PPI-NI C4P Gary Duffy Talks About His #Lead4Peace Experience in Norway!

Hello! My name is Gary Duffy, I am 15 years old, I live in Northern Ireland and I’m here to tell you about my time in Norway as part of the PeacePlayers Champions4Peace Lead4Peace exchange. It’s a long but savoury ready so sit back and enjoy! 


Me and my new friends from the Middle East Malak and Liraz

Leading up to the trip, I had all sorts of butterflies, nerves, and excitement all at the same time. I wondered what the people would be like, would they like me and would I fit in. The next six days turned out to be one of the best experiences I’ve ever had with PeacePlayers.

The first day we arrived to Norway, I was so excited as we waited for the Middle East group to arrive. It was exciting for me as I was going to meet new friends from different parts of the world. Once the Middle East arrived, the participants from the previous exchange all met up and said hello, giving each other hugs. I had to make myself known and introduced myself. We then got on the bus to go to our host families homes and that was when I met the first person on the exchange and that person was Yuval from the Middle East. When we started talking, Yuval had told me about his first time playing Gaelic football in the Middle East exchange last October. We had a laugh on the bus and was amazing getting to know him. On our journey to our host families, we had a party on the bus or what we came to call a PeacePlayers ride.  We were blasting music, introducing ourselves and chatting with all the new people we had yet to meet.


The NI Squad at the airport waiting for the Middle East group to arrive!

After about an hour on the bus, we arrived to Nesodden and I finally got to meet Edvard who I had been chatting with before the trip and I was so excited to finally get to meet him and it was amazing. Me and Eoin (Lead4Peace participant from NI) were driven up to our host families house where we were introduced to Edvard’s family.

On the first day of the camp, I didn’t get to meet many new people. So my goal was to not sit with people I knew so I can begin to make new friends and to get myself known to everyone on the exchange. Edvard’s dad dropped us off at Nesodden High School. This was where we met the coaches from the other sites – Gøril, Roar, Jamie, Nicos, Ståle, Sissel, Latoya, Bahar, and Sean. The coaches introduced themselves and shared something interesting about themselves, they were all a laugh and I knew I was going to get on well with them.

After all the introductions, we were split up into our teams. This was when I met my teammates – Thilde, Jinan, Christain, Martin, Gur, Serife, Ayanda, Anne, & Beth and Anna. We called ourselves Team Fire Ball to match our team colour, red!  Later that day after we all played basketball, it was time to lead our session on Trust & Communication. I wasn’t as confident at the start but when I saw Beth and Anna do an amazing job, I said to myself it can’t be that bad and went on and led my activity and I did a good job.


Beth, me, & Anna leading our session on Trust & Communication

After that session, it was time for dinner and that’s where I finally got to talk to the new people. That night was my favourite night in Norway because I made everyone laugh and made myself more recognised by everyone. Later that night, Edvard and William set up a Norwegian food taster for me, Eoin, Max, Tahir from Cyprus & Ryan.  We all sat at the table and began tasting Norwegian food which was amazing and very tasty. The third day was the day we all went to the hotel and did the fun in the snow the first activity we all did was ice hockey.

The third day, we headed off to Sormarka which was about an hour drive from where we staying in Nesodden. The first activity my team did was ice hocky, it was an amazing experience and I enjoyed it so much even though I got warm pretty fast becaue of all the


Lovin’ life on the snowboard!

layers I was wearing. Our next activity was snowboarding and just having fun in the snow. This was the first time I ever went on the snowboard and I fell many times. But nonetheless, I still had an amazing time. After all the fun in the snow, we went to a little area and had hotdogs for lunch. Later on that day, we continued with our classroom sessions on social action led by the Cyprus coaches.

That morning I woke up and got my heavy clothing on and brought my bags down to the hotel reception as we were all going back to our host families in Nesodden. This was the day we all went dog sledding and it such an amazing experience. I’ve never seen such peaceful dogs before, the dogs were just so adorable and they were the cutest dogs I’ve seen my life.  Later on that day, we took the ferry boat back to Nesodden, the boat was the best transport for me as I love boats.

