What. A. Week: International Fellow Sean Wright’s Take on Erasmus+ Norway

This week’s blog was written by Cyprus Fellow Sean Wright about his recent experience involved with the Norway exchange trip. 

You can measure what an experience means to someone by the amount of time it takes to say goodbye to their friends. In Norway, as we all said goodbye to our old and new friends, that took about 3 hours. It didn’t matter if you had already given a hug to someone before, they needed another one (or 8). In just one week, everlasting friendships were made spanning across the world. That is the beauty of working for such an extraordinary organization in PeacePlayers International. You get to witness first hand how kids from very different cultures, speaking different languages, can become so close in just a short period of time. The bonds that are made in these exchanges can never be broken, rather they can only be enhanced.

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Half the group outside of Parliment

 

It wasn’t just the participants who had an amazing time. To me, this was one of the greatest trips I’ve ever been on. It didn’t feel like work. I was learning just as much from these young leaders as they were learning from the coaching staff. I learned what these kids are passionate about, that friendships have no borders, and that you can always start a dance party no matter where you are. Also, I learned that if you are honest with them about how you hurt your back playing UNO (yes, the card game), they will never let you hear the end of it.

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Just a little height difference!

There are so many memories from this trip that I will never forget. We got to go dogsledding on a frozen lake, take a tour of Parliament, and go to the Nobel Peace Center. Those were all truly amazing experiences, but there is one moment that I hold above all. On the last day, in the midst of saying goodbyes, one of those dance parties I told you about started up. At the end of it, the last song that was played was Ed Sheeran’s “Castle on the Hill”. Everyone put their arms around each other and formed a circle, and we just belted out the words. Looking around and seeing only smiles from ear to ear, I couldn’t help but think to myself how meaningful this moment is in my life. To be with all these incredible people, having the times of our lives, together – there was no greater feeling.

Thank you for all those who made this trip possible and made it an experience that I will never forget. Northern Ireland is next up, and it can’t get here fast enough. To quote our good friend Ed and the theme song from camp “I’m on my way!”(Technically not for a few months, but I’m still on my way!!!)

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Hot Coco by the fire!

My Final Days As A Fellow: Jessica Walton Says Goodbye to PPI-Cyprus

This week’s blog was written by former Cyprus Fellow Jessica Walton about her amazing 2 years working at PeacePlayers-Cyprus.

My fellowship with PeacePlayers has come to an end. I’m struggling to fully accept that sentence. It doesn’t feel real. My final days in Cyprus have come all too quickly and I am basically in denial – I haven’t packed a single bag yet. 16651424_10208176464433211_965766958_o

I know everyone says it, but I swear it feels like I just sat down for lunch at “The Old Lady” for the very first time. Fast forward two years later and I’ve basically become the queen of meze and kebab and developed a second stomach when it comes to making room for halloumi or baklava. But in all seriousness, PeacePlayers has changed my life. I will always consider myself grateful to these wonderful people and this amazing program.

When I applied for the fellowship in the winter of 2014 I was working a typical desk job and knew that I was looking for something so much more. I crossed my fingers after submitting my application – hoped it would work out and tried to picture what life would be like as a fellow, thousands of miles away from home. Lucky for me these two years have exceeded my expectations in every way.

16593555_10208176464953224_1139523284_o  Let’s start with the job itself. I think it’s safe to say most of us would be hard pressed to find a better job description than using the game of basketball to foster peace and friendships between kids in conflict communities (especially on an insanely beautiful Mediterranean island). Mix that with some of the most compassionate, funny, intelligent, kids and the most dedicated and passionate coaches/staff I’ve come across and you have a pretty unbeatable combination.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to express enough thanks to people like Ryan and Sean (my amazing partners in crime) or Nicos, Mike and Andreas for showing me the ropes and introducing me to the world of Cyprus basketball. I can’t describe how grateful I am to coaches like Sevki and Bahar who were always willing to invite me into their homes, make me a home cooked me and treat me like a member of their own family. Special thanks to Steph (and her Dad) for ALWAYS being there when I locked myself out, had a problem with the car or needed to find a new place for the fellows to live. Shout outs to all the inspirational coaches and staff I’ve had a chance to get to know and work with during the exchange trips and summer camps. I’m lucky to have had a chance to learn from your unique PPI experiences and call you guy’s friends! Last but not least – Jale! We always tell you but just in case you haven’t truly heard us, you’re definitely going down in the books as the best boss! 16593385_10208176465353234_65073808_o

