Youth Entrepreneurship Program Is Up and Running!

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Some of the participants of Peacestagram, one of the Youth Entrepreneurship Program initiatives, after attending a photography exhibit together

In November 2015, PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI – ME) announced two new programs (view original post here). One of these is the Youth Entrepreneurship Program (YEP), in which six graduates of the Leadership Development Program work in mixed Palestinian and Israeli pairs to create their own peace building initiatives. Here’s an update on the progress of the program.

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An Israeli and Palestinian participant from GGG

The first year of YEP was spent arming participants with the tools to create and successfully run a peace organization. Participants attended lectures about grant writing and budget-making, and presented their ideas in front of a panel modeled on the show “Shark Tank,” where they requested money to fund their initiative. Thinking through the logistics of creating a new organization was challenging and, at times, intimidating for YEP participants. One of the Palestinian participants, Duha, says she felt uneasy because her project used a medium she had little experience with: art. This is the first time any of the participants have been involved in starting an organization and they wanted their projects to be unique. With the help of mentors and Project Manager, Jamie Walsh, the participants created three special projects.

Duha (Palestinian) and Liraz (Israeli) created Girls Gone Green (GGG), an initiative that brings together Palestinian and Israeli teenage girls in Jerusalem through art. The participants tell stories about their cultures, families and other topics through traditional art forms, such as pottery and painting, as well as using gathered recycled material. The participants will display their creations at an exhibit the girls will host for friends and family.

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The first Peacestagram meeting

Participants Aysha (Palestinian) and Neta (Israeli) created Peacestagram, an initiative that brings together Palestinian and Israeli teenage girls in Jerusalem through photography. The participants will learn different photography techniques with the goal of producing high quality photos covering topics such as religion, food, sports and other personal issues. The participants will display their work on social media and in an exhibit this spring.

The last initiative was created by participants Ibrahim (Palestinian) and Ofir (Israeli). They will host an event this spring that pairs able-bodied kids with kids with disabilities for a sports activity in Jerusalem. While interaction between Palestinians and Israelis in often limited, there is an even larger gap when it comes to interaction between Palestinians and Israelis with disabilities.

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Traditional Moroccan slipper key chains made by GGG participants

Implementation of the three YEP initiatives has just started and is going well. The participants of Peacestagram have already taken a trip to a photography exhibit and the participants of GGG have started tapping into their creativity by making traditional Moroccan slipper key chains. Stay tuned for more updates as these initiatives progress!

Monday Mornings at PPI-ME

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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.

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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.

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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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All Smiles!

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Brothers

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.)

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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”

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Meet James: PPI–ME’s Newest Fellow

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The obligatory “meet our new fellow” basketball action shot

Hi everyone! I’m James Levine and I’m the newest member of the PPI Middle East Team. I landed in Tel Aviv last Friday night and I’m looking forward to sharing my personal insights on what I’m seeing and experiencing as a PPI International Fellow living in Jerusalem. To better understand my perspective and where I’m coming from, I thought it might be best to share how exactly I ended up here.

I’m originally from Natick, Massachusetts, a suburb located just outside of Boston. Growing up in Natick, I developed a love for basketball and I played for various recreational, travel and AAU teams, which my dad usually coached. In high school, I played for the varsity basketball team at Natick High School and I set my sights on continuing my basketball career at the NCAA Division III level.

After graduating from Natick High School, I attended Haverford College where I played on the men’s basketball team all four years, and was a captain my senior year. Off the court, I majored in political science and I was introduced to ideas that I never knew existed.

During my time as an undergraduate, Haverford persistently promoted the ideal of being a global citizen. After taking classes on post-conflict reconciliation and transitional justice with a globally minded and socially-conscious professor, Anita Isaacs, the idea of global citizenship began to resonate with me and fundamentally shaped who I was and how I thought. As graduation approached, I decided to spend my first post-graduate year teaching English in Barcelona after spending the first 22 years of my life in the United States.

My year in Catalonia was incredible. I was able to improve my Spanish, learn Catalan, coach basketball (shout out to Dani Ortega!), appreciate a different culture and ultimately better understand what it’s like to live abroad.

While I was having fun in Spain, PPI was always in the back of my mind. I read articles about Jay Wright and Brett Brown visiting PPI, and I loved the idea of working at an NGO like PPI that sees basketball as a means of bringing people together.

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Molt bé! That’s me (in the sweat pants) embracing Catalan culture and helping out with Castells, or human towers, with the Minyons de Terrassa

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The squad at Club Esportiu Maristes Rubi, with my good friend and co-coach Xavi

Ultimately, becoming an International Fellow is a dream job for me. It combines effecting social change on an international level through coaching basketball. I fundamentally see the game as a form of civil society and as a space where people can come together to share ideas and experiences regardless of their backgrounds. Even more, the game of basketball has given me so much (e.g. lifelong mentors, my best friends, a closer relationship with my dad), and I want to share my love for the game with kids who are willing to learn.

So, last week, after I almost missed my American Airlines flight to Ben Gurion Airport because of terrible traffic in the Ted Williams Tunnel, I was picked up in Tel Aviv by International Fellow Latoya Fisher. Now I’m living in Jerusalem where I’m coaching basketball and writing the occasional blog post.

I’m excited to soak up as much information as I can over the coming days, weeks and months about Israeli and Palestinian culture, society, and history. Also, I’m hoping to learn Hebrew and Arabic over the next two years, so if any readers have friends who would like to help out an outgoing American, send them my way!