We arrived in Nesodden and we watched a match. Edvard and William play for the Nesodden club and they had a game that night. We also helped with making waffles which we gave out to the fans. Me, Jinan, Brooklyn, Malak, and Nagham all made the waffles and they were amazing. The basketball game was so intense and it was very exciting to experience. Unfortunately, Edvard’s team lost that game but it was a fun match to watch.

After the match, we were split into two teams and played basketball until we had to go home. The next day was all about school visits! I got to coach in two basketball sessions which was amazing, I had such a laugh with all the kids. After coaching I got to do a classroom session with 15-16 year olds  where I shared how I was introduced to PeacePlayers, I also told them about the conflict in Northen Ireland. I was so nervous at first but when it came to it, I did a pretty good job and I was proud of myself.

After all that was done, me, Edvard, Eoin Thetha, Nitzan, Nagham and Maria all walked home to Edvard’s. We had free time so we decided to rest and get our energy back up. After the rest, we all got our gear and headed to the ferry. We got to the ferry and met up with everyone else. The ferry is so cool, I was in love with it. We got to our destination and had to get a bus to Kolbotn where we played more basketball.  We got a lot of basketball time and was a lot of fun. When our matches were over we all had a big game of knockout and the winner was Ryan who’s also from Northern Ireland. After all that we all went home. The last day for us all to be together which struck me but

The next day was last day for us all to be together which struck me but I made the best of that time and made such great memories. So, the first thing we did was get on the ferry. After the ferry, we all met up and did a bit of sightseeing around Norway and the view was so pretty. We all went to the parliament where we had a member of Parliament talk to us about Norwegian politics and the king of Norway. It was so interesting and fun to learn about.  After the Parliament, we took the underground (subway) to visit the Vigeland Sculpture Park. This was also where me and coach Joanne recreated the heel kick photo and we all had such fun. We then visited the Nobel Peace Centre where we had a lovely tour of the 2017 exhibition.


Coach Joane and me heel kicking!

We came back to Nesodden and played in a 3 on 3 tournament. My team made it to the finals but we lost. After the tournament, we all went into the lunch hall and had our final time together. I was sitting down with everyone getting food before the awards were given out. After dinner, the awards were presented and I won the Spirit Award. The Spirit award is given to someone who takes part in everything with a positive attitude while cheering everyone else on. I was so proud to be gifted that award. After the awards were given out, I completely broke down as this was the final time I’d be with everyone before saying goodbye. I went around hugging everyone and spending my final hour with everyone but we didn’t let that bother us as we all had a ball. We were all singing and dancing even the coaches joined in!



So you might ask what has this exchange done for me, it has made me more confident in leading sessions an16807022_1200989770022113_942240450499203875_nd in being a coach. It has made me a better leader, I made new friends and it might have even made me famous! I was featured in the in the local paper! And what I am looking forward to the most is seeing everyone again when they visit Northern Ireland in July!


Training the Trainers: PPI-NI Ballymena

This week’s blog was written by Ryan McGarry, Local Fellow at PeacePlayers International-Northern Ireland. 

bmenaThis year was the first time I became involved in a PeacePlayers Twinning that took place outside of Belfast. I was tasked to take the lead on our programming in Ballymena, a town about 30 minutes outside the city (famous for being the birthplace of Liam Neeson!), within which we have been running Twinnings for 4 years. Having established ourselves here working in conjunction with the Mid & East Antrim Borough Council, we have recently began taking steps to further develop our work in the area. Specifically, we are aiming to train and increase the capacity of locally based coaches, to transition our work there to becoming completely locally-led. (As much as I love my weekly pilgrimage up there!)

This approach fits into part of our overarching plan, which is to create and develop local PeacePlayers sites in every council area in the country. Recently, a partnership with the Ballymena Northern Regional College enabled us to take initial steps in this direction. This partnership has given young to volunteer as assistant coaches at our weekly sessions in the area.



