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!

Dinner in the Old City of Jerusalem

This week’s PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI-ME) blog is written by American Fellow James Levine.


Some people go to the Old City to see Jesus’ tomb. I prefer to play basketball.


The Old City in Jerusalem is a fascinating place. It is thousands of years old and home to some of the most sacred sites in the Abrahamic religions. Another amazing thing about the Old City is that people still live there, and they live regular, modern lives. Near the tomb of Jesus Christ, one can find restaurants and cafes. Down the road from the Al-Aqsa Mosque, there are people working out at a local gym. Across from the Western Wall one can find regular K-12 schools.

I have been working out a player who lives in the Old City over the past couple weeks and I was excited when he invited me to have dinner at his house. This isn’t something that I’m accustomed to in the United States, but the warmth and openness of people in Jerusalem is unparalleled. In Jerusalem, it’s not unusual to receive an invitation for Shabbat dinner from a stranger or to have tea with a taxi driver.


Always bring a local when navigating the Old City’s windy corridors!

Obviously I accepted my player’s family’s invitation. Eating at someone’s house in the Old City is a really cool experience. The area has a palpable energy at night and, especially at dusk, you feel like you have been transported to another time. When I arrived at my player’s house, I entered through what seemed like a secret door leading down a narrow hallway that opened up into a beautiful terrace. Inside, the house had a modern kitchen and furniture, but the ceiling and parts of the walls were curved and made of Old City stone.

Dinner itself was even better than expected. I love Arab food and food culture; it is incredibly relaxed and welcoming. Guests are encouraged to eat and the food is delicious. My player insisted that his mom’s maklouba, an Arab dish consisting of chicken and rice, was the best in Jerusalem. Little did he know that I’ve tried maklouba before, and I’m well-aware that everyone claims that his or her mom makes the best maklouba in Jerusalem.

After lots of talking, eating, and unsuccessfully searching for a sports channel broadcasting a game between the Jordanian and Palestinian national basketball teams, I went on my way, with a belly full of maklouba, through the winding alleys of the Old City back to my apartment.



School’s Out! PPI–ME Ushers in the Summer with a Peace Education Retreat


Participants developing their basketball and teamwork skills during a special drill

Although summer started officially on June 21st, here at PPI-ME, it started this week when some 40 Palestinian and Israeli youth kicked off their summer at our Peace Education Retreat. We returned to Sdot Yam (our traditional retreat spot, right on the Caesaria Beach), to usher in the summer with basketball and peace education activities, while we administered the final stage of our pilot study on the impact of this year’s activities.

The retreat hosted teams from East and West Jerusalem, Hadera, Usafiya, and Jiser Al’Zarka. For some of them, it was the first time sleeping outside of their homes, not to mention participating in an overnight retreat with the “other side”. Our goal was to create a fun, open and welcoming environment for all children to mingle, learn about each other’s culture, and enjoy their first days of summer break. Lodging, dining, and traveling together is always a great way to enhance bonds. As always, participants were inspired to launch into spontaneous dancing, showing off traditional moves from their culture!

Retreat participants enjoyed energetic basketball trainings led by Head Coach Vito Gilic and members of the Leadership Development Program (LDP), which focused on basketball skill development as well as teamwork and communication. The LDP led special drills and coached mixed teams during fun scrimmages. As always, they served as stellar role models for the younger participants.

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A meaningful discussion during a Peace Education session

Peace Education facilitators, Nissreen and Renana, led a number of Peace Education sessions, which infused various forms of arts. Through drama, participants explored stories of racism in basketball and acted out their own dramatic endings to the stories in mixed groups. The goal of the activity was to discuss possible ways to address racism in sports.

One girl from Usafiya, presented a skit in which a basketball player pleads people to stop racism and violence: “Where is our dignity, why do we have to be racist? After all, we are all people, and we’re all humans with feelings and dignity. It doesn’t matter what’s the color of your skin, or what religion you belong, we all believe in God!” Seeing her reading those words to her team, I was very moved. In a way, it sums up the delicate educational process we have embarked on this year, and our hopes for next year.

