PPI-ME Wishes Everyone A Happy International Women’s Day!

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Three PPI-ME participants having fun at a practice in Tamra

On March 8th each year, people around the world celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD). IWD is a day to reflect on the circumstances of women around the world, to commit to helping women and girls achieve their dreams, and to help forge a more gender-inclusive world. IWD brings attention to the fact that millions of women around the world face discrimination and hardship every day. IWD encourages all of us to help build and maintain more inclusive societies.

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Nitsan, Jinan and Aya keeping score at a PPI-ME activity

At PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI-ME), we are keenly aware of the myriad obstacles that women face to full and equal treatment and participation in many societies around the world. In both Palestinian and Israeli societies, women face numerous barriers which often prevent their participation in sports and other community activities. Many girls are lacking the support systems they need to get involved in programs like PPI-ME. For every 100 Palestinian boys who play at sports clubs, only 28 girls do the same. In Israel, women aged 13 and older make up only 12% of athletes and less than 8% of trainers.

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Yasmeen enjoying a Big Friday Twinning in Jerusalem

These shocking statistics are one of the many reasons that we at PPI-ME focus on engaging females in our programs and are proud to say that 70% of our participants are female – many of whom come from conservative and underprivileged communities where opportunities are scarce. PPI-ME gives female participants the opportunity to participate in sports programs that may not be available in their communities, to develop skills and experience that boost their confidence and increase their employ-ability, and to meet people they would most likely otherwise never have the chance to meet.

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Githa (PPI-ME Project Manager in the North) at a bowling activity with participants from Meiser and Kfar Saba

IWD is a chance to celebrate the courageous, powerful and beautiful women who make choices everyday that promote gender equality and it’s a chance for us at PPI-ME to celebrate the young girls and women who combat social norms in Palestine and Israel. IWD is about unity, inclusion, bridging divides and changing perceptions – all of the things that PeacePlayers advocates for on a daily basis. We at PPI-ME are so proud of our participants and everyone we work with, who actively contribute to women’s equality and who strengthen their communities by doing so. Happy IWD to everyone!

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Courtney (American Fellow) with PPI-ME participants after a Twinning in Northern Israel

#WhoRunTheWorld #Girls

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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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!

Coach’s Corner: Interview with Dor Dayan

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Coach Dor Dayan has shown incredible commitment and passion working with PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI – ME) over the past two years

 

This week’s PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI – ME) blog post is about 27-year-old Israeli coach Dor Dayan. Dayan played basketball in the top professional league in Israel, before deciding to become a coach five years ago. He has been working with PPI – ME for the past two seasons and is the head coach of two of our mixed (Arab and Jewish) All-Star teams in Northern Israel. Here Dor talks about his experience as a coach and the impact that PeacePlayers has had on him.

 

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Dor speaking with the girls during a timeout in their win against Iblin

How did you get into coaching?

My mother encouraged me to become a coach. She thought I would really be good at it. At first I just did it for fun, but then I loved it so much that I wanted to do it professionally as a full time job.

Is there a coach that you look up to or that has influenced how you view the game and your own coaching?

David Blatt (Former coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers) because he is very intelligent, knows the game very well, and knows how to speak with his players.

What is your favorite team to watch?

In Israel, it’s Maccabi Tel Aviv (former team that David Blatt coached – the most popular team in Israel). In America, it was the Chicago Bulls when Michael Jordan played on the team and now it is the Golden State Warriors.

How are your teams doing so far this season?

This season is going really well so far. I think the All-Star Yeladot team (14-and-under mixed team) will continue to get better. Our team is successful when we play aggressively and together as a team. The All-Star Naharot team (16-and-under mixed team) is also doing really well. We are 11-0 in the league and we can only hope that this will continue for the rest of the season.

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Dayan pushing the girls during a pre-season beach workout in Nahariya

 How did you find out about PPI – ME?

I learned about PPI – ME from another basketball coach in Nahariya. I saw the Arab and Jewish girls playing together and it seemed like something I would be interested in. The next season the chairman of our club informed me that I would be coaching two PPI – ME teams and so far, I am really enjoying it.

How has PPI – ME impacted you?

I am now able to see the other side of the conflict. I think we can live together, but there is still a lot to work on. I think if Arabs and Jews spend time together from a young age, as they do with PPI – ME, that it would really help them as they become adults. I sincerely hope that the girls can build a connection with one another. I think that if our teams can continue to play together it will really help them in the future.

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Dayan (second from the right), the Nahariya Naharot players and other PPI – ME Staff after a team win

What is the most important thing you have gained from your experience with PPI – ME?

The project has given me a broader perspective on the Middle East conflict and has shown me that not everyone from “the other side” is a bad person. Through PPI – ME, I have met great people and built relationships and connections that I never would have made otherwise. It has also given me the opportunity to coach a group of girls and hopefully have a positive impact on their lives.

 

 

 

 

 

Older and Younger Participants Learn From Each Other at Overnight Retreat

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The entire group after a fun retreat

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Two participants working hard at the dribbling station

On December 16-17, PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI – ME) held an overnight retreat at Kibbutz Sdot Yam near Caesarea, where participants from the West Bank, the Friday basketball clinics and the Leadership Development Program (LDP) came together for a weekend of basketball and other activities designed to build trust. Approximately 60 participants attended the retreat, ranging in age from 9-17 years old. Participants were divided into two groups by age: the younger participants from the Friday basketball clinics and the West Bank made up one group and the LDP participants made up a second group. The younger group activities were primarily led by American Fellows Courtney Douglass, LaToya Fisher and James Levine, with the help of local coaches, while Heni Bizawi led the LDP activities.

Here’s a recap of the weekend’s activities. On Friday, the younger participants had two sessions, each with a very different focus. The purpose of the first session was for participants to get to know each other and learn to work together. These activities were light on basketball and heavy on fun; they generated a lot of laughter and really loosened up the group.

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LDP participants leading drills with younger participants

The theme of the second session was trust. Participants worked in small groups of four and each group was given an object that was placed somewhere in the gym and had to be retrieved. The catch was that the person designated to retrieve the object would be blindfolded and the rest of their team could only guide that person through verbal directions. The best part about this activity was watching the Jewish participants trying to understand directions in Arabic and the Arab participants trying to understand directions in Hebrew – and trying to teach each other in the process.

The LDP participants spent part of the day Friday in the classroom learning about coaching techniques and preparing drills they would run with the younger participants on Saturday. After finishing up in the classroom, the LDP had a basketball practice with coach Rebecca Ross. It was a tough but fun practice and showed them how a veteran coach leads.

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LDP participant Malak helping a younger participant

On Saturday, the LDP participants ran drills with the younger participants. The LDP did an excellent job at coming up with fun and creative drills, and the younger participants loved it. After each activity was completed, LDP participants were given feedback in real time so they could try to implement it when they worked with the next group of young participants.

The weekend was short and sweet but fun and memorable as always!

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!

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