Local student Paige leads a discussion on ‘Respect’

While this has only begun in January, these students have already shown their coaching abilities, and their willingness to develop themselves further. While jumping into a coaching role isn’t easy (especially in a high energy environment like a PPI Twinning!) The assistant coaches have been great at quickly adapting to our particular style of coaching, and leading activities not only in Basketball, but also in our Community Relations curriculum.

This has been evident not just to myself and the other PeacePlayers coaches, but also to their own teachers, and also to staff from the participating schools. They impressed the latter so much so that a few of the assistant coaches have been invited to the schools to help out in other ways, and meet back up with their team members!


Coaches Paige & Rebecca pose with their team’s completed ‘Respect Wall’

With the potential to bring some of these prospective coaches to our coaches’ trainings throughout the year – we could be seeing the establishment of a very important foundation for PPI’s planned expansion into the six ‘Super Councils’ of Northern Ireland.

If our efforts to create and develop a bank of local coaches in Ballymena is successful, it could well be used as a template for our work in other areas, and with a great group of potential future PeacePlayers at our disposal, I feel personally responsible to ensure that this becomes a reality!


From Sea Plunges to Super Twinnings, Keeping up with Coach Jazz

This week’s blog is written by Jazz Bishop, International Fellow at PPI-Northern Ireland.


Some frosty Plungers on Boxing Day

Happy New Year to everyone from Northern Ireland!

PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland wrapped up 2016 with its Inaugural PeacePlayers Boxing Day Plunge on Monday, December 26th in Newcastle.  PPI-NI staff, friends, and family took the plunge into the Irish Sea.  Everyone jumped in with their sneakers on, except me because I didn’t have a spare pair with me.  I jumped in with my socks on and ended up losing my socks in the Irish Sea. The water was extremely cold, but it was a great deal of fun for everyone.

The fundraising goal was set for 500 pounds. With online and cash contributions combined we were able to reach our goal!  That’s impressive considering this was the inaugural year. Thank you to everyone who took the plunge, to all of the sponsors and to all of the donors that helped us to raise the funds to help support PeacePlayers.

Kicking off 2017, we have started organizing our Super Twinnings. Basically, Super Twinnings are like a big celebration tournament.  It’s an opportunity to celebrate the great things accomplished by our P6 class in their twinning sessions that the just completed and a perfect way to lead into the P7 class as the will soon begin their sessions.  I have two of them scheduled in February.  All of the PeacePlayers International–Northern Ireland staff will help coach at all of the Super Twinnings.  Team Work makes the Dream Work!


Coach Joanne leading Warmup at Carrs Glen & Our Lady Queen of Peace Super Twinning

We had our first Super Twinning session on Friday, January 13th.  There were eight integrated teams total participating, four teams from each class.  As you might already know, the twinning programme involves two schools (Catholic & Protestant) and when I first arrived to Belfast, I had the joy of coaching alongside Coach Joane and Michaela in the North Belfast Twinning with Garrs Glenn Primary and Our Lady Queen of Peace Primary. This was part of my onboarding and I truly enjoyed working with and getting to know these young children.  All of the participants were great and the Super Twinnings ran quite smoothly as well. All of the participants on my team were really amused that I was from America. They said that they liked me because of my accent and that they wanted to come to America too.


Participant keeping score!

Good Sportsmanship was the theme of the day. Winners were not determined in the conventional way by the team with the most points.  Instead, the winners were determined based on points earned by being a “good sport” throughout the day. Participants were giving a Good Sportsmanship checklist and at the end of a match, they were to grade themselves based on how well they think they performed as a good sport. I have had many coaches throughout my career for several sports, not just basketball, and most all of those coaches would rather have a Good Sportsmanship Banner hanging from the rafters in the gymnasium than a championship banner.  I would have to agree with that.


My Squad at the Super Twinning

Because we ran into some time constraints with schools needing to get the students back to the school and the venue availability time, some of the stations were finished rather quickly.  However, all of the youth seemed to be enjoying themselves and were having a great time.  Most importantly, they truly understood and demonstrated the true meaning of Good Sportsmanship.   I was very proud to be part of such a great event.

