Last weekend, Coach Joanne, Coach Casey, Coach Ben and Coach James took a group of 14-18 year olds from different communities all over Belfast on the ‘Senior Belfast Interface League‘ (Sr. B.I.L.) residential to Newcastle, County Down. Over the weekend, the group completed a Level II OCN qualification in ‘Building Positive Relations Through Sport’ – but what else happened caught the PeacePlayers International staff by surprise…
Little by little, youth from each side of the city started to arrive at the Belfast office and make their way onto the bus for Newscastle. The group was very diverse, composed of different races, nationalities, and religions. It was clear they were all apprehensive and nervous as they had never met each other.
However, the dynamics and atmosphere soon began to change. By the end of the first night, encouraged by team building games, the group was finally talking and laughing with each other. Teenagers from opposite sides of the historical political divide in Belfast were telling jokes and, a more traditional sign of friendship in Belfast – winding each other up!
The transformation over the next two days was astounding. Aided by material from PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland’s ‘Building Positive Relations Through Sport’ qualification, friendships began forming while divides began to dissolve. It was hard to believe the group had only just met!
Coach James asked Karl (KC) and Thomas (Tucker) from East Belfast, both new to PPI-NI, about their experiences at the Sr. B.I.L residential-
Coach James: How did you feel when you first met the rest of the group on the bus?
KC: I felt pretty nervous, as did the rest of the guys from East Belfast. We didn’t know what to expect. We had never met any of these people before, not even the rest of the leaders that were going down.
Coach James: So what was it that made you nervous?
Tucker and KC: West Belfast. (They both said at exactly the same time)
Coach James: Why?
Tucker: West Belfast is mainly Catholic, and East Belfast is mainly Protestant. We don’t get too many chances to work with people from West Belfast.
KC: And there are a lot of Republicans from West Belfast and a lot of Loyalists from East Belfast. Same with North as well. South isn’t too bad mostly. Groups that wouldn’t tend to get on too well with each other.
Coach James: So what happened over the weekend then? Any trouble?
KC: No, everyone turned out to be great. The course we were doing with PeacePlayers helped a lot as well – about how to stay ‘out-of-the box’ and how to be peer leaders. We met Gavin from Lower Ormeau (a predominantly Catholic community) and Geordie (Martin) from West Belfast. We became pretty good mates and got on a lot better than we expected. The girls, Elisha and Nicole, said they had a great time with girls from the other parts of the city. We were surprised by how well everyone was getting on.
Tucker: We heard that Geordie was from the West, and we weren’t sure what to do. But the more we got to know him, the more we realised that he wasn’t what we thought. He turned out to be a complete legend. Same for the girls from the North – they seemed a bit mental at the start, but everyone became really good friends. We even have a few of their numbers and have them on Facebook.
Coach James: So the weekend went well then. Would you want to keep working with PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland?
Tucker: Definitely! It was the best weekend we had in a long time. We met a lot of new friends from the Sr. B.I.L. programme. You wouldn’t have thought that we had only met 2 days beforehand. I would really recommend it to anyone else who is interested in taking part.
Since the residential, KC, Tucker, Elisha, and Nicole have become members of the Champions 4 Peace group and are taking part in the exchange this weekend with DePauw University, which has been a huge help in fundraising for the Annual PPI-NI Summer Jam Tournament.