To my PPI-CY kids – I am so incredibly proud of all of you guys! You are some of the most fantastic humans I have ever met. It’s been a complete privilege to watch you develop and grow over the past two years. I remember my first LDP and how impressed I was with you all. Visiting Lapta girl’s practice and laughing non-stop with you guys as we played 5v5. Victor – your enthusiasm for everything is contagious! You’ll make a fantastic coach someday. Singing Beyonce songs with Mush and Sophia in the back of the bus on our way to my first camp. Now those two crazy kids coach their own team J I’m going to miss the survivor obstacle course with my little guys in Iskele! Sevilay, my summer camp hairstylist, you’ll make it to New York before you know it! And Cetin, watch out for Ali – I think he’s going to be dunking soon! Andriana! Captain of the TuneSquad and my 3v3 teammate – I know you’re going to do some incredible things on the court!

I’m not quite sure the best way to close out my last blog. I am truly blessed to have witnessed just how effective PeacePlayers programming is, not only here in Cyprus but around the world. I will always consider Cyprus a home away from home. These people will always hold a special place in my heart. Saying goodbye seems way too final. Instead, I’ll let a pro do the talking for me:

“Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the longitudes and the latitudes.” – Henry David Thoreau

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Thank you, Jessica!

This week’s blog was written by Cyprus Fellow Sean Wright thanking his friend and Fellow Jessica Walton for her awesome time in Cyprus.

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Jess and some of her friends from Summer Camp in CY

Where to begin. Last March, I boarded a plane from America to the island of Cyprus to join the PeacePlayers family for the next 2 years. I was nervous and excited all at the same time. As I landed in Cyprus, I grabbed my bags and as I went through the doors of no return, the first person I saw was Jessica Walton. She gave me a big hug, and from that moment she was my guide in this foreign country.

Jessica took me under her wing. She showed me how to run a practice the PPI way. She taught me what it truly means to be a part of this incredible organization. She taught me how to complete many tasks in the office that once she is gone I am taking over. She has been an incredible teacher to me, and I thank her for it.

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Jess on her trip to the PPI-ME Exchange in Oct. 2016

Besides teaching me the PPI ways of life and being co-workers, we are also roommates! Because of this, I’ve gotten to know some things about her. Her favorite singer is Beyonce, and had it not been for Jess I would have never listened to the new Lemonade album that was on repeat in the car all summer long, which I didn’t hate. We were beach buds, every weekend going to a new location with crystal clear water and relaxing together on the sand. She was my Game of Thrones partner, as we would watch together and be left stunned at what took place in the episode. She was my movie/tv show advisor, where every morning on our way to work I’d tell her what I was watching and she would do the same which would ultimately lead me to watching her suggestions.

For the past 10 months, there have been only a few days where we haven’t been together. It will be strange to not have her with me anymore soon as her time as a fellow comes to an end. The next fellow with have some big shoes to fill!

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It’s the Holiday Season at PPI-CY!

This week’s blog is written by Cyprus Fellow Sean Wright about the upcoming events taking place at PPI-CY during the holidays. 

It’s the holiday season here in Cyprus, and with it brings an exciting time for us at PPI-CY. Over the next few weekends, we will be having a twinning with 50 kids from both the North (Turkish Cypriot) and South (Greek Cypriot), and also we will be having our annual Winter Tournament next weekend. What a time to be alive!

