PPI-ME in High Gear During the Passover Holiday


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A leadership workshop led by PPI Organizational Learning Specialist, Joe Smith.

This week’s blog post is written by American Fellow, LaToya Fisher, and shares some of the fun activities that PPI-ME participants did during the Passover holiday break.

Most people in Israel spend the Passover holiday with their families, traveling, and of course, missing bread and other grain products. For PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI-ME) participants, this year’s holiday meant all of those things and more — it also meant becoming better leaders, working on basketball skills, and uncovering hidden talents.


The participants having a little fun during a break

PPI-ME kicked off the holiday break with a two-day leadership workshop in Jerusalem led by PPI Organizational Learning Specialist, Joe Smith, who was visiting from PPI’s Washington, D.C. office. The first day of the workshop was intended for PPI-ME coaches and focused on how to teach life skills alongside basketball skills. Currently, an American fellow or other facilitator drops into basketball practices and uses valuable practice time to speak with participants about topics, such as trust, teamwork, communication, and other themes in PPI-ME’s curriculum. However, Joe showed the coaches how easy it is for them to incorporate these themes into their coaching. Having the coaches deliver life skills training and facilitate discussions while coaching is effective because they have already established a strong bond with the players.

The second day of the workshop was for the Leadership Development Program (LDP) participants. The theme of the workshop was the impact that sport has on their daily lives. Participants discussed the lessons they learn from playing sports and came up with fun drills based on different themes, such as overcoming a disadvantage and teamwork.

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Participants at the end of the three-day basketball skills camp with retired professional basketball player, Edniesha Curry

During the second half of the holiday break, PPI-ME hosted a three-day basketball skills camp, also in Jerusalem. The camp was led by PPI-ME’s Under-18 All-Star team coach, Rebecca Ross, and former PPI-ME fellow and retired professional basketball player, Edniesha Curry. The camp focused on strengthening the players’ fundamental basketball skills, such as lay-ups, dribbling, and jump shots. During the last 30 minutes of each day, there was a scrimmage and you could clearly see that the players’ skills had improved each day.

Breaks during the three-day camp seemed to turn into mini talent shows, with players showing off the their hidden talents, such as tumbling, dancing, and being double-jointed — and then challenging me to see if I could complete the task. I am happy to say that I can still nail a cartwheel, back bend and round-off like it’s my job after, but I definitely cannot bend backwards like a seal and make my feet touch my head.

Ironically, the holiday break ended up being busier than our usual work days, but there was so much laughter and joy, it didn’t feel like work.

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!

Monday Mornings at PPI-ME


Coach Rifka Ross and American Fellow LaToya Fisher start practice with the girls at Ein Karem

This week’s PPI-ME blog is written by American Fellow James Levine.

A few days ago, I woke up and realized I didn’t know what day of the week it was. After checking my phone, I learned it was Monday. Around the world, most people (understandably) don’t like Monday mornings. Mondays mean that the weekend is over, and the work week is beginning. For those who don’t think their work is particularly fun, I sympathize with you.

Monday mornings at PPI – ME are a little different. First, the Israeli work week starts on Sunday and ends on Thursday, so Monday here is more like Tuesday. Also, unlike most people, we get to wake up and coach basketball, which is pretty incredible. So, for readers of “From the Field” who need a little respite from Monday mornings, I hope you can live vicariously through me.


The beautiful views from Ein Karem

We start Mondays at Ein Karem, a school nestled in the mountains outside of Jerusalem, where we have an all-girls team. The girls start their Sunday and Monday mornings with basketball practice at 8:20 a.m. Now, I’m not an authority on education, but I think first-period basketball is a great addition to any middle school curriculum. Before practice starts, I usually chat with one of our players, Noam, who teaches me bits and pieces of Hebrew, while laughing at me. Recently she has been pressuring me to download Duolingo and swears I’ll learn the language if I try it.

Despite the early start time, practices at Ein Karem are high-energy. Rifka Ross, the team’s head coach, always comes prepared with creative, fun and challenging drills. The girls do dribble series around cones, work on footwork and finish with hoops. Recently, they have started playing 4-on-4 live and they are incredibly competitive. During shooting drills, finishing drills and races, the girls always give 100% and aren’t afraid to get physical. It’s not unusual to see girls diving on the ground or leaving practice proudly wearing battle wounds.


