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.

From Jack Randolph – Farewell Middle East

Jack breaking down his last practice in Jisr az-Zarqa

Breaking down my last practice in Jisr az-Zarqa

PPI-ME International Fellow Jack Randolph bids farewell to the Middle East as he soon begins a new chapter in his life.

This is my goodbye. After a year of volunteering and a year as a full-time fellow at PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI-ME), I am moving on to start a new journey. In the fall, I will begin a two-year masters program in the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. While I am excited about this next chapter, I have a multitude of mixed feelings about turning the final page of the current one. I have sought to live a life of fulfillment, and part of that is experiencing all the emotions that life has to offer, including the not so happy ones. In just two days, I must say goodbye to everyone on this side of the world that I have become so close to and shared so many adventures with. I am filled with some of my greatest emotions right now as I am writing this thinking about this two year journey in the only way my mind can process…a big mess!

Jack leading a warmup during a twinning with Meiser and Magal

Leading a warm-up during a twinning with Meiser and Magal

In the beginning, I moved to the Middle East to play American football for the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Sabres. It was a fantastic situation for an outsider to be thrown into, mixing it up with locals including Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans – Christians, Muslims, and Jews playing together on one team to win a championship. Soon after beginning my journey in the Middle East, I met with PPI-ME Managing Director Karen Doubilet, which led to nine months of volunteering in Jerusalem and eventually to a full-time fellowship. I heard about PeacePlayers during my previous job at the University of Oklahoma’s (OU) College of International Studies (CIS) where I was working with the Oklahoma City Thunder to collaborate on sports and international studies. This is when I learned that Thunder General Manager Sam Presti had spent time with PPI-ME, coaching basketball in Israel and Palestine. I read his blog about PeacePlayers, but I never could have imagined that I would be working here someday.

And the blue team scores a touchdown

The blue team scores a touchdown

When I think about my time with PeacePlayers, the first thing that comes to my mind is all the people. The second thing is BASKETBALL. Every day, since I started working for PPI-ME, I have enjoyed the coaching more and more. Now, I really know how to get kids excited on the court with drills and games. I have developed a knack for understanding the tempo at which to coach and how to communicate with the other coaches and players, who many times do not speak English.

Jack coaching the Tamra/Nahariya girls during a drill at the Springfest tournament

Coaching the Tamra/Nahariya girls during a drill at the Springfest Tournament

Tonight, I will be coaching my final Twinning in the north with an amazing group of seventh- and eighth-grade girls from Tamra and Nahariya. It’s going to be surreal today, driving one more time to Galilee with Project Manager Heni Bizawi. Every second of the drive I will be enjoying our journey together for one last time. I just know this is going to be an epic Twinning. It’s been a pleasure to watch these girls bond throughout the year. Tonight, I will tell them how special they are, and how lucky they are; how they shouldn’t take for granted the chance to play the game they love with great people from the other side of the conflict. We just never really know what we’ve got until it’s gone.

Heni, Jamie, and Jack from left to right eating shawarma before coaching in Jerusalem

Heni, Jamie, and I from left to right eating shawarma before coaching in Jerusalem

Like I said before, when I think about PPI-ME, the first thing that comes to mind is the people. It’s all the staff here who I bonded with in so many funny ways. From intense talks, to hilarious celebrations, to epic journeys, this staff is unique – we’re a family. It’s also the kids in the north at places like Tamra and Nahariya and the girls at Jisr az-Zarqa that I am coaching every week.

And of course, there’s the Leadership Development Program (LDP). Jamie Walsh and I had the opportunity to lead the LDP this year: 33 young men and women from both sides of the conflict have benefited so much from PPI-ME, but even more so have given PeacePlayers so much of themselves. If the LDP is the future of PeacePlayers – what an honor to be working with them so closely throughout the year. Just this week, Jamie and I had a final meeting with them that got emotional as we discussed what inspires us in our lives and how we can inspire others.

