This week, Coach James reflects on what was one of the most peaceful 12th of July celebrations Northern Ireland has seen for some time.
Usually during this time of the year, Belfast and other areas of Northern Ireland are hitting national and international news for all the wrong reasons, with images of factions from both sides of the historical political divide rioting, often with the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) in the middle trying to mediate and keep the peace .
This year, however, Northern Ireland experienced the quietest ‘Twelfth of July’ celebrations the country has seen in a long, long time. There was no fighting, no rioting, no petrol bombs, and no water cannons (a common sight on the news in previous years).
Politicians have been talking to communities, including many young people, in the build up to the ‘twelfth’ and reported that everyone was calm and collected, wanting to keep things as peaceful as possible. Communities in Northern Ireland finally didn’t take part in violence with the usual ‘us versus them’ frame of mind. Talks were held between politicians and community leaders, and everyone came out the other side in one piece!
This all begs me to ask – After rioting and violence have broken out during this time of year for so, so long, how did this calm come about?
PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland (PPI-NI) has been working with children in areas that are most affected by this division of opinion for over ten years now. Children who once began with PPI-NI as 7-year-old primary 4 pupils are now nineteen and twenty years old, ages that would have fallen in the demographic group with the highest percentage of arrests according to last year’s riots.
Year after year, PPI-NI brings in more and more young children from different communities with the aim of ‘Bridging Divides / Developing Leaders / Changing Perceptions.’ Our ethos is that ‘Children who play together can learn to live together.’ This year, PPI-NI saw around 3,000 participants (ages 7-17) come together through our programs. With our proven conflict management curriculum from the Arbinger Institute, and by using basketball as a tool to instill the lessons taught through the curriculum, I think it’s safe to say that PPI-NI is certainly making a difference in a lot of children’s lives.
Of course, there is still a lot of work to be done in tackling the challenges that continue to exist, but it is heartwarming to know that PeacePlayers is playing a part in this process.
Is the calm experienced during this year’s 12th of July celebrations the first sign that those who have learned to play together are beginning to learn to live together? I honestly can’t wait to find out.