What’s Going on Jerusalem? A Recap of the Last Few Months at PPI-ME

 

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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

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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.

Twinnings

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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!

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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Player Profile: Full Court Press with Yarden Salem

In today’s blog post, American Fellow, Courtney Douglass interviewed PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI – ME) participant, Yarden, who plays on the Nahariya Naharot 16-and-under mixed (Jewish and Arab) All-Stars team about her experience with PPI – ME.

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Yarden (left) with her teammates and American Fellow Courtney

Yarden, tell us a little bit about yourself:

I’m 15 years old and am from a kibbutz (communal-style village in Israel) called Gesher Haziv located outside of Nahariya. I have been playing basketball for eight years and this is my fourth year with PeacePlayers. I currently play on the Nahariya Naharot 16-and-under mixed (Jewish and Arab) All-Stars team. Two of my favorite things to do outside of basketball are playing the piano and drawing.

How has your season been going so far on the Nahariya/Tamra All-Stars?

So far everything is going really well. Everyone is getting along and we have been working very hard together. Our team is currently undefeated and in first place in the league. We have made really good progress and I think the bonding is getting better the longer that we have been in PeacePlayers.

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Yarden (#55) soaring over opponents to snag an offensive rebound

How did you first find out about PeacePlayers?

I really didn’t know much about it until my coach at the time told our team we were going to play with a team of Arab girls in special practices called “Twinnings.” The first couple of years my team from Nahariya met for Twinnings with a team from Tamra. Now we have progressed to being on a mixed All-Star Team together.

How has PeacePlayers impacted you?

When I was growing up my parents never said anything bad about Arabs, so I never thought anything bad about them, but I also didn’t have much interaction with them. PeacePlayers has given me a chance to learn more about “the other side.” I see my Arab teammates as regular people who want to play basketball just like I do. I believe that it’s all about doing what you love.

What is the most important thing you have taken away from your experience being a part of PeacePlayers?

There are so many kids in the world who want to play basketball but are not able to. So, I really appreciate the fact that I can play basketball and my parents and friends support me doing something I love so much. I feel like our team is a family. When we are on the court our differences don’t matter. All that matters is that we want the same thing – to win as a family.

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Nahariya Naharot All-Star team huddling after a victory

Rapid Fire Questions

If you could meet any person dead or alive, who would it be?

Michael Phelps

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Hawaii, Africa, Australia – too many to name one

What is your favorite food?

Kanafeh – Middle Eastern honey cake

What is your favorite artist or song right now?

Carry on my Wayward Son – Kansas

What is your favorite animal (besides dog or cat)?

Dolphins or elephants

 

 

 

Reflections of Hope: PPI-ME Visits Oklahoma City

In mid-November, PeacePlayers International (PPI) received the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum’s “Reflections of Hope Award” for the work it does abroad to bring divided communities together through basketball. PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI-ME) was fortunate enough to send two participants and a coach to the ceremony in Oklahoma City.

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Reflections of Hope co-chair Sam Presti (left) leads a panel discussion with PPI-ME participants Liraz and Malak, coach Rifka, and Co-Founder/Executive Director Brendan Tuohey. Photo courtesy of ktul.com.

This year’s Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum “Reflections of Hope Award” was presented to PPI on November 14, 2016. PPI-ME was fortunate enough to send two participants and teammates, Liraz (Jewish) and Malak (Arab), and their coach, Rifka (Jewish), to Oklahoma City to participate in the ceremony and share with the audience what PeacePlayers means to them. The award represents the beliefs of the Oklahoma National Memorial Foundation that hope can survive and blossom despite the tragedy and chaos of political violence, and that even in environments marred by such violence, peaceful, nonviolent approaches are best. These beliefs align seamlessly with PPI’s vision and mission and it was an honor to be recognized.

The trip consisted of many meetings, lots of amazing food (no PPI-ME trip is complete without a visit to Shake Shack!), sightseeing, and some NBA fun, but what made the trip was special for each PPI-ME attendee was unique.

