The End of an Era Known as “Big Friday”

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The Squad known as “Big Friday”

This week’s blog is written by American Fellow, LaToya Fisher, and talks about the “Big Friday” twinnings. A twinning is a joint activity between Arab and Jewish teams where they come together to do fun basketball drills and get to know each other. 

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The participants focusing on balancing the ball

Last Friday, April 21st marked the end of an epic era known as “Big Friday” at Hand in Hand school in Jerusalem. “Big Friday” is special because unlike a typical twinning that usually brings just two teams together, one Arab and one Jewish, a “Big Friday” twinning brings together four teams: two from Keshet (a Jewish school in Jerusalem), a team from Beit Safafa (an Arab village in Jerusalem), and a team from the West Bank.

Aside from all of the participants being ridiculously cute, the energy and enthusiasm they brought to every twinning was contagious. No matter what competition we did or how simple the warm up was, the kids and the coaches were cheering. So much of the energy and atmosphere was because of the amazing Leadership Development Program (LDP) participants who volunteered at every twinning and really encouraged the kids to cheer, dance, laugh, and made them feel comfortable.

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Having fun at the dribbling station

Some might speculate that “Big Friday” twinnings were dear to my heart because there was usually at least one team that incorporated my name, LaToya, into their chosen team name or big competitions (e.g. Mama LaToya, Princess LaToya, Grandma LaToya), but I’m sure that’s purely coincidental. The energy was always great at “Big Fridays” and the LDP seemed to have just as much fun as the kids.

While I’m sad that the “Big Friday” twinnings have come to an end, I’m glad they ended well — with lots of cheering, a little dancing, and tons of smiles. I will miss seeing all of my little buddies once a month on Friday, but I will cherish the awesome memories we made over the seven Fridays we came together during this programming cycle.

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.

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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.

PeacePlayers Takes Over Norway!

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The entire group on the last night

This week’s blog is a recap of some of the experiences of PeacePlayers-Middle East (PPI-ME) participants during their recent trip to Norway.

In mid-February, participants from all four PeacePlayers International (PPI) sites had the privilege of traveling to Norway for the third leg of our Erasmus+ Lead4Peace exchange. It was a wonderful week  of cultural exchange, leadership development and, of course, basketball. The exchange was made possible through a European Union grant called Erasmus­­+, which focuses on education, training and youth sport. Click on these links to read about PPI’s previous Erasmus­­+ exchanges in Cyprus and the Middle East.

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Ofir ready for some hockey!

For PPI-ME participants, the trip to Norway began with both excitement and nerves; participants were excited to see their friends from other sites who they’d met on previous exchanges, but they were also nervous because, unlike on previous exchanges, in Norway, participants were staying with host families. Everyone’s nerves settled after one night, however, as all of the participants declared the next morning that they, in fact, were staying with the best host family.

One of the highlights of the trip for all exchange participants were the snow activities. The entire group spent two days in an amazing hotel in the forest where participants went dog sledding, played ice hockey on a frozen lake, went snowboarding, and enjoyed sledding. Participants Bashar and Gur had some additional unique experiences including early-morning ice bathing in only shorts and a t-shirt with their host family and skiing for the first time in their host family’s backyard!

Another highlight of the trip was when participants went to different schools in the area to speak about their experience with PPI. This was the best part of the trip for Nitzan because of the bond she formed with the participants she was paired with from other sites for the presentation. She was nervous to present but her partners gave her courage and confidence.

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Some of the participants posing after the school presentations

For many, a memorable part of the trip was the last night when participants said their goodbyes. They played videos from previous exchanges, laughed and danced together, and shed MANY TEARS. For Malak, the last night was special because it allowed participants to talk and share things they hadn’t had a chance to say during the week. It was also an opportunity to speak with people she hadn’t seen much during the week. That was bittersweet because after speaking with them she wished there was more time to get to know them. Over one short week, these participants and families, who started as strangers, became friends and were sad to part ways.

Each Erasmus+ trips has been amazing and saying goodbye gets harder and harder. The PPI-ME participants are already asking about who gets to go to Northern Ireland in July.

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It’s the Holiday Season at PPI-CY!

This week’s blog is written by Cyprus Fellow Sean Wright about the upcoming events taking place at PPI-CY during the holidays. 

It’s the holiday season here in Cyprus, and with it brings an exciting time for us at PPI-CY. Over the next few weekends, we will be having a twinning with 50 kids from both the North (Turkish Cypriot) and South (Greek Cypriot), and also we will be having our annual Winter Tournament next weekend. What a time to be alive!

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Group picture from Lapta Twinning

For our twinning, we will be having it in the buffer zone in-between the North and South sides right across from our offices at the Home 4 Cooperation. We have it at a place called the Ledra Palace Hotel, which is where the UN soldiers live. They are kind enough to let us use their basketball court and hold these events there. This is different from the recent twinnings because both communities are meeting at a neutral site. The few that we’ve had this year were local twinnings, where one side would travel to the other side’s community to play. The local twinnings give each side a better understanding of the other’s community which is awesome, but this neutral twinning gives us the opportunity to have more kids participate.

We’ve also given our participants in the Lead4Peace program more responsibility during our twinnings this year. They are taking on the challenges of leading the beginning parts of the sessions.

