Protestant And Catholic Youth Find Friendship In Northern Ireland

Camp Alpha participants and staff 2015

Camp Alpha participants and staff 2015

Last week PeacePlayers International-Northern Ireland (PPI-NI) tested the organisation’s premise of “children that play together, can learn to live together”. 60 children from divided communities in Belfast were united at PPI-NI’s first basketball and leadership development residential camp. For four days, the children and young people, from all four sides of the city, lived and played basketball together, at PPI-NI’s ‘Camp Alpha’.

Junior girls work hard on and off the court

Junior girls work hard on and off the court

Each day the children and young people, aged 11-17, participated in two basketball sessions and two Open College Network (OCN) sessions. The juniors (11-13yrs) completed an OCN Level 1 in Understanding Diversity through Sport and the seniors (14-17) completed an OCN Level 2 in Peer Leadership. Alongside these sessions, the children and young people took part in various team-building activities including rock-climbing, high-ropes course, slip n slide challenge and a scavenger hunt. In the evening participants were provided with entertainment in the form of a quiz, a movie and a disco.

Each night the children went back to their individual cabins, where for the first time in many of their lives they were sharing a room with someone from a different religion, which led to some interesting conversations.

Senior boys supported each other to reach the top of the climbing wall

Senior boys supported each other to reach the top of the climbing wall

One night over a hot chocolate, the junior girls gathered around for a ‘wee chat’, that carried on for hours. The topics of conversation covered everything from TV shows and One Direction, to religion and the contentious issues in Northern Ireland. At one point, one girl said “the bonfires and parades that are celebrated on both sides are all about what happened in the past, we need to think about the future. We (as children) never get a say about things like that in the outside world, but here at PeacePlayers, we can actually talk about it together, without people judging us”. Her like-minded teammates and coaches greeted this with applause.

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North and East Belfast united through basketball on the junior boys team

This is exactly the culture that we strive to create in all of our programmes, a safe space for children and young people to bridge divides, change perceptions and develop as leaders.

Camp alpha was the highlight of my summer! I made new friends while having fun playing basketball and enjoying all the activities! Thank you for giving me the opportunity to get involved in PeacePlayers again!” – Chelsea Smith, Senior Girl, joined PeacePlayers in 2008

“Camp alpha was an absolutely amazing experience. I learned lots of new skills and knowledge on basketball and diversity and met life-long friends. Can’t wait until next time!” – Niamh McNally, Junior Girl, joined PeacePlayers in 2013

“I had a amazing time at camp.  I wish it never ended!  I’ve taken away more knowledge and understanding of diversity, but most importantly I’ve taken away some new friends.” – Ryan McStravick, Junior Boy, joined PeacePlayers in 2011

“I feel like I became a better leader though the work we did in the ocn sessions, and that I gained more confidence to speak out in a large group of people that I don’t know well.” – Chantelle Hutchinson, Senior Girl, joined PeacePlayers in 2009

“I thought the camp was really good and I really enjoyed it. It helped me learn a lot of things about others and myself. I would definitely go back next year” – Jay-mee Gillen, Junior Girl, joined PeacePlayers in 2010

For it being the very first camp we have ever done, it felt like the kids had been coming for years, they all got on so well and their basketball skills improved immensely. I had an amazing time getting to know the kids from all of Belfast even better.” – Michaela Thompson, Coach and former participant, joined PeacePlayers in 2007

We would like to thank OMFDFM for making this camp a possibility.

For more from Camp Alpha 15 visit our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/peaceplayersni

 

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