This week’s blog from PPI-ME is written by fellow James Levine about the Erasmus Leadership Camp, cultural exchange and leadership development.
Since my arrival in Israel, I have experienced many firsts: my first practice, first Jerusalem All-Star games (where I watched our under 14 and under 18 integrated (Palestinian/Israeli) teams compete in the Israel youth league), first trip to the north, and first twinning session. This past week I checked off an especially exciting first: hosting guests the PeacePlayers International-Middle East way!
PPI-ME retreats are always enjoyable because they give participants the opportunity to spend time together outside of their normal practice schedules. This past week was unlike any other PPI-ME retreat. PPI participants from other sites flew into Tel Aviv for five days of cultural exchange, leadership development, and basketball. This was achieved through a European Union grant called Erasmus+, which focuses on education, training, and youth sport. As a result, we were able to bring together PPI participants from Northern Ireland and Cyprus and also host a basketball club from Norway!
On the outset, I had trouble imagining what this multicultural basketball exchange would look like. Would a boy from Northern Ireland and a girl from Cyprus react the same way to my unreasonable two-ball dribbling series? What would a discussion between Norwegian and Palestinian basketball players look like during a leadership development session? Perhaps more importantly: did we even have enough sunscreen for the Northern Irelanders?
For the first three days of the retreat, players participated in leadership development sessions, coaching workshops and basketball training at Kibbutz Sdot Yam in Casaeria. As a coach, my favorite sessions were the coaching workshops during which participants learned how to coach “the PPI way.” I was struck by how seriously and thoughtfully our participants engaged in discussions about PPI’s values, the relationship between sport and social change, and the philosophy of coaching. Ultimately, the goal of these sessions was to give our participants the foundation and practical skills to be coaches themselves and help to cultivate the next generation of PPI leaders.
During a session on goal setting, one of the comments that stuck with me came from Melisa, one of the players from Cyprus. She explained to the group that one of her current goals is to improve her English so that she can be a better coach and eventually reach more players through coaching. Not only is Melisa thinking ahead and setting goals, but she is driven by how she might be able to positively impact others. She is just one example of how the coaches in Cyprus are influencing their players to be more than basketball players, but to be mindful and considerate individuals. Even more encouraging is that these mindful and considerate individuals, like Melisa, will be those inspiring the future generations of PPI participants.
My biggest takeaway from the camp is that young people around the world are not all that different. I expected significant cultural differences between players from the various sites, but I could not have been more wrong. While our participants and coaches come from different places, speak different languages and confront different challenges on a daily basis, these differences were barely noticeable over the course of the week.
In the end, it was amazing to spend five days around young individuals who represent some of the most positive, hopeful, and ambitious people in their communities. I already miss the Northern Ireland accents, happy birthday being sung in six languages and the late-night pick-up basketball games.
Thank you Middle East staff, Jamie Walsh and Heni Bizawi, for putting together an unforgettable week and to the European Union for making this exchange possible. Although it was sad to wish our friends from Cyprus, Northern Ireland and Norway goodbye, we cannot wait to see you all again in Norway this spring!