A high-energy game of 4-on-4 to end practice!

We end practice with a universally-loved game called “Yalla-Bye” led by LaToya and the girls go off to their next class at 9:15 a.m. Monday mornings at Ein Karem are great because we have an amazing group of players, but to make things better, we have two practices at Keshet to look forward to in the afternoon!

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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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.)


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.



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!

PPI-CY Recaps the PPI-ME Exchange Trip

This week’s blog from PPI-CY is written by Lead4Peace member Andriana Kasapi about her experience from the PPI-ME exchange trip.


Hi again from PPI-CY!! As LEAD4PEACE participants, we had the great opportunity to travel to Israel and meet up with our fellow leaders and coaches from Northern Ireland, Middle East and Norway. LEAD4PEACE is a series of exchange programs sponsored by ERASMUS+. Most parents had their reservations about sending us to the Middle East, but their facilities and hospitality made us feel right at home.

The first three nights we stayed at Sdot Yam in Caesarea, an amazing camp site just metres away from the beach. At this retreat, we focused on personal development through various sessions and workshops, while experiencing how it feels to be a PPI coach for the first time. We covered a lot of topics including Team & Individual Accountability, the famous SMART goals, Time Management and we learned about the Behavioural Change Stairway Model. The Coaching Clinics were the highlight of the workshops. They taught us about Positive Coaching, how to coach, what a PPI coach is, and how to plan a practice the PPI way.


Myself, Anna and Joanne

The second part of the trip was held in Jerusalem, a really holy and sacred city. After departing Caesarea, we stopped at the infamous Dead Sea. We learned that this Sea is the lowest point of altitude on earth and we had a lot of fun floating in the very salty water and covering ourselves with mud! This was really cool team building and great that we could share this experience with good friends. That evening we went for a walk outside the Old City and we unexpectedly came across a band called “The Sammons.” They played some tunes and we could not resist but to dance and sing along with them. We felt so comfortable with each other, and it was a reminder of what friendships are made in PeacePlayers. It’s true what they say: “It’s not what you do, but with who you do it with.”

Our last day, we had an Old City Tour. I was very enthusiastic about this tour and actually felt quite emotional. We saw places we have only heard of since we were children. It was memorable walking these streets with my PPI family. The tour guide had told us that Jerusalem is one of the craziest cities in the world due to the curses and the legends that are told. We also visited some of the world’s most sacred monuments like the Western Wall and the Holy Sepulchre. As a foodie, I tasted the best shawarma and humus in the heart of the Old City.

The experience was unforgettable and priceless. Fun, friendship and faith is what I took home with me, and most of all, what I learned at this exchange program, I can apply not only on the basketball court but in my community.

Thanks PeacePlayers, ERASMUS+ and PPI-ME for hosting us!

Erasmus Camp Recap: My First Experience Hosting the “PPI-ME Way”


Some of the participants hanging out during pick up basketball.

This week’s blog from PPI-ME is written by fellow James Levine about the Erasmus Leadership Camp, cultural exchange and leadership development.

Since my arrival in Israel, I have experienced many firsts: my first practice, first Jerusalem All-Star games (where I watched our under 14 and under 18 integrated (Palestinian/Israeli) teams compete in the Israel youth league), first trip to the north, and first twinning session. This past week I checked off an especially exciting first: hosting guests the PeacePlayers International-Middle East way!


The participants listening while the next drill is being explained.

PPI-ME retreats are always enjoyable because they give participants the opportunity to spend time together outside of their normal practice schedules. This past week was unlike any other PPI-ME retreat. PPI participants from other sites flew into Tel Aviv for five days of cultural exchange, leadership development, and basketball. This was achieved through a European Union grant called Erasmus­­+, which focuses on education, training, and youth sport. As a result, we were able to bring together PPI participants from Northern Ireland and Cyprus and also host a basketball club from Norway!

