What’s Going on Jerusalem? A Recap of the Last Few Months at PPI-ME



Some of PPI-ME’s Leadership Development Program participants posing on the beach at Peace Camp

This week’s PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI-ME) blog post is written by American Fellow, LaToya Fisher, and is a recap of the activities that have taken place in the Jerusalem area over the past few months.

Peace Camps


The participants at the end of the Peace Camp

Peace Camps are overnight retreats that bring together Arab and Jewish participants from East and West Jerusalem and the West Bank for intensive basketball, educational and trust-building trust activities. There have been two Camps in the past few months, and they have been really successful. Highlights include a dance-off between American Fellow LaToya Fisher and the younger participants and seeing the Leadership Development Program (LDP) participants, who help run the Camps, turn into amazing leaders and coaches. At the most recent Peace Camp, participants did a basketball activity that involved learning new basketball terms in Hebrew, Arabic and English. It was fun to watch participants learn and use new terms right away. Sadly, there will only be one more Peace Camp during this program year; it takes place in May.

Youth Entrepreneurship Program

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The ladies of PeaceStagram during their nature session

In the Youth Entrepreneurship Program (YEP), the girls of PeaceStagram have started taking photographs for their gallery showing and the ladies of Girls Gone Green (GGG) have created more masterpieces for their upcoming exhibit. YEP has brought in special guests like Muayad, a professional photographer from Jerusalem, who has traveled internationally, and gave the girls neat tips and tricks to take their photographs to the next level. Both projects will be displaying their work to the public at the end of April or in early May.



The girls of Ein Kerem (Jewish school) and Ein Rafa (Arab school) during a twinning

All of the school and community basketball teams in the Jerusalem area that work with PPI-ME participate in twinnings – joint activities between Arab and Jewish teams – and this season, the twinnings have been a lot of fun. In one twinning between the boys of Tal Shachar (Jewish school) and Ein Rafa (Arab school), a Jewish participant who wanted to know an Arab participant’s name asked him “What’s your name?” in Arabic. The Arab participant smiled and was impressed to hear the Jewish participant speaking Arabic. It really helped to set the mood for the twinning. In another twinning between the girls of Ein Kerem (Jewish school) and Ein Rafa (Arab school), one of the Arab participants tried to learn all of the names of the girls from Ein Kerem, which proved to be a difficult task, but the girls from Ein Kerem appreciated the effort.

In sum, things are going well in Jerusalem as we head into the Passover holiday. Even though it’s a holiday, however, things won’t slow down much here at PPI-ME. Coaching clinics and leadership workshops will be taking place during the break, and once the kids head back to school, twinnings and practices will resume. Stay tuned!

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.


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.


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!!!)


Hot Coco by the fire!

PPI-SA Introducing Our Coaches: Sfiso “Knees of Thunder” Mthembu

This week we continue with our series on “Introducing our Coaches” with the story of PPI-SA veteran Sfiso “Knees of Thunder” Mthembu. His story is the true epitome of not allowing your surroundings dictate the course of your life. We are so proud of Sfiso, and hope you can gain a positive life lesson from his story.

Sfiso receiving his certificate of completion of the basketball coaching camp in the states from Kelli Davis from US Department State.


My name is Sifiso Mthembu, I’m 29 year old. I grew up in Richards Bay Skhawini and now stay in Molweni, Durban. In 1998, a life changing experience happened to me. I was hanging around the wrong group of people, who would steal anything they could get their hands on. One night, we stole my grandfathers car, and we were in a serious car accident which left me in a wheelchair for 6 months. I remember that day clearly, the doctor told I could not  run or play sports ever again. I was in a wheelchair for 6 months, and took medication everyday.

In 2003, I moved to Molweni to live with my mom. I was on treatment, and every time I tried play soccer I would feel pain around my hips, so I stopped. One day, my neighbour Dallas, invited me to come watch him coach basketball. It was my first time seeing this sport, and what stood out to me was that the court is smaller than a soccer pitch. At that moment, I told myself I could DO IT. Then I tried playing, it was very painful in the beginning, until I got used to the pain, and a few months later, the pain stopped. I continued playing all throughout my high school years, and when I completed my matric/ Grade 12, I decided to apply to be a PPI-SA coach and give back to my community.

I have been with PPI-SA since 2008, making my way up the ranks. From being a participate, to coaching and now being Area-cordinator for Umlazi. For approximately 5 years, I have also been coordinating and managing an independent basketball programme in Molweni, and that really taught me a lot about myself, and I learnt persistence and hard work.

Sfiso ( holding basketball) in action.