Jack sharing breakfast at dinner with Basketball Operations Manager Vito Gilic

Sharing breakfast at dinner with Basketball Operations Manager Vito Gilic

Hearing one of the players, Ibrahim, talk about what PeacePlayers has meant to his life, how it is everything to him, spoke so loudly to me about what PeacePlayers is doing and what it will continue to do. I will have one more chance now to see these guys and girls before I go, at tomorrow’s Minifest in Jerusalem. What a perfect way to end this chapter of my life in the Middle East with these awesome human beings. Seeing how much they care about each other when surrounded by so much hatred and judgment will inspire me for the rest of my life to believe all things are possible. I am literally in tears right now, but so HAPPY.

Jack and Heni at a Maccabi Tel Aviv Euroleague game. Maccabi went on to win the Euroleague.

With Heni at a Maccabi Tel Aviv Euroleague game. Maccabi went on to win the Euroleague.

I believe in PeacePlayers. I believe that they will continue to make a difference, because PeacePlayers understands the importance of the human being. It is important for all of us to be reminded often that we have the choice to view each and every individual as an object or as a human being like ourselves with all the emotions and challenges involved.

Thank you to PeacePlayers for impacting my life so greatly. I hope in my life I can always be working for PeacePlayers in one way or another. It will be a great joy to return to visit PeacePlayers International – Middle East and get back on the court screaming “DEFENSE,” and demanding that everyone yell it just as loud as me.

 

Jack with the LDP in their last leadership session with him

With the LDP in our last leadership session together

Volunteering to bring peace, basketball to Jewish and Arab children

Jack bonding with the kids at Keshet one last time

Jack bonding with the kids at Keshet one last time

Jack Randolph is an American from Oklahoma who has been volunteering with PeacePlayers for the past nine months. As his time here comes to an end, he wanted to take a few minutes to describe his experience and what PPI-ME means to him.

Why did you move to the Middle East?

I originally came to the Middle East for a couple of reasons. I wanted a new experience and I also wanted to go somewhere abroad. A unique opportunity presented itself to come to Israel to an already established network playing American football and volunteering for PeacePlayers. The thing that was most attractive to me was the amount of influence this region has on the policies of the rest of the world. I really wanted to take it all in and try something completely new.

How did you find out about PeacePlayers and why did you decide to volunteer?

I read a blog that was written by the General Manager of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Sam Presti. He wrote this piece during the NBA lockout after he came here to visit the PPI-ME site. I heard about this when I met with another member of the Oklahoma City Thunder. I wanted to volunteer because the conflict had always captivated my attention and I have always been the mediator in my own relationships and life experiences. I am also a huge basketball fan so I thought the program would have a lot to teach me.

Jack and two Druze girls from Usaphiya at a Peace League tournament

Jack and two Druze girls from Usaphiya at a Peace League tournament

Can you describe your experience as a volunteer?

Most of my work consisted of volunteering at Keshet, a Jewish school in Jerusalem. Sometimes it could be very challenging and take a lot of energy, but it was extremely fulfilling to see the kids improve their basketball skills and see them open up about their views and feelings on the conflict between the Jewish and Arab groups. The bonds that I formed with them have also been life changing for me. A communication barrier existed, but we still found ways to learn from each other and understand one another.

This organization has taken me unique places—places a tourist would never typically go. I have been able to interact with people on both sides of the conflict and PPI has opened my eyes to the fact that we are all more alike than we think, despite all the differences that plague this region on a daily basis.

Jack and American fellow Jamie taking in the beautiful view after a successful day!

Jack and American fellow Jamie taking in the beautiful view after a successful day!

What surprised you the most about the organization?

I had a strong feeling I would love working with the participants of this program but didn’t expect to bond with the PPI staff as much as I have in my time here. There is such a great sense of creativity and warmness from the people who work here, and they have really inspired me. It is the type of work environment I hope to always be a part of. They really made me feel like I was included in their family and I believe they are a fundamental reason why this organization works so well.

“You were my strength when I was weeeeeaaaakkkk”

GM of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Sam Presti, demonstrates