Coach Will Massey, an intern at the PeacePlayers International-Northern Ireland Office shares his experience with the programme in Ballymena.
I had a chance encounter last week through a program entirely unrelated to PeacePlayers International- Northern Ireland. I was speaking to a young woman who mentioned that she is a teacher at Ballykeel Primary School in Ballymena.
“Very good,” I said, “I coached a PeacePlayers program with the P6 pupils from Ballykeel.”
She suddenly looked delighted, and explained that she had organised for Ballykeel to be involved in the twinning with St. Brigid’s Primary school. She expressed her enthusiasm and gratitude for the PeacePlayers program, and assured me that the kids felt the same way. I was glad to receive the appreciation and personal affirmation for 16 weeks of work in Ballymena, and then she said something that went far beyond me and spoke to the tremendous value of PeacePlayers in general.
“Ballykeel students are coming from one of the most deprived areas in Northern Ireland,” she explained “opportunities for cross-community relationships are particularly rare and valuable for them.” Her comment made me appreciate one of the things that sets PeacePlayers apart. I can offer only an impression from my eight months in Northern Ireland, but it seems that well-meaning cross-community programs are often limited in their appeal to people of different economic means.
Commonly, middle and upper class communities offer willing participants for such programs, while more deprived families and communities have more pressing concerns, or are barred because of transport or communication.
But PeacePlayers intentionally partners with schools populated by pupils from all social and economic level of Northern Irish society. Some of the research I have done for PeacePlayers recently verifies that our programs are inclusive in every sense of the word. A couple of our twinning schools are situated in the most deprived areas of Belfast, while others are drawing students from very privileged areas. PeacePlayers knows that meaningful change means reaching as many different individuals and areas as possible, and a chance conversation with a teacher from Ballykeel confirmed our success.