On the outset, I had trouble imagining what this multicultural basketball exchange would look like. Would a boy from Northern Ireland and a girl from Cyprus react the same way to my unreasonable two-ball dribbling series?  What would a discussion between Norwegian and Palestinian basketball players look like during a leadership development session? Perhaps more importantly: did we even have enough sunscreen for the Northern Irelanders?

For the first three days of the retreat, players participated in leadership development sessions, coaching workshops and basketball training at Kibbutz Sdot Yam in Casaeria. As a coach, my favorite sessions were the coaching workshops during which participants learned how to coach “the PPI way.” I was struck by how seriously and thoughtfully our participants engaged in discussions about PPI’s values, the relationship between sport and social change, and the philosophy of coaching. Ultimately, the goal of these sessions was to give our participants the foundation and practical skills to be coaches themselves and help to cultivate the next generation of PPI leaders.


Views from the Old City overlooking the Temple Mount.

During a session on goal setting, one of the comments that stuck with me came from Melisa, one of the players from Cyprus. She explained to the group that one of her current goals is to improve her English so that she can be a better coach and eventually reach more players through coaching. Not only is Melisa thinking ahead and setting goals, but she is driven by how she might be able to positively impact others. She is just one example of how the coaches in Cyprus are influencing their players to be more than basketball players, but to be mindful and considerate individuals. Even more encouraging is that these mindful and considerate individuals, like Melisa, will be those inspiring the future generations of PPI participants.

My biggest takeaway from the camp is that young people around the world are not all that different. I expected significant cultural differences between players from the various sites, but I could not have been more wrong. While our participants and coaches come from different places, speak different languages and confront different challenges on a daily basis, these differences were barely noticeable over the course of the week.


Thank you Heni (front) and Jamie (back) for putting together a great week!

In the end, it was amazing to spend five days around young individuals who represent some of the most positive, hopeful, and ambitious people in their communities. I already miss the Northern Ireland accents, happy birthday being sung in six languages and the late-night pick-up basketball games.

Thank you Middle East staff, Jamie Walsh and Heni Bizawi, for putting together an unforgettable week and to the European Union for making this exchange possible. Although it was sad to wish our friends from Cyprus, Northern Ireland and Norway goodbye, we cannot wait to see you all again in Norway this spring!

Building Peace Through High Fives

Today’s blog is written by new International Fellow James Levine about what peacebuilding looks like at PPI-ME.


James leading a fun defense warm up activity

One of the most appealing aspects about working for PeacePlayers is coaching for peace. Coming into the International Fellowship, I was excited to know that I not only would be coaching basketball, but that my actions would hopefully help to promote this ideal. Now that I’ve been with the Middle East team for a little over a week, I’m beginning to understand what it means to coach for peace and my thoughts on the concept are constantly developing.


One of the participants preparing for a high five

Before arriving in Jerusalem, I thought of peace as an abstract, academic and idealistic idea. In political science literature, dimensions of peace are broken up into countless categories like peacebuilding, peacemaking, peace enforcement, mediation and reconciliation. Oftentimes it’s easy to feel removed from the concept of peace because we associate the idea with official pacts, truces and ceasefires negotiated during formal political processes by multi-lateral international institutions.

Since I’ve been here, I haven’t participated in any high-level political negotiations, but I have given out a lot of high fives. What I’m beginning to understand is that peacebuilding isn’t just limited to formal political activities, but it’s the way we think and the way we act on a day to day basis. To PeacePlayers, building peace is about investing in our youth, creating trusting relationships and demonstrating empathy and compassion.

Peacebuilding is all about boosting the confidence of our players, encouraging them to reach their potential, and showing them that we are here to support them along the way. Sometimes it is hard to measure how we are changing perceptions or developing future leaders, but at the most basic level, we provide a positive space for our participants to grow, and we let our players know that we care about them.img_4323

Although it’s easy to label the Middle East as “volatile” or in need of peace-related interventions, this type of peacebuilding isn’t limited to the Middle East. Rather, coaches across the globe are doing the same. If you are a coach who promotes the values of sport and invests your time in kids, then you are also a grassroots activist supporting peace in your own community.

So when the U.S. State Department calls asking me to facilitate peace talks in Colombia, Syria, or Ukraine, I’ll be ready. Until then, I’m happy working with PeacePlayers and giving out high fives on the basketball court.