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The ladies enjoying a nice meal

For Liraz, the trip was special because in addition to attending the awards ceremony, the girls had a chance to tour the museum and learn about the  1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The tour was quite emotional and different from any museum Liraz had visited before. When tragic events occur where many lives are lost, the public usually only hears about the number of casualties or certain stories that are brought to light. The memorial museum in Oklahoma City highlights every victim’s personal story. This made the museum highly memorable.

For coach Rifka, the trip was special because she got to see firsthand the magnitude of support that PPI has in the U.S. She also got to see her players in a new light. Rifka already knew that Liraz and Malak are both great players and people, but the trip allowed her to get to know them better. She got to hear her players speak about their lives in the Middle East and see them represent PPI. She was inspired by her players and will cherish the trip forever.

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PPI holding the award. Photo courtesy of Oklahoma City National Memorial  & Museum.

For Malak, the trip was special because she got to eat at Shake Shack again, which never gets old for many PPI-ME participants. She also found the museum tour emotional and inspiring because it was her first time learning about the Oklahoma City bombing. Other highlights for Malak were the conversations she had with Rifka and Liraz about the Middle East conflict and the opportunity to share her story with so many people who were interested to learn more about PPI.

Thank you to the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum and the Oklahoma National Memorial Foundation for their wonderful hospitality and for honoring PPI with this year’s Reflections of Hope Award!

Kfar Saba and Meiser Bring the Energy!

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The entire Kfar Saba and Meiser squad and their coaches after an awesome twinning!

This week’s PeacePlayers International – Middle East blog is written by International Fellow, LaToya Fisher. She shares about the first twinning between two teams: Kfar Saba (Jewish) and Meiser (Arab).

Every international fellow worries about the dreaded first twinning between two teams from different communities. You never know how nervous or shy the participants will be or how quickly they will warm up to each other. Meeting and playing with new people is always scary; throw in a language barrier and cultural differences and you just never know! The fellows and coaches have to figure out instantly what to bring to the activity in order to engage the participants and encourage them to return. You never know what the fellows will pull out of their bag of tricks and this twinning did not disappoint.

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Fellow Courtney Douglass cheering on two of the participants

Last week fellow Courtney Douglass and I were faced with this challenge as two of PeacePlayers International – Middle East’s teams in the north – Kfar Saba (Jewish) and Meiser (Arab) – had their first twinning of the year. Because many participants on both teams played the previous year, and they came with great attitudes and helped us put on an amazing twinning.

The twinning started off with a dynamic warm-up, in which participants worked in pairs to complete different dribbling tasks and chase down loose basketballs. After the warm-up, the boys went outside to play 5-on-5, while the girls stayed inside and did drills with me and Courtney. In one of the drills, the girls were divided into two groups, each lined up along the sidelines opposite each other. They then did funny movements while advancing toward the mid-way point between them and, when they met in the middle, performed some type of silly action, such as a hi-five, touching basketballs, wrapping basketballs around each other, or doing a “fist bump” with the basketballs.

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These two participants are professionals with their bunny ears technique!

The girls loosened up so much during the warm-up activities that we were able to get them to do funny things like hop with the ball between their knees while making bunny ears, make kissing noises while touching basketballs mid-court, and come up with hilarious and cute team names such as the “Bunny Ballers.”

After the fun activities concluded, it was time for some competition and teamwork. We split the girls into teams and took time to learn each others’ names. During the competition we encouraged lots of cheering and dancing. The level of jumping up and down and cheering for each individual and for the teams as a whole was off the charts. A first twinning this energized and fun is every fellow’s dream, but it is somewhat of a unicorn. It’s the type of the thing that when it happens you embrace every moment and try to bottle some of the greatness for events to come!

PeacePlayers Presented with Award from Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum

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PPI receives the Reflections of Hope Award at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel on November 14, 2016. (Via abc Tulsa.)