The most memorable opportunity  I was given at PPI SA was going to USA for an exchange program and to Turkey for a Junior Morals Program basketball camp. It is here, where I had to learnt to coach in Turkish, Serian and English, with the help of translator. I had a strong bond with the kids and they called me “coach Sufuso” and took thousands of selfies with me .They were thankful and inspired.

PPI-SA Area-coordinators 2017.

When I look back and think about that moment in the hospital with the doctor, and if someone told me I would one day travel to the States or Turkey, I would have not believed them. That it why I will forever be grateful for what PPI-SA and Dallas did for me that day I went to watch that practice. Something inside me sparked again, even though the odds were against me, I believed in myself again. I am now a different person, from that naughty boy in Skhawini, to a leader, a youth developer, a community leader and driven to do even more great things for myself and my community.


In-Season Update: Nahariya/Tamra 14-and-Under All-Stars Team

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The team huddles together after a big win against Arabe

It has been a fun and exciting year for PeacePlayers International – Middle East’s (PPI-ME) Nahariya/Tamra 14-and-under All-Star team. This past week they officially moved into second place in their league, and with four games left in the season they are still within striking distance of first place. As we close in on the end of the season, we want to recap some of the memorable moments of the season and take a look at how this team has grown throughout the year.

The 14-and-under All-Stars have made huge strides on the court this year. This past week, with their win over Arabe, they officially moved into second place in their league. It was a very intense game and the team was down by as much as 11 points in the first half before taking control and winning the game by 10 points. It was a whole team effort and showed the determination and resilience the team has. Another thrilling win came a month ago after beating Kaokab, a team that hasn’t lost in two seasons. “It was so exciting! All of the players (including those on the bench) felt the tension and were completely into the game. It was so much fun for everyone and we were so happy,” said Noam (13, Nahariya).


Lilian going for a layup during a game this season

The personal connections between the girls on the team also grew significantly this season. This became especially evident when the girls started planning activities together outside of practices and games. One of the most unforgettable times was when they came together for Roni’s birthday party. “Roni’s birthday was amazing. It was so great celebrating it with the whole team. We laughed and really talked and it was a fun and bonding evening for everyone,” explains Noam.

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Courtney, Alhan and some of the team members on the bench before a game

It has been such an enjoyable year for everyone involved with the Nahariya/Tamra All-Stars. The coaches continue to work hard to help the girls become better both individually and as a team, and it really shows. They have grown so much together on and off the court and it has been special to witness. When Roni was asked about this season, this was her response: “Last year we were just playing together. This year we became great friends. I am just as close to the girls from Tamra as I am to the Nahariya girls.” Noam agrees that their connection has intensified, “It is much stronger this year. We really talk with each other and all of the girls are very open with each other.”


Selfie time! The team celebrating after a win

Everyone at PPI-ME is excited to see what the future holds for these girls. Their determination, compassion, effort and teamwork are qualities that every team should try to emulate. Their togetherness inspires us all.

Belfast Phoenix Basketball Club – “My Friends And a Group I Will Forever Remember”

Last September, a group of 15 girls from all over Belfast came together to form the 2016-17 U-16 girls Belfast Phoenix basketball team. With many of the girls being part of Belfast Phoenix BC for several years, having two new coaches was maybe a daunting thought, never mind having 6 new teammates. The newest members to the team were six PeacePlayers participants who have been part of the Belfast Interface League for more than 3 years. Ready to take the next step, they joined Belfast Phoenix BC in the Basketball Northern Ireland competitive league.

PeacePlayers coaches Joanne Fitzpatrick and Hannah Byrne, worked with the girls throughout the season to end up with a 8-2 record, at the top of the league. But this blog isn’t about scores or stats, Xs or Os, cups or trophies. This week’s blog is about a team, how they formed, stormed, normed and performed together. This week’s blog is written by local coordinator, Joanne Fitzpatrick, with a little help from the team.

When I started coaching these girls last year, I didn’t know what to expect. As someone who has only ever coached in PeacePlayers for the past 9 years, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be what these girls needed. I was a bag of nerves, thinking that these girls needed a coach with more competitive coaching experience. I walked into the gym and introduced myself to the team. Within seconds, Brooklyn O’Hare, PeacePlayers participant and new Belfast Phoenix member, broke the ice by giving the girls my nickname- JimmiJo11. At that moment, Brooklyn reminded me of something I like to teach all our kids, “Just be yourself.”Throughout the year, I’ve watched these girls go on an amazing journey. I’ve asked some of them and their parents to give you their story of the season.

How would you describe the PeacePlayers and Phoenix girls coming together?

