The Olympics: A Platform for Diversity Through Sport

This week’s blog was written by Cyprus Fellow Sean Wright about The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio!

The 2016 Olympic Games are upon us. For the next few weeks, the world has the pleasure of watching athletes from across the world compete to prove who the best of the best is in their respected sports. More importantly, it is an opportunity to see the world unite to compete through the common ground of sports.  Celebrating diversity through sport is something we at PeacePlayers strive for, and every two years, we get to watch Olympic games do just that!


A sign of the Rio 2016 Olympic is seen in front of dancers during the opening ceremony. Over 200 Nations will be represented at this years games

Today, sport inspires hope, builds and heals communities, and can unite people everywhere.This year over 200 nations and 11,000 athletes will compete in 28 sports over the course of the games. From Jamaica to Sweden to Japan, countries that are separated by thousands of miles come together to compete on the same stage with a common background: athlete. As we listen to the stories of Olympians from around the world, we remember that sport is shared by everyone and can bring out the best in not only people, but the world.

Joanne carying torch

Coach Joanne Fitzpatrick of PPI-NI carrying the torch at for the 2012 Olympic Games in London

The Olympics highlights some of our worlds greatest strengths, but also some of it’s challenges. This year, ten refugee athletes will act as a symbol of hope for refugees worldwide and bring global attention to the magnitude of the refugee crisis when they take part in the Olympic Games Rio 2016 this summer. The athletes will compete for the Refugee Olympic Team (ROT) – the first of its kind – and march with the Olympic flag immediately before host nation Brazil at the Opening Ceremony.

olympians together

Sport has the power to unite!


“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities,” and there is no better showcase than The Olympic Games. As you tune in to the opening ceremonies tonight, celebrate this fantastic opportunity that is on display as the world is united through sport!

How Can We Build a #PEACEFUL World?


This past week PPI-SA Marketing and Fundraising Manager, Sbahle Mkhize, attended the Commonwealth Youth Civil Activism Network (CW YouthCan) Innovation Lab in Kigali, Rwanda. CW YouthCan conducts regional labs throughout Europe and the Commonwealth with the primary purpose of capacity building and providing counter-narrative production support. Below, Sbahle shares her experience in Rwanda.

My time with CW YouthCan in Rwanda was really life changing. This might sound cliché, but it really was. This was my first time visiting another African country, and I must say, Rwanda didn’t disappoint.

Sbahle together with her working group for the conference

Sbahle together with her working group for the conference

The Commonwealth Youth Civil Activism Network (Commonwealth YouthCAN) is a network of peace activists that was recently launched in 2015 and is a partnership between the Youth Division of the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. It aims at up-scaling civil society efforts in peace building through all forms. CW YouthCan brought together over 30 young Africans into the heart of Africa with the goal of enabling an ongoing exchange of best practices, and to foster collaboration and create networks throughout the private and NGO sectors. Our group was so diverse! I met young entrepreneurs, civil society leaders, cartoonist, artists, athletes, and innovators, but we all had one common goal: to build a peaceful world.


Sbahle at the Kigali Genocide Memorial

The highlight of the YouthCan Lab was our visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial.  The memorial remembers the lives lost in 1994 during the genocide. It was an extremely emotional experience for me. To see how thousands of innocent lives were taken because of the way one looked, it reminded me of the violent deaths that occurred back at home (South Africa) because of the color of one’s skin. Rwanda has come a long way since the genocide; it made me happy to see all Rwandans living in peace, and to have developed their country so much. Much like Rwanda, South Africa has a long way to go before achieving social cohesion and peace amongst all communities. But, it is organizations like PeacePlayers International that promote peace building and diversity that are changing the world, one nation at a time.

There is wide ray of violent conflict happening across Africa. But, I am excited when I see young people such as the ones I met in Rwanda, who are using the arts and sports to combat violence and conflict in their countries. Africa is moving in the right direction.

PeacePlayers International Celebrates Valentines Day in the Only Way it Could…

This week, Coach Megan tells of how PeacePlayers International spends its Valentines Day….by showing that children who learn to play together, can learn to live together. 

Kids from different backgrounds pose for a photo together in their diverse team!

Kids from different backgrounds pose for a photo together in their diverse team!

February the 14th is usually marked as a day for roses and chocolates, but this year, PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland (PPI-NI) celebrated Valentine’s day by engaging in the Queens GAA Game of Three Halves Tournament in South Belfast. Participants from Taughmonagh Primary School, Botanic Primary School and the Bunscoil Global Feirste all joined in for a day of fun at the DUB Playing Fields with our friends from GAA, Ulster Rugby and IFA. Thanks to Queens University GAA for involving PeacePlayers with the GAA Festival this year!

Football Coach Johnny O'Neill takes the kids for a dribbling session to top up on their skills

Football Coach Johnny O’Neill takes the kids for a dribbling session to top up on their skills

The morning was off to an auspicious start as 75 primary school participants arrived to get their first taste of a new sport or two while also having an opportunity to get to know pupils from other schools. In Northern Ireland, children still attend predominantly single identity schools, meaning pupils from either Catholic or Protestant backgrounds do not have the opportunity to get to know children from other backgrounds. As children dawned their new t-shirts designating their new diverse teams, they excitedly ran across the pitch warming up together before the first stations began.