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Group picture from Lapta Twinning

For our twinning, we will be having it in the buffer zone in-between the North and South sides right across from our offices at the Home 4 Cooperation. We have it at a place called the Ledra Palace Hotel, which is where the UN soldiers live. They are kind enough to let us use their basketball court and hold these events there. This is different from the recent twinnings because both communities are meeting at a neutral site. The few that we’ve had this year were local twinnings, where one side would travel to the other side’s community to play. The local twinnings give each side a better understanding of the other’s community which is awesome, but this neutral twinning gives us the opportunity to have more kids participate.

We’ve also given our participants in the Lead4Peace program more responsibility during our twinnings this year. They are taking on the challenges of leading the beginning parts of the sessions.

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From a twinning in Lapta

This means they lead the twinning participants in the stretches, explaining the activities in the mother tongue so everyone is on the same page, and breaking the teams up evenly. They are doing an excellent job with this, especially breaking the teams up evenly. This may not seem like a big task, but when your friends are looking at you wanting to be on your team and you have to say no, it can be difficult. The best part of them taking on more responsibilities is that they WANT to do it. We don’t even have to ask them because they come up to us ask us to do these things. We are very proud of what these young men and women are doing. 3on3

Next weekend is our Winter 3 on 3 Tournament, which is one of our biggest events of the year. Every team on the island, north and south, come together to have one epic day of basketball. This is a special event because it is one of the only times that every team on the island is in the same place at the same time. On top of that, we open the tournament up to anyone who wants to join. This is a great recruiting tool for new kids who want to play basketball but don’t have the outlet to do so. All in all, it’s going to be an exciting two weeks here in CYPRUS!!!

 

Tamika Catchings visits PPI-CY

This weeks blog is written Cyprus Fellow Sean Wright about a visit from retired WNBA star, Tamika Catchings.

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Tamika presenting Eleni with a gift

This past week, PeacePlayers International – Cyprus was fortunate to have retired WNBA star, Tamika Catchings, visit for a few days. All this was possible because one of our participants, Eleni Partakki, submitted a drawing for a watch design contest on what peace meant to her. The contest was sponsored by one of our biggest donors, Laureus, a sport for good foundation that partners with organizations similar to PPI to use sports as a tool to make the world a better place. Laureus partnered with the International Watch Company, IWC to create the winner’s design into a watch, and out of all the wonderful entries, our Eleni won!

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Tamika inspiring our youth

I can’t begin to tell you how inspirational Tamika Catchings is. For starters, she is one of the greatest WNBA players to ever play the game, so it was wonderful having her here to share stories from her career. Our participants have dreams just like Tamika did when she was a child. They may not all be the same, but the overall message she shared of hard work and surrounding yourself with people who can help you get there hopefully resonated with our participants. That’s what we try to do at PPI-CY: we want to be as helpful as possible to our participants as they figure out what they want to do in life and provide the tools for them to succeed. Whether that is extra practice on the court, leadership training, communication skills or any other valuable skill, we are here to help the next generation become successful.

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US Ambassador Doherty and Tamika playing on the same team

After Tamika’s and US Ambassador Kathleen Doherty’s speeches, our kids got to experience something that not many in the world ever do. They got to play basketball with with Tamika, a living legend in the basketball community, four-time gold medalist, countless All-Star, top 15 WNBA player all-time, with many more awards to her name. Getting to be on the same court, catching a pass from her, giving her a high five are all moments in our kids lives that they will never forget.

I’m even sure US Ambassador Doherty won’t forget, as Tamika persuaded her to get on the court where she eventually scored a basket! The smart lady she is, she walked right off the court after that basket because it couldn’t get better than that.

Thank you to Laureus, IWC, US Ambassador Kathleen Doherty and Tamika Catchings for making this an event our kids at PPI-CY will never forget!!!

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A wonderful day with everlasting memories!

Thank You, Dad

This week’s blog by PPI-CY is written by Fellow Sean Wright about his recent trip back home to the USA for an weekend with family and friends. 