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From a twinning in Lapta

This means they lead the twinning participants in the stretches, explaining the activities in the mother tongue so everyone is on the same page, and breaking the teams up evenly. They are doing an excellent job with this, especially breaking the teams up evenly. This may not seem like a big task, but when your friends are looking at you wanting to be on your team and you have to say no, it can be difficult. The best part of them taking on more responsibilities is that they WANT to do it. We don’t even have to ask them because they come up to us ask us to do these things. We are very proud of what these young men and women are doing. 3on3

Next weekend is our Winter 3 on 3 Tournament, which is one of our biggest events of the year. Every team on the island, north and south, come together to have one epic day of basketball. This is a special event because it is one of the only times that every team on the island is in the same place at the same time. On top of that, we open the tournament up to anyone who wants to join. This is a great recruiting tool for new kids who want to play basketball but don’t have the outlet to do so. All in all, it’s going to be an exciting two weeks here in CYPRUS!!!

 

Meet Malak: My Memorable Camp Experience

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“We were all involved and knew our strengths so we encouraged each other and naturally came together as a team.” Photo: Imagine Photography

My name is Malak. I am a 17-year-old Palestinian, and I have lived in Jerusalem all of my life. I have been in PeacePlayers almost 7 years. This summer I got the chance to attend camp at the PeacePlayers site in Cyprus and it was an experience I will never forget.

Camp was very intense. We had a lot of different activities and our days were long and jam-packed.  During the day we had sessions on the basketball court or in the classroom.  In the classroom the staff facilitated sessions where they discussed the different ways people can see one another, with an emphasis on trying to “see people as people,” which is at the core of the PPI curriculum. There was also a big emphasis on identifying leaders and learning how to be a better leader. At night we had similar sessions in addition to free time.

Each night we broke up into our own delegations, which were Northern Ireland, Cyprus,

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Malak with her Israeli Teammate Ophir.

Norway and the Middle East. Each delegation would take time to write in their journals and reflect on the activities from that day.  I was part of the Middle East delegation and on the third night during free time after the delegation meetings, my [Israeli] friend Liraz and I decided to go join some participants from the other delegations that were playing on the soccer field. Liraz and I were nervous to go over and ask to join but they welcomed us and that night turned into my favorite memory from camp. It was difficult to step out of our comfort zone and talk to the other participants but it made the remainder of camp more enjoyable and it became easier to start talking to the participants from the other delegations. On the nights that followed, I met so many funny and interesting people during the free time; I didn’t want to go into my room when it was time for bed because I was having so much fun.

At the beginning of camp we were split into different teams that mixed the delegations together. The staff would observe the teams throughout the day and look for examples of team spirit, communication, playing well together. I was fortunate to have a very well-rounded team that exemplified team spirit, strong basketball skills, great communication, curiosity to learn about each other, and a strong connection. I think our coach played a huge part in helping us to break the ice and come together at the start. We were all involved and knew our strengths so we encouraged each other and naturally came together as a team. I may be a little biased but I think we had the best team and it was awesome to be a part of it!

My biggest take-away from my camp experience was what I learned during sessions in the classroom lead by staff member Nasiphi, which focused leadership, stepping outside of your comfort zone, and overcoming barriers (cultural differences, language barriers, etc).  It helped me to find myself and made it easier to identify where I stand and how to be an effective leader within my community.

I’m so lucky to have had this experience at the camp and would be more than willing to do it again anytime!

More than Basketball with Chad Ford

 

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Thanks to the US Embassy in Cyprus, PPI had the pleasure of having Chad Ford come to camp. During the sessions Chad hosted there was a common theme, “more than basketball”. During his sessions the participants played games that focused on teamwork, communication, and leadership. But it was the discussion during and after that brought out the more than basketball theme.

During a discussion towards the end of a session Chad related a game to the many conflicts we see around the world today. As he was discussing how this simple game, had a deeper meaning, you could see the participants begin to realize that this is more than basketball. During one of the games with the objective of getting the ball around the room, Chad

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Chad Ford teaching a workshop to PPI participants

explained that the participants could only pass to someone who was from the same country as they were. As there were many different countries represented in the room, most of the participants stood by people from their same country. Thus making is harder to move the ball around the circle. Showing that it is more difficult to solve conflicts without all parties involved actively participating together. To many people basketball is just a game, but to the participants at PPI’s Summer Camp, Basketball will forever be more than a game.

Another Great Year in the Books!

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Springfest is a time to celebrate friendships before summer break.

At the end of the programing cycle each year PeacePlayers International-Middle East holds an event called Springfest where the the Arab and Jewish teams from East and West Jerusalem as well as a few teams from the north come together for a fun filled day.  Here is a recap of the two Springfests from this year.

Just before putting a pause on programming for Ramadan and summer break,

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Kids warmed up with a kickboxing workout

Springfest took place at Even Yehuda and it was a blast. The day started off with a great kickboxing warm-up that really got the kids moving and sweating. The participants were then split up into teams and went around to the different stations. The stations included an inflatable bounce house, hip hop class, lacrosse, 5 on 5, a basketball obstacle course.   The turnout was amazing with 115 participants showing up from East and West Jerusalem as well as Tamra and Nahariya in the north.

We were fortunate to have some student-athletes from University of Michigan drop by and help with the stations and meet the participants.  The student-athletes did a great job of jumping in and helping to demonstrate the stations as well as cheer and hand out hi-fives.

There was also a Springfest held in Kfar Saba which included the participants from the teams in Kfar Saba and Meiser. This Springfest was equally energized and fun with stations such as Twister, lacrosse, a bounce house, and a basketball tournament. Despite all the fun stations, the major highlight was the cotton candy machine at the end where participants left with a mountain of cotton candy to end another successful programing cycle.

Springfest is always a great event that everyone looks forward to from the coaches and volunteers to the participants themselves.  It is a great way for the participants to meet new people in addition to spending time with the team they do joint activities with throughout the year.

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We are – PEACEPLAYERS!

Thank you to USAID for sponsoring the event, University of Michigan, the coaches, and the Leadership Development Program for helping PeacePlayers pull off another exciting end of the year bash!