Soon teams were directed to their first skills stations with coaches from each of the sports as well as a special community relations station with PPI-NI coaches.  Participants were keen to display their skills and impressed all the coaches with their attentiveness and enthusiasm.

While the weather didn’t exactly cooperate with the planned activities given heavy winds and rain coming in the afternoon we took the opportunity to play a few PeacePlayers favorites. The group learned more about basketball through a round of ‘MJ (Michael Jordan) Says’, had their reflexes tested with a rousing round of ‘Sit Down Clown’ and discovered similiarities and differences within the group through ‘Find A New Seat’. It was great getting to know the group better and discovering that while there were many common links within the group, there were also many differences that everyone could learn from.

Our visitors from Doanne Stuart High School had a great day at the event. This was also Coach Megan's school back in the day!

Our visitors from Doanne Stuart High School had a great day at the event. This was also Coach Megan’s school back in the day!

We were also pleased to be joined by students from the Doane Stuart School and teacher Seamus Hodgkinson, known to most as Mr. H. Seven students from the school came along to see Gaelic football for the first time and make a few attempts at tossing the rugby ball with the guidance of the Ulster Rugby coaches. All in all it was a great day despite the weather conditions. We look forward to the Belfast Interface Games this summer which should prove to be bigger and better than ever, especially now that South Belfast has some new recruits!

Coach Gracie Reflects on her Time with PPI-NI and Game of 3 Halves


Coach Gracie engaging with the kids to promote ‘Diversity Through Sport’ at the 2013 Belfast Interface Games – North Belfast Camp

In June 2012, Mary Kate Cary, a White House presidential speech-writer visited PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland. Mary Kate was so impressed with the program that she decided to bring her daughter, Gracie, with her on her next visit hoping to develop her understanding of a post-conflict area. Below is Gracie’s reflection on her experience:

“I initially decided to intern with PPI – Northern Ireland because I was intrigued by the idea of how sports can effect and encourage conflict resolution . I was very lucky that during my time with PPI-NI, I was able to experience the Game of 3 Halves program. This is a program that facilitates Gaelic football, rugby, and soccer. The great thing about the program is that it teaches all three of these sports, specifically Gaelic and rugby as if no one has ever played them before (which many of the kids have not due to religious affiliations and divides within). While most kids had experience in football, some had very little experience with Gaelic and rugby. I found that this learning experience in both sports does not divide the kids as one might expect, but instead gives them an opportunity to support and encourage one another in learning a new skill.”

“These children from the interface areas in Belfast seldom have the chance in which they can support, or be supported, by kids from different communities. They have the opportunity to help the other kids learn for the benefit of the team and form cross-community friendships while doing so.”

'If children of Belfast can learn to play together, they can learn to live together'.

‘If children of Belfast can learn to play together, they can learn to live together’.

“On the second day of the program I remember a little boy from my team telling me how he was going over to another boy’s house from a different community later that day, and that he wouldn’t have previously been able to do so due to religious divides. I told him that was great and asked if they had met before. He replied ‘Of course! Yesterday!’”

“The ‘Community Relations’ aspect to the Game of 3 Halves is when each team takes a break from playing sports to talk and reflect on the situations that divide the communities in which they live. This part of the program is what makes PeacePlayers so unique because it goes beyond finding common ground and encouragement in sports. Through being responsive and open to the kids’ thoughts about stereotypes, diversity, and religion, PeacePlayers encourages them to think about the choices they make and their lives outside the PeacePlayers community.”

“PeacePlayers was an amazing experience for the kids, but it was for me as well. The PeacePlayers staff really put in an effort to help me understand how the conflict in the area affects the community. I learned so much and had an amazing time working with PeacePlayers International, with people that truly believe Belfast can develop through sport and its youth.”

PPI-Cyprus Welcomes 2 New Teams!

A PeacePlayers Mural announces our presence on the walls of the elementary school in Kolossi

A PeacePlayers Mural announces our presence on the walls of the elementary school in Kolossi

PeacePlayers – Cyprus is welcoming two new teams to our family of teams for the 2013 season.  Kolossi, an elementary school in a village outside of Limassol, and Aklantzia, an elementary school on the outskirts of Nicosia. Last year PeacePlayers painted a special mural with the children of Kolossi at the entrance of the school. The kids of Kolossi are very excited for an opportunity to be a part of PeacePlayers again.  Aklantzia is a new elementary school for PeacePlayers to collaborate with.  There is already such a strong interest in our program at Aklantzia that we have created 2 teams within the school.

Both elementary schools received funding through The Ministry of Education to fund the establishment of PeacePlayers programs in their respective schools. The Ministry of Education offers a limited number of grants for schools to provide activities to their students that focus on either health initiatives or initiatives that promote positive citizenship.  After having hosted a training on The Anatomy of Peace for educators, many teachers became interested in the work of PeacePlayers and our holistic approach to youth development through the game of basketball.  Our unique combination of training the youth in the game of basketball promotes physical activity and a healthy lifestyle, this combined with the life skills training we offer our participants makes PeacePlayers a great partner for schools looking to promote health and citizenship initiatives for their youth.