In closing, I would like to thank Debbie Byrne, PPI-NI Operations Team Leader for opening up her home to Sally and I, and inviting us to share Christmas dinner with her and her family.  The food was excellent!  She has a beautiful family.  They were all wonderful and treated me like one of their own.  I enjoyed meeting and getting to know them all.  Best of all, she made me feel right at home.  I learned that our families are very similar even though they are half a world apart. After dinner at Debbie’s house, we enjoyed playing a game together.  It reminded me of Christmas at home because we always have dinner and then we play family games together as well.  So thank you for sharing your home and your family with me.  This meant a lot to me.

The Ever Present Past in Northern Ireland

In this week’s blog by PeacePlayers – Northern Ireland, Office Administrator and M&E extraordinaire Laura Agnew walks us through the legacy of Christmas Holiday in Northern Ireland with a personal touch!


Belfast City Hall December 2016

It’s December, a Saturday in December to be precise, which means only one thing – the annual Agnew family Christmas day out to Belfast! The day is exactly the same every year, but that’s why I love it!

We start the day off with a cup of tea and a bacon sandwich (because calories don’t count on weekends!), and then we make the trip from the sleepy countryside to the hustle and bustle of the capital city. After spending the afternoon shopping, we have dinner and walk through the continental Christmas markets at City Hall. The sights, sounds, and smells of stalls from across Europe, nestled under the twinkling lights of City Hall’s Christmas tree, are a sure-fire way to put you in the festive spirit.  

As in every city, the crowds in Belfast can be a little crazy at this time of the year, and my dad seems to take great pleasure in pointing out that obvious fact every five minutes! But it’s all part of the festive buzz. Everyone is running around looking for presents for loved ones, offices are out for their Christmas parties, children are in awe of the decorations everywhere, and it’s just a generally happy, cheerful atmosphere!


Entrance to Belfast City Hall through a security gate at the height of the troubles

But Christmas shopping in Belfast wasn’t always as magical; it was more security greetings than season’s greetings. After our day out during the weekend, my mum found some pictures of what it was like for her as a little girl. She, along with everyone else, had to go through heavily-guarded security checkpoints to be searched before even entering the city center. Shop entrances had further searches to be sure there were no weapons or bombs being carried. And in the streets, there was a constant presence of armed police and soldiers, with weapons held in plain site for all to see. It struck me just how different things were less than 40 years ago. It seems that no matter how much you tried to get into the festive spirit, round every corner, or in every doorway, there was a constant reminder of the conflict that was all too real.


Armed soldier passing City Hall on Christmas

Long gone are the days of the security checks and regular bombings. But even though the conflict is no longer as pronounced as it was during “The Troubles,” the feelings from that time are still harboured within those who experienced it. I remember Christmas shopping in Belfast as a little girl and seeing my mum panic if there was the slightest whisper of a bomb scare happening in the city center. Even today, the legacy of the conflict is still prominent in the minds of those who lived it.

But I am confident that this is changing. I am confident that we can make a difference. I am confident that if we try, every day in Northern Ireland really can be like Christmas – full of love, harmony, and most importantly, PEACE.

Music, Matches and Mayhem…JINGLE BALL 2K16

This week’s blog is written by PPI-NI’s Managing Director, Gareth Harper.


That’s the word that comes immediately to mind when I reflect on Saturday, December 3rd, 2016. It was on this day that PPI-NI hosted its 10th Annual Jingle Ball Tournament, and yes it was the biggest and best to date, crammed full of ‘goose bump’ moments. After a decade, this event still remains a highlight in the PPI-NI calendar. It has also become an important landmark event for our many volunteers and supporters, including our friends from Google and from the Clare Youth Service.   


Some of the Google volunteers. From left, Maxime, Andre, and Badr

Starting at 1pm, the basketball courts in the Queens PEC were transformed to a sea of red, green, yellow and blue as 149 Catholic and Protestant players from interface areas across Belfast came together to compete on 22 cross community teams. Chants of “EAST, EAST, EAST BELFAST and “WEST IS BEST” competed with top tunes blasted out by PPI-NI’s resident DJ, Sean “Topper” Thompson. Music, matches and mayhem pretty much sums up the scene.


