Project Coordinator James Hughes took the opportunity to speak with sessional coach, Ben Scullion, to find out what his experiences have been like with PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland since he started last year.
As a coach and facilitator, what have your experiences at PeacePlayers International been like to date?
I started with PPI-NI through Tony McGaharan who told me about a few opportunities to coach basketball with PPI-NI. It turned out to be so much more! I was quite nervous when I initially started, as it was quite a big responsibility. It has been an incredible experience though, with going on weekends to complete training courses and traveling to Glasgow to take part in a basketball tournament that promotes diversity all over Scotland. It has been a fantastic process for me, not just professionally, but personally as well.
Tell me about your experiences with working with kids who have experiences growing up in interface areas?
Again, I was nervous when I initially started coaching any kids. Over time, through experience and training, I was able to feel confident in my abilities as a coach and facilitator. There were some however, who held back while participating in the programs. This was usually down to already developed opinions and beliefs surrounding a number of contentious issues that are in Northern Ireland. They might not speak to one another or they might not want to participate in the games, but most of the time, the children were just incredibly nervous about meeting kids from the school. In some cases, this would have been the first time some of the children would have met someone from a different community!
During the PeacePlayers International program, did you see any change in their attitudes towards each other? If so, why?
During the community relations time, the kids are able to talk about issues that might not be covered otherwise. They are able to hear experiences from both sides of the community and realize that a lot of the problems are the same on both sides. PeacePlayers International provides a safe and secure setting for these kids to talk about their experiences in topics like discrimination and sectarianism. Through this, the children are able to develop an understanding that difference can be positive, and that they can actually be friends with ‘the kids from over the wall’. Throughout each primary school twinning program, from start to finish, the results are incredibly tangible. In session #1, the kids are nervous, shy and want to stay in teams with their friends from their own school, but by session #7 (the last session that both schools are together) they are hugging one another, giving each other high-fives and sad that the program is over!
As a sessional coach for PPI-NI, do you see yourself as a role model and leader for the children who take part in PeacePlayers International?
Yes, but I think a better description is being part of a catalyst for positive change. Without PeacePlayers International, I don’t think that these children would be interacting with each other in the way they do. There is a large element of being a leader and role model for the kids, but that is just a part of the work. There is more of an emphasis in teaching the kids how to be leaders and role models in their communities.
Do you think that PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland is making positive social change within the communities in Northern Ireland?
Without a doubt! The training and development of the coaches and facilitators is really good. The support that the sessional staff have makes the implementation of the PPI programs so effective. The curriculum that has been developed by Joanne (Curriculum Development & Project Coordinator) works incredibly well within the primary school twinning programs. The progression of the programs from twinnings to Junior B.I.L. to the tournaments like Jingle Ball and Summer Jam gives the children from the different communities as much time to interact and engage with each other as possible and this can only be positive for the future.
PeacePlayers International would like to thank all of the sessional staff for their continued help and support on all of our programs.