PeacePlayers in Northern Ireland is very much in the business of creating the next generation of leaders within the communities that suffer most from the legacy of sectarian and political conflict. At PeacePlayers we call these young leaders Champions for Peace. Simply put, a PeacePlayers Champion for Peace is a young leader who, free of the baggage that so many of this and past generations carry with them, is ideally positioned to actively contribute to creating a more stable and peaceful society. Below PPI-NI Managing Director Gareth Harper shares a story that helps to place in context the challenge that remains but also the opportunity that exists to realise the potential of our young Champions for Peace.
The Adam and Dave Story
Adam said to his father Dave, “Dad, what’s a Republican?” Dave, a Protestant Ulster Rugby fan who has been supporting his son’s choice to play Gaelic football at his local integrated primary school, does his best to answer the 9-year-old’s question. Dave tells Adam that there are two main traditions in Northern Ireland. He explains that there are Unionists/Loyalists who see themselves as British and who are mostly Protestant, loyal to the British Queen and focused on supporting the place of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. He then explains that Republicans, who are mostly Catholic, believe that the whole island of Ireland should be one republic and that Republicans don’t recognise the existence of Northern Ireland but rather are supportive of a united Ireland. Dave pausing for a breath as he sees that his son looks a bit confused asks, “Where did you hear about Republicans?” To which Adam responds, “On the Simpsons…”
Our young Champions for Peace can hear and see things differently – they don’t apply the same almost reflex filters to certain words, names or indeed sports – they don’t see things through a lens that has been tainted by negative lived experience. Rather they can see things as they are now, they can see people as people. Be it the seven year old, who after a Twinning session, at home asks his parents “why do I go to a different school from my new friend that I met at PeacePlayers today?” or the 16 year old PeacePlayers Coach in Training that is facilitating a ‘Not on My Team’ stereotypes and prejudice discussion with children from Catholic and Protestant primary schools in her own community – both are Champions for Peace, both are challenging the status quo and contributing to a better more shared and integrated future.
For its part PPI-NI will continue to provide more ‘Out of the Box’ spaces where the youngest and those who are the most vulnerable in our society feel safe and empowered to continue to play a positive role as they engage with their peers from other sections of the community. PPI-NI and its ever expanding team of young Champions for Peace will work to strengthen the peace that has been built over time and ensure that the negative elements of our society are prevented from off-loading their baggage onto younger generations.