Participans from all sides of the city, 150 young people from all over Belfast took part in the Jingle Ball Tournament

It was teams from South, East, and West that emerged victorious on the day, picking up coveted spirit and hustle awards. But if smiles and flushed cheeks were the measure of success for the day, I’d say everyone was a winner.  Jingle Ball was a truly fantastic seasonal conclusion to another brilliant year.  We even threw in a mannequin challenge as an added bonus!

I feel privileged to be involved with such an amazing organisation.  It is fantastic to work with such a talented and committed team of staff, volunteers and supporters.  Watching past participants step up to take on coaching and leadership roles is simply awesome and was definitely my biggest ‘goose bump’ moment. I can’t wait until next year.  

What it’s like to be a PeacePlayer

This week’s blog is written by Jazz Bishop, International Fellow at PPI-Northern Ireland.

There’s been a lot to learn here in Northern Ireland, but so far I feel like it’s been an easy transition and I’m excited to learn more as time goes on. With Jingle Ball right around the corner, there’s so much going on at PPI-NI and I’m excited to be contributing. In the meantime, I’d like to share with you all what I’ve been up to!

RECRUITMENT: One of my responsibilities here at PPI-NI is to coordinate East Belfast teams in our Belfast Interface League afterschool programme. In the beginning, it was a struggle to get the participation numbers up. I had approximately nine kids total for junior, and senior boys and girls teams.  However, this past Wednesday, I had 27 kids show up for my session! You can imagine how excited I was to see the numbers triple. Joanne and I went to Campbell College in East Belfast to do some recruiting and it definitely paid off. Not only was I able to recruit more kids, Joanne was able to recruit participants to join the BIL+ program for our senior participants.


BIL+ Participant, Bradley West, from Campbell College.

A lot of the new participants we recruited already know how to play basketball and can play quite well. I think our current PeacePlayers’ participants stay involved in PeacePlayers in part due to friendships developed through the program and to have fun, and new participants look forward to the new friendships that are sure to develop, and they know the game of basketball, so it’s a win-win for everyone.  We even had our first ever slam dunk here at PPI-NI by Bradley West. Bradley is about 6’4 tall and he just kept dunking it during the BIL+ session last week.  It definitely made for an exciting day for everyone involved. I look forward to seeing what else this Bradley  and his peers can bring to the program.

TWINNINGS: Other exciting things I am currently involved with include two twinning programmes in East Belfast. I think the twinnings are going well so far, and they bring together participants from different backgrounds. All of the participants are so full of energy and eager to learn from the coaches. I have one young boy that every time we meet he comes up to me and just asks the most random questions, which is adorable.


Euston Street & St. Teresa’s Twinning.

For one of my winnings last week, I was at a Saint Joseph’s School. There are five Saint Joseph’s Schools in Belfast and I started with selecting the wrong one on my satellite phone. Fortunately, the other PeacePlayers’ coaches I was with helped me correct my error. The morning may not have started off how we planned, but the ending was more exciting than anything. The students kept wanting to give the coaches and I high fives and the teacher even had to speak to them multiple times to get back in line to leave.

THANKGIVING!: Breda Dick, a PPI board member and the Chairwoman of Phonenix Basketball club which I also play for invited me and some of the Americans in the basketball community in Belfast to Thanksgiving dinner. While being away from family can be tough especially during the holidays, I enjoyed the time spent with fellow Americans.


Thanksgiving dinner with some fellow Americans.

TA PROJECTS: (Also know as Technical Assistance projects) This past weekend I joined Sally on an Open College Network (OCN) residential, where we trained 15 youth from Dungannon and Magherafelt on Promoting Diversity Through Sports. We had a great group to work with all weekend. Sally took the lead with most of the workshops, while I lead some of the energizer activities. This was my first OCN, so I was still new to the idea and was glad to watch Sally and learn from her. She delivered all of the sessions with such great public speaking skills, and confidence. I’m hoping my public speaking will improve, and I can perform my first OCN just as well as Sally did. All of the participants seemed to really enjoy the weekend and understand the concepts that we were presenting, which was very rewarding to see.