One of the needs identified at both schools was a sense of inclusion and diversity awareness for the young students.  In Cyprus nearly 10% of all students within the public school system are foreigners.  Inclusion and diversity awareness are two focuses of our new Life Skills curriculum and give us the perfect opportunity to test and evaluate our new curriculum’s ability to promote such values.  We will be promoting inclusion and diversity within their own team and school and reinforcing these values. Eventually, the kids from these two new teams in the south meet and play with our Turkish-Cypriot teams from the north during our monthly Twinnings.   Continue to follow our blog for updates on these two new programs!

PPI-NI Completes “Promoting Diversity Through Sport” Residential

Despite the weather, ten part-time and full-time PPI-NI staff members get ready for some outdoor activities at a recent residential.

Despite the weather, ten part-time and full-time PPI-NI staff members get ready for some outdoor activities at a recent residential.

“Leadership development” and “enhancing local capacity.” They are two phrases we use a lot around here at PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland (PPI-NI). Why, though? And as we cut through the office-speak, what do they even mean?

Even as an international organization, we want to make sure we devote enough effort and investment to the local. In the process of peace-building through sport, it is important that we don’t hoard our knowledge, skills, and other resources. For the sake of both PeacePlayers and the world, we want others who may not work for us full-time to still become the kinds of leaders that will make Belfast and beyond a more peaceable world.

PPI-NI sessional coach Carlos Alvarez showcases his basketball tricks.

PPI-NI sessional coach Carlos Alvarez showcases his basketball tricks.

It was with those hopes in mind that ten of us–a combination of full-time, part-time, and future PeacePlayers staff members–drove an hour south to Newcastle for the past weekend. Staying in a cabin on a hill in the woods that overlooked the beautiful ocean shoreline, we worked our way through Open College Network Level 2 material: “Promoting Diversity Through Sport.”

In addition to the natural intimacy that develops as a result of such a setting, the course included conversations about material that we confront with program participants all the time: diversity, stereotypes, prejudice, sectarianism, and conflict, all as much as possible through the lens of sport. We role-played our way through several activities and games that we use with kids. For a mental break and a bit of team-building, we attacked some outdoor activities–wall-climbing and zip-lining–even in the steady rain. And on Sunday, we drove to a basketball court, where we participated in drills that introduced Arbinger concepts, which is a theory about conflict resolution that we try to integrate into our programming.

We return to Belfast with even more confidence in several new members of our team, which will surely benefit the kids with which we work.

PPI-CY Creating Leaders and Global Citizens Through Basketball

Teaching values such as teamwork and trust through basketball drills

Teaching values such as teamwork and trust through basketball drills

Today’s blog is written by PeacePlayers – Cyprus International Fellow Ashley Johnson. Ashley was a  4-year member of Colorado College’s Women’s Basketball Team and spent 27 months in Cameroon working as a Small Enterprise Development Volunteer with the US Peace Corps. 

I blow my whistle and wait for my players to come running, a few sprint over, a few run the opposite direction and others walk slowly to me at center court.  I begin discussing the afternoon’s practice schedule and introducing the basketball skills on which we will be focusing.  One child starts dribbling a basketball and then another pokes one of his teammates and they start laughing.  Attention quickly slips away from me as the coach and I blow my whistle again, filling the gym and the players’ ears with the high-pitched sound that quickly snaps their attention back.

Who knows what respect means?  “Treating someone how they want to be treated,” one child states.  Ok, great answer and are you demonstrating respect towards your coach by dribbling your basketball or by distracting your teammates while your coach is speaking, I ask?  “No,” they answer in unison.  How do we demonstrate our respect? I begin to describe why it is important that we respect the coach by listening while the coach is speaking.  At PeacePlayers-Cyprus we see the basketball court as a perfect training ground to teach positive life skills and to develop the character of our participants, not only their basketball specific skills.  Just as we have training programs to teach our players basketball skills we also need a plan to teach the life skills we desire our participants to develop.

Ashley taking a timeout from drills for a teaching moment

Ashley taking a timeout from drills for a teaching moment

We recently have developed the vision for our players to become leaders and global citizens through stressing such values as: self-confidence, goal setting, proactivity, responsible decision-making, respect, trust, inclusion, and diversity.  With these key values agreed upon as essential priorities from our coaches and staff, we developed a structured curriculum teaching each of these values. PPI-CY staff members will implement the curriculum during PeacePlayers’ practices through basketball drills and other non-formal education methods.   Each month we will focus on a different value within the curriculum, the coaches’ role will be to continue to stress the value throughout drills and conversations with participants and parents.

What had previously been informal teaching moments, such as the lesson on respect, will now be taking life in our formalized curriculum.  We at PPI-CY are excited about this new curriculum and the opportunity that it presents to impact our players’ character and way of being on and off the basketball court.