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My Family being honored before the game.

My dad taught me the beautiful game of basketball and all the joys that this game could bring you throughout your life if you played the right way. He instilled the values that I live my life according to, and many of those came from when he was coaching me. Sadly, he passed away in December on 2003, so whenever I step out onto a court or dribble a ball, I think of him and everything he has taught me.

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Steve Wright #33

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of coming back to the USA for a basketball tournament held at Boston University where my father was a standout basketball player. This was no ordinary tournament for my family, as this was the first year of the “Steve Wright Classic,” which was named in memory of my dad. Going to the gym where my dad scored all those points, had all those rebounds and won all those wins was truly was amazing. It was a very emotional Friday night, as BU brought us onto center court underneath the retired jersey 33 before the game to recognize my father, I was witness to something that brought me to tears. The majority of the people in the stands didn’t know my father, but the amount of love and support that my family and I felt from their standing ovation made me cry. Me, a 6 foot 8 man with a full beard, crying. But that’s how much my dad meant and still means to me. I will never forget that night, so I want to thank Coach Jones and the BU Athletic Department for this amazing tribute to a truly great man.

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Me, my brother Kevin, and My dad Steve

I’ve had many coaches in my life, but the one who I really try to imitate is my first coach, my father. I even use his whistle that he used to blow whenever my friends and I would be goofing off, which was NEVER! (That’s a lie, if I remember correctly he used that often). His style of coaching was to be as positive a person as you can be. He taught the importance of being a good teammate and how you could be that. He used to love to call us a “wolfpack” because if a wolf goes out on it’s own, it most likely won’t survive. But when everyone stays together and helps one another, they will prosper. All of these values and lessons I learned from my father aligned right in with PeacePlayers and our approach to coaching. So when I am coaching the youth in Cyprus, I am trying to coach the way my father coached me because he showed me years before I ever heard of PeacePlayers, the foundation of what being a PPI coach entails. I know that is why I was able to become a part of the PPI family which has been the most rewarding experience of my life so far.

Thank you, Dad.

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Kevin, My Dad, and Me

Cetin shares his thoughts on the PPI-ME exchange

This week’s blog by PPI-CY is written by Assistant Coach/long time participant Cetin about his experience on the PPI-ME exchange trip last month. 

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All Smiles!

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Brothers

Hi everyone, I am Cetin. I’m 20 years old and I’ve been in the program since it started in Cyprus. I have had many twinnings, camps and sessions that increase my quality of life for the better. I’ve played in PeacePlayers for 10 years, but for the last two camps I’ve been an assistant coach with my crazy sister Sophia. Today I would like to share my experiences about the Middle East trip, which is the one of the greatest memories that PeacePlayers provided me. (It was sad Sophia couldn’t come and we couldn’t give some strikeeeess!! for players.)

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My crazy friends

The Middle East trip was awesome and we had a great camp for five days. There were four groups –  Middle East, Norway, Northern Ireland and Cyprus. Each group had 12 players and three coaches. We stayed at a hotel in Israel for a week that had a great beach with an awesome sunset each day. All of the sessions were effective for players on and off the court. Many players had already met before at the first exchange camp in Cyprus. This camp was another chance for players to build strong bridges between them, which they achieved from my view.

 

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Exploring the Holy City

After five days of camp, we went to The Dead Sea which was crazy and incredible experience on salty water. Later that night we moved our hotel where we stayed in Jerusalem. We had a great time sightseeing in the old city and we learned some wonderful information about three religions in one city the ‘Holy City’.

The saddest thing was end of the camp. Everyone had some great experiences with their old friends and they made new friends, so it was hard to leave. There were some tears, but those tears are for our big FAMILY to have strong bonds with us. To sum up I would like to thank for PPI for this camp opportunity and other participants in camp which we had a unforgettable experiences in a week. Hope we will have more great experiences together in the future!!

 

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Such a great time with amazing people! Miss them all!