Visual arts activities, which included drawing, painting and creating with fimo, provided a forum for discussing and exploring each other’s identities – which can be a very complicated subject in the Palestinian-Israeli context. These activities are always a great supplement for basketball when participants come together for a few days.

In addition to basketball and art, participants helped PPI – ME complete the final stage of its research. The pilot study led by independent evaluators from Yale and New York University examines the impact of PPI-ME’s programs on a variety of variables, such as prejudice reduction, friendship formation, self-esteem and leadership.  Responses from PeacePlayers participants (new and veterans) are being compared to control participants, comprised of children with similar ages and identities that do not participate in PPI-ME’s program. We are eager to see the results of this year’s research, which will lay the ground-work for a long-term study, which will be launched in the upcoming programming year.

All in all, a great time was had by all! From PPI-ME, we wish you a wonderful beginning of summer, with many cherished moments, like we had this week, with our teams.

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Participants enjoying the beautiful Caesaria Beach

Durban’s got Talent!

Umthombo Street Children's talent show was held in Durban on Friday June 28th.

Umthombo Street Children’s talent show was held in Durban on Friday June 28th.

On Friday June 28th, PPI-SA was invited to a special event hosted by Umthombo Street Children. Umthombo is an organization based in Durban, South Africa that empowers street children and aims to change the way that society perceives and treats them. Umthombo’s Durban model is pioneering the idea of providing alternatives to street life through engagement in different programs.

Participants watched and cheered each other on during the show!

Participants watched and cheered each other on during the show!

On Friday, Umthombo hosted a talent show where street children from different organizations came together to showcase their individual talents. Acts included modern dancing, singing, traditional zulu dancing, acting, rapping, and DJ-ing. Former PPI-SA coach Sihle Ndima was the coordinator of the event and also heads the arts and music program there. Sihle invited PPI-SA to be guest judges, and we were very impressed with the passion and enthusiasm of these children who have so little. Since leaving PPI-SA, Sihle has dedicated his life to giving back to his community through art and music. We are proud to have him as a success story and part of the PPI-SA family.

Participants showing off their impressive Zulu dancing at the talent show

Participants showing off their impressive Zulu dancing at the talent show

Umthombo’s program largely focuses on giving alternatives to street children, with engagement programs including surfing, soccer, art, drama, music, kayaking and other informal games and activities. Just like Umthombo, PPI-SA is working to give children opportunities and a safe space to grow through basketball. Our goal is to keep kids focused on their futures, and give them hope. In this way we are also helping to keep kids off the streets in Durban.

Former PPI-SA coach Sihle Ndima coordinated the talent show and runs the arts program at Umthombo.

Former PPI-SA coach Sihle Ndima (middle) coordinated the talent show and runs the arts program at Umthombo.

PPI-Cyprus Youth Become Filmmakers

PeacePlayers-Cyprus’ participants had the opportunity to create and produce their very own short films during this year’s summer camp!  Many thanks to the Cyprus Community Media Centre, who sent Ivan, a professional filmmaker, to meet with our youth during one of their sessions away from the basketball court. Ivan spent the morning session teaching everyone about pre-production in filmmaking, then gave the older kids and the younger kids time to meet in groups to create a story line to be filmed in the afternoon.  After much deliberation, both groups ended up choosing to make music videos for songs they relate to.

The seniors chose the ever popular hit by Cary Jepsen, “Call Me Maybe.”  The juniors chose the easily relatable Little Bow Wow hit “Basketball.”  The videos have since been uploaded to YouTube and shared over Facebook countless times, making the video project one of the most successful tools in keeping young people from both sides connected long after camp has finished.

Check out their videos below!

Sing along to the Seniors’ remake of Carly Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe”:

Enjoy the Juniors’ remake of “Basketball” by Little Bow Wow:

It is wonderful to be reminded that mediums like sports and art allow individuals from all backgrounds to connect in fun and meaningful ways, opening kids up to building bridges across communities.