“When the PeacePlayers girls all joined the team, I was nervous about what they would all be like, but after I got to know them a bit I love them and I really like playing with them.” – Cassie Taylor

“The girls that came originally from Phoenix are amazing ballers and I was intimidated by this at the start. But, it just helped me improve my skills more and made me a better player…We are a group of girls that are playing basketball and having fun. While playing, never once did I think about if they were Catholic, Protestant or anything else. It didn’t matter and still doesn’t, they are my friends and a group I will forever remember.” – Patrice Fox

“I was quite skeptical at the start when I found out we were joining with the PeacePlayer girls because I didn’t know who they were but it didn’t take long for us all to get along” – Brid Turley

“At first it was a bit awkward, but the girls were super nice. It was nice to meet new people in a great atmosphere that they created” – Anna Duncan

“When I joined Phoenix, I was nervous. So from being in PeacePlayers for a long time, it taught me just to be myself , to accept others and not to change in order to get people to like me.” – Brooklyn O’Hare

“Having all the PeacePlayers join the team has been great honestly, they’re all so nice and very friendly and they’re very easy to get along with. They’re all very inclusive and they are also very hard working and determined and of course they encouraged me to join PeacePlayers myself.” – Sara Mostafa

“At first, I was slightly nervous as I didn’t know if they would mix well together or just stay in separate groups, but after our first game against Dungannon it was clear how much the PeacePlayers girls added to the team and I know they would get along really well.” – Hannah Byrne


Brooklyn O’Hare with an easy lay-up on a fast break

What was the highlight of the season for you and why?

“The highlight of the season for me was our first game against Andytown Tigers. Even though we lost, none of the girls gave up at all and it was the most intense game of the season!” – Hannah Byrne

“For me, the highlight of the season has to be winning the league especially as it was with a bunch of girls who didn’t really know each other at the start but bonded very quickly.” – Brid Turley

“The highlight for me was when we won our game against the Tigers, I think that we worked really hard and definitely deserved the win” – Sara Mostafa

“The highlight of the season has been playing with others in a league setting and building better friendships with those outside of PeacePlayers.” – Brooklyn O’Hare

“The highlight of the season for me was training with the team because I was very nervous coming to U16 alone, but now I feel quite comfortable” – Ayushma Kandel


Cassie Taylor leading the team as point guard

What do you think PeacePlayers has brought to the team? Are PeacePlayers coaches different to other basketball coaches you’ve had?

I didn’t know about PeacePlayers until the girls told me about it and encouraged me to join. Jingle Ball was my first event and I love it. The matches weren’t too competitive and there was music, everyone was dancing, it was just a great vibe.” – Ayushma Kandel

“Having a coach from PeacePlayers is different, other coaches I’ve had were about how to make great players, but PeacePlayers coaches make sure that we all got along well as a team too, which I think is really important” – Sara Mostafa

“Having a coach from PeacePlayers is different because although we all like to win, I think that PeacePlayers focuses more on being a team than just winning. A normal coach would focus on the result and not the progress that the team are making. A PeacePlayers coach would be more interesting in how the team works and that its ok to make mistakes.” – Cassie Taylor

“I think there is definitely a better team bond because of the PeacePlayers influence. I also feel like we can have a bit more fun, not take ourselves too seriously and I think that’s been great for the Phoenix girls to have that influence in their club basketball” – Hannah Byrne


Sara Mostafa easing past the defence

A note from Jolene Fox. Parent of Patrice, PeacePlayers participant and Phoenix BC player.

“PeacePlayers started with basketball being fun, something to do, a way to meet new people and explore life (especially living within a divided society) in a way that sees beyond daily prejudices be it religion, race or socio-economic background. While I don’t feel that Patrice would have had a great prejudice on these issues but, societal normalcy in regards, especially, to religious differences in Northern Ireland may have had an impact. Through working within the West Belfast PeacePlayers team and in the city-wide teams and events and Champions4Peace programme, Patrice has had a platform to see other young people as just that, young people. There is no Catholic/Protestant, black/white, rich/poor, she has friends. They’ve learned lessons on the importance of inclusion and how isolating excluding or simply not including people can be. PeacePlayers has made the journey to playing basketball competitively a smooth transition. There is no requirement to know her friends religions etc, she is only concerned about how well they pick up the different plays and if they’re working well as a team. Some of them are even taller than her, that’s about the height (pardon the pun) of her noticing differences within her Phoenix teammates.  Since Christmas, it is very evident that she has forged new friendships and has grown within herself exponentially. Patrice is more comfortable giving her opinion on things, she is willing to put herself forward and take a more assertive role when carrying out tasks. She has become more competitive, especially over the past fortnight and I’m sure that will continue over the coming month in the build up to the All-Irelands.”

