happy ‘International Day of Peace’!

Nora JB.jpg

Nora with her North Belfast teammates at Jingle Ball 2015

PPI-SA Veteran Coach reflects on Turkey Camp

This week’s blog is written by PPI-SA veteran coach Sifiso Mthembu. Sfiso recently went to Turkey to coach and facilitate at the Jump Basketball Tournament from the 3rd – 9th of September 2016. This is what he had to say about his experience in Turkey.



Coach Sifiso when he arrived in Turkey for the Jump Basketball Tournament.

I was born and grew up in Molweni and joined PPI-SA when I was a teenager as an LDP participant. From being a participant I progressed to being a coach and an area coordinator in my community. During my time as an area coordinator, I was selected to represent PPI-SA in America, Cape Town and Johannesburg. I have been so fortunate to be afforded such amazing opportunities at PPI-SA.

But, being selected to be one of the coaches facilitating at the Jump Basketball Camp in Turkey goes down as one of my favourite experiences. It was wonderful to teach basketball fundamentals to Turks and Syrians.  I also really enjoyed experiencing the different cultures within Turkey.


Sifiso with PPI-NI Opperations team leader Debbie Byrne (2nd from right) and PPI-DC Program Coordinator Rochelle Coleman (far right) and coaches from the camp!



The week long camp was well-organised and fun, and it was really great to learn from the other coaches who were at the camp. I was really excited to meet and engage with PPI coaches from other sites. Thank you PeacePlayers International for this unforgettable experience. Thank you to the US Embassy in Turkey as well as the Turkish Basketball Federation for putting on fantastic week of camp!



It was fun to coach during camp, but we made sure to play basketball ourselves as well!




PPI-DC Program Coordinator Shares Experiences from Turkey Trip

Today’s blog is written by PPI-DC program coordinator Rochelle Coleman. Rochelle reflects on the recent JUMP basketball tournament in Turkey.



PPI leaders and Basketball Embassy coaches

In today’s society our differences are often highlighted: religion, nationality, race, gender, class, language; the list goes on and on. What makes PeacePlayers great is that despite these perceived differences we are all the same, and we try to see people as people. PeacePlayers was recently presented the opportunity to go to Turkey to work a basketball camp with community relations training, work with campers and coaches from all over Turkey as well as campers and coaches from Syria. Then, to really ratchet up the diversity meter, the PPI coaches were from three different sites: the DC office in the United States (myself), Debbie from Northern Ireland and Sifiso from South Africa. Add in the two Texans (USA) Chris and Joey from the Basketball Embassy and you have a very interesting bunch.

If this were a reality tv show, the commentator would scream, “How will they get along?  How is this possible?!”  And with that, the 100 members who made up the campers and coaches would look at the camera and say, “It’s simple, we are all the same.”

Even with three different languages filling the air (Arabic, English, & Turkish) communication flowed, and campers helped each other and learned each other’s language.  People took the time to understand each other and sometimes there was some tension, but since we cared about understanding, everything worked out. Basketball is a universal language but even more than that a smile, a high five, a thumbs up always translates.  Sitting down with someone new for a meal or just hanging out a talking with one another (even if it looks like a game of charades because of the language difference) alway goes a long way and is a wonderful time.


The campers and coaches

Often our differences are emphasized but at the end of the day everyone wants a safe space where they are free to laugh, dance, communicate, learn, grow and just be themselves.  It’s funny when that space is provided just like it was at the JUMP basketball camp in Turkey how people forget their differences and joy permeates. Special thanks to the US Embassy for supporting the great work of the Turkish Basketball Federation (TBF) and to TBF for allowing PeacePlayers to participate in such an incredible week of camp!



All of the campers!


PPI-Cyprus Speaks with the United Nations

Today’s blog is written by Cyprus Fellow Sean Wright about being a part of a video conference with the United Nations relating to the International Day of Peace. 


PPI-CY Family

Today was a special day for us at PPI-CY as we got to take part in an incredible opportunity to be a part of a live video conference with the United Nations headquarters in New York. World leaders gathered to talk about the upcoming International Day of Peace on September 21, and what each of them is doing in their respective fields to help achieve peace. The theme for this year is “The Sustainable Development Goals: Building Blocks for Peace.”


Victor on the screen!

We achieved this through the help of our great friends at UNFICYP (United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus). Since we work closely with them, we were asked to participate in this video conference. The event was running a little behind schedule, so we got to relax and hang out with Special Representative and Head of UNFICYP, Elizabeth Spehar. Ms. Spehar is a wonderful lady and leader with a wealth of knowledge. As much as we wanted to learn from her, she had twice as many questions for us. She was very intrigued and loved what PPI-CY is all about. (We need to get her a shirt!)

As we watched the conference and waited our turn, we got to hear some beautiful music from a violinist who has traveled all over the world and listen to the Rainbow Choir (children around 10-12 yrs old) who traveled all the way from Korea to be in New York for this event. I was star struck as Michael Douglas was the MC for a short period, and we got to see Leonardo Dicaprio give a speech regarding his upcoming documentary about the global climate change. As much as the girls were excited to see Leo, I think I was drooling more than them.


Serife on the screen!

When it got to our turn we were all excited. Ms. Spehar gave a beautiful introduction about UNFICYP’s work here on the island. After that, the audience was shown a video with some of our PPI-CY kids, as well as some UN soldiers and peacekeepers. We were all ready to speak after the video ended, but unfortunately the new moderator skipped the last part of our section where the PPI-CY team would speak so we ended up not speaking. As disappointing as that is, we still had the video which was a great success and promotion. We were lucky enough to have it and we are grateful for the opportunity. Hopefully we will be able to participate in more events like this one.



Having a nice chat with UNFICYP Special Representative Spehar