Fellow Ryan Hage interviews PPI-ME Project Manager, Heni. Her and her colleague, Jamie Walsh, are visiting Cyprus to get some much needed R&R for the week.
How long have you been a part of PeacePlayers?
I started volunteering at the age of 15 in Jaffa with a mixed team with former Middle East fellow, David Lasday. The second year I was a coach, and the third year I coached even more teams in Jaffa.
Why did you get involved in PeacePlayers?
Coach Vito, Basketball Operations Manager for PPI-ME, was my coach at the time and asked me to help coach in Jaffa. I came at first for the basketball, but soon realized it was much bigger than that. After a while, I wanted to get more and more involved and started to go to twinnings in Jerusalem on a regular basis.
Why did you take a break in coaching for PeacePlayers?
Every Israeli citizen is required to be in the army for at least two years, if you are a female. It was a great experience that taught me to self-reflect a lot on what I do well and what I can improve upon. It taught me to care for others and look out for them. I have a lot of friends now that I made in my time with the army that I will have for life.
How did you get involved in PeacePlayers after the army and what is your role now?
I spoke with our Managing Director, Karen, because I wanted to get involved in the program as quickly as possible. I love the organization and its mission. I started coming to events and my role quickly grew from there. I am a Project Manager and am in charge of 22 teams and the events in which they take part. From twinnings and retreats to mini-fest and Peace League, I am very busy planning the programming year. Also, I coach one team in Jiser, where the kids do not speak Hebrew or English. At first it was a challenge, but you find ways to coach through hand motions and other things. Basketball is the language.
Do you feel like PeacePlayers is making a difference?
YES. So many examples like the LDP (Leadership Development Program), the teams we have in the north of Israel, and all of our kids that have been in the program for a while. You see the way they start to look at each other. They do not judge each other as Jewish or Arab, but as basketball players and then as friends. Over the years, we have seen real friendships form where kids are having sleepovers and dinners on a regular basis. PeacePlayers gives them the opportunity to meet and they take it from there. It is amazing. It’s small differences that happen at first, but those small differences turn into big differences. You can see attitudes change and they are not only becoming better basketball players, but better people.