Coaches Conclusion

I’ve had the most amazing experience coaching these girls. I’ve learned more than I could ever imagine. I’ve watched them play, in awe, every game, getting stronger as a team. Many of these girls are right, I did focus on them becoming a team and it took a while. But to see these girls win the league with heart, soul, and compassion for their teammates and the game of basketball, is the best reward I could ever receive. I’m prouder than ever of what they’ve achieved together and I can’t wait to see them wrap up this year in the All-Ireland play-offs next month. Onwards and upwards, rise the Phoenix!


Belfast Phoenix U16 2016-17, a group I will forever remember

PPI-SA – Introducing Our Coaches: Thobani Ngubane

Last week we heard from Thando Msweli, our very own “selfie queen”, Laureus YES Expert and area-cordinator. But we thought you should have the opportunity to meet ALL our coaches, so the series  is making a comeback. Every week you will hear from another one of our 22 amazing coaches. Today, we hear from one of the newest additions to PPI-SA’s coaching staff – Thobani Ngubane. Thobani was also a part of the Laureus YES Programme, which is a great achievement for a first year coach. Thobani is also a past LDP participant.  His an outgoing bright young man, who is making noise in Durban, and in his community. Here’s his story about how he joined PPI-SA and his reflections on the Laureus YES Camp.

Thobani having breakfast with Laureus Ambassador Deshun and Merecedes Benz Manager Margaret.

My name is Thobani Ngubane and I am 21 years old. I was born and raised in uMlazi L- Section . Last year, I matriculated from Vukuzakhe High School and I also played for the Umlazi West Community Team.  In 2013, for the first time, I was introduced to PPI-SA, by my friend who invited me to a practice. I never stopped playing after that day.

Thobani (far left) at last years City Wide Tournament.

It was my coaches TT & Janda who really made an impact on me to decide to apply to be a coach at PPI-SA this year. I was already volunteering in other sports at my high school, such as netball and cricket. So when the opportunity came for me to join PPI-SA again this without having to be a participant I was so excited. What I love the most about  being a coach is working with the kids and empowering them with life skills that can help them make social change in their school and community. I know how my coaches helped me change my life and become a better person, and now I want to do the same for others.

The Laureus YES Camp was such a surprise to me. I did not know what to expect. But, I don’t regret applying, because I learnt so much about myself. I met other young leaders from across South Africa, which was great. After I left the camp, I learnt something very important. Resilience. I came out stronger and knowing myself more. Another highlight was going on the Cape Wheel at the V& A Waterfront. The views of Cape Town were beautiful and I will always cherish that moment.

PPI-ME Wishes Everyone A Happy International Women’s Day!


Three PPI-ME participants having fun at a practice in Tamra

On March 8th each year, people around the world celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD). IWD is a day to reflect on the circumstances of women around the world, to commit to helping women and girls achieve their dreams, and to help forge a more gender-inclusive world. IWD brings attention to the fact that millions of women around the world face discrimination and hardship every day. IWD encourages all of us to help build and maintain more inclusive societies.

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Nitsan, Jinan and Aya keeping score at a PPI-ME activity

At PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI-ME), we are keenly aware of the myriad obstacles that women face to full and equal treatment and participation in many societies around the world. In both Palestinian and Israeli societies, women face numerous barriers which often prevent their participation in sports and other community activities. Many girls are lacking the support systems they need to get involved in programs like PPI-ME. For every 100 Palestinian boys who play at sports clubs, only 28 girls do the same. In Israel, women aged 13 and older make up only 12% of athletes and less than 8% of trainers.


Yasmeen enjoying a Big Friday Twinning in Jerusalem

These shocking statistics are one of the many reasons that we at PPI-ME focus on engaging females in our programs and are proud to say that 70% of our participants are female – many of whom come from conservative and underprivileged communities where opportunities are scarce. PPI-ME gives female participants the opportunity to participate in sports programs that may not be available in their communities, to develop skills and experience that boost their confidence and increase their employ-ability, and to meet people they would most likely otherwise never have the chance to meet.

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Githa (PPI-ME Project Manager in the North) at a bowling activity with participants from Meiser and Kfar Saba

IWD is a chance to celebrate the courageous, powerful and beautiful women who make choices everyday that promote gender equality and it’s a chance for us at PPI-ME to celebrate the young girls and women who combat social norms in Palestine and Israel. IWD is about unity, inclusion, bridging divides and changing perceptions – all of the things that PeacePlayers advocates for on a daily basis. We at PPI-ME are so proud of our participants and everyone we work with, who actively contribute to women’s equality and who strengthen their communities by doing so. Happy IWD to everyone!


Courtney (American Fellow) with PPI-ME participants after a Twinning in Northern Israel

#WhoRunTheWorld #Girls