Mid-Ulster OCN Training

We have our big Jingle Ball Tournament on Saturday, December 3rd, which also happens to be my birthday, so I am sure this will be a great day all around. This is my first big PeacePlayers event so I am very excited to see how it all plays out. I can’t wait for the big day and to contribute in any way I can to make it even bigger and better. I’m confident I will learn a lot from the expertise of those that have been running the event over the course of the years and I look forward to bringing back some knowledge.  It is going to be a great event for everyone involved!

When The West Go Marching In – My JingleBall Experiences

Today’s blog is written by PPI-NI fellow, Ryan McGarry about his JingleBall tournament experiences.

Since I began at PeacePlayers I’ve attended two JingleBall tournaments as part of former fellow, Casey Tryon’s West Belfast coaching staff.

The first was held in Stranmillis College, and it was the first major PeacePlayers tournament I attended. It was also different from other tournaments I’d ever been to with DJ Topper in the corner blasting tunes, coaches adorned in bright costumes and face paint, participants  dancing on the sidelines watching and cheering on their teams, and the general high level of energy from everyone involved. It was something completely new to me.

During this first trip, I coached alongside Coach Jack as a West Belfast Junior Boys coach. In addition, each team present received help from one of the volunteers from our friends at Google. We had eight weeks of BIL training behind us, but with a team that had at different points as large as 20, and at times as small as four or five, there was some chemistry missing.

However, the boys played beyond our expectations! They came together as best they could, played their hardest, and we managed to win the whole thing! Not bad going for a group of nine and 10 year old boys from different communities in West Belfast who hardly knew each other’s names six weeks ago. I know I speak for Jack as well when I say that we both felt more excited and nervous during some of those matches as coaches, than we ever had during our own games as players.


I was proud to be a part of the team that term, and we continued to improve in the lead up to our summer equivalent of JingleBall – SummerJam – and that held its own challenges and successes (to be discussed at a later date!)

In the run up to my second JingleBall, there was a bit of reshuffling to be done. Jack took himself off to the States for a year of adventure, and I was switched over to coach the Senior Boys. While we trained in the same room most Wednesday nights, and I knew them all by name, I did not really have the opportunity to develop any relationships with my team that point.

So we had eight weeks to find out! Obviously, the basketball skills for this older age group were a level above, but there was still a lot to improve on. We worked away over the weeks in St Mary’s College, coming together as a team and developing as both people and players. As December rolled around, we were all getting amped up for another JingleBall, which was to be held at Lisburn Racquets this year.

A couple of last minute injuries, and some unfortunate timing clashes meant that we were missing a few key players for the first few matches. This, combined with some questionable last-minute additions to our opposing teams (looking at you East Belfast – Coach Ruairi Sheridan) led to a not-so-successful result by the end of the day. However, this didn’t take away from the spirit of the event, which was every bit as fun and enjoyable as the year previous. Even after our losses, the boys were over cheering on the other teams from West, dancing about and generally having a laugh!


So, two years, and two very different results in a sports-sense. However what stood out to me more than the wins or losses was the energy, enthusiasm, and enjoyment that pervaded both days. Two different groups of boys – different ages, different levels of success on the court, but very much the same in that sense of ‘spirit’ that we always look out for and award on the day of our tournaments.


On Saturday 3rd December, I will be attending my third JingleBall as part of West Belfast. This time however, it will be as not only a coach, but also as a coordinator. Casey left on her own adventure, and Jack has returned. In addition, we have two amazing coaches in Adam Ryan and Sophie Kennedy, who I’m certain will have their own successes to report back on after its all over! For the first time this year, I’m not coaching a boys team, instead I’m looking after the Senior Girls. With a bit of a shake up this year in terms of age groups, we’ll see how it all pans out next week. One thing I am sure of is that; win or lose, West will walk in singing and dancing, and leave the same way, as we do every year! #westisbest