PeacePlayers International (PPI) was honored for its international work uniting young people in divided communities through basketball with the “Reflections of Hope Award” from the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. PPI was named the award recipient in August of this year.

Co-founder and Executive Director, Brendan Tuohey accepted the award on behalf of PPI saying, “We at PPI are deeply honored to receive the Reflections of Hope Award and to be included among past winners who have overcome barriers to build a more peaceful and just world. The Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum represents the very best of what individual citizens working together towards a shared future can achieve.”

Along with Tuohey, the Oklahoma Thunder general manager, Sam Presti, PPI-ME participants Liraz Ben Yosef and Malak Ayub and coach Rebecca Ross were also in attendance at the award luncheon.

The Reflections of Hope Award is granted annually to those who embody the core beliefs of the Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation. Past recipients include journalist Anthony Shadid (2012), and Presidents George W. Bush and family (2011), and William J. Clinton (2010).

More information about PeacePlayers and the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum’s selection can be found here.

Team Building in Tamra

This week’s blog from PPI-ME is written by International Fellow, Courtney Douglass, who recaps a fun team building event the Tamra/Nahariya All-Stars participated in. Courtney returned to the Middle Easter after an exciting summer in the U.S., and she is currently working with the participants in the north.

 

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The players of the Tamra/Nahariya All-Star team enjoying fresh food and great company

 

Hello, hello, hello!

It is so great to be back in the Middle East and start another year of programming! This year I am living in Nahariya, so I will be able to spend a ton of time working with and giving support to our 14-and-under and 16-and-under All Stars (mixed teams of Arab and Jewish girls who play in the Israel Basketball Association’s elite youth league), as well as all of our other teams in the North. Our Tamra/Nahariya All-Star teams are practicing extremely hard to get ready for the upcoming season, and we are really looking forward to seeing all of that work come to fruition during games.

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The players enjoying a beautiful sunset

One element that we think is extremely essential to building a strong team on the court is the connection the players feel off the court. One of our biggest goals this year is to hold more activities outside of practice to build and foster relationships between the participants on these teams. We understand that not everyone on a particular team will be best friends for life, but in order to build a resilient team, one that never gives up and is willing to give everything they have for one another, it starts with the trust and connection they feel off the court. Building that trust and connection takes time and effort from all parties involved, which is why we are so thankful that the players, coaches, and parents from Tamra and Nahariya agree and have been willing to start coming together for activities outside of practices and games.

The team building aspect started at the retreat in Tal Hai on September 30 and October 1 that our amazingly talented fellow, LaToya Fisher, blogged about a few weeks ago. Our most recent team building activity took place on Wednesday, October 19 in Tamra at Lena’s (a 14-year-old Arab participant) family farm. While visiting with Shadi, one of our incredible coaches from Tamra, I learned that most families living there all have their own plot of land that they farm. These farms are all family run, and they don’t sell anything that they farm; it all goes back to their family and friends. They of course eat the olives that come off the trees, make their own olive oil, and also have a few smaller items that they grow like herbs and spices that they use in their own family dinners and gatherings.

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Laffa bread fresh out of the oven smothered in za’atar

Players, coaches, parents, and other family members arrived a little before sunset and took a short tour of the farm before we helped pick a few olives off the trees. We then were able to watch Lena’s mother prepare laffa bread and put a traditional Middle Eastern spice, za’atar, on top before placing it in their family’s personal oven. The za’atar comes from plants that they grow on their farm and she also made the laffa dough by hand. It was amazing to watch Lena with her mother, as well as other parents from the team help prepare the meal for everyone with such love and attention.

While the food was being prepared the girls chatted with one another about basketball, life, and of course took way too many selfies. It’s in these simple moments of watching the girls interact and connect outside of basketball, that I realize the importance of PeacePlayers and the impact its having on their lives. I see how it isn’t just bringing a group of girls on a team together; it’s bringing their families, friends, and other acquaintances along for the ride. I feel so lucky to be a small part of their journey and I am looking forward to many more team building activities during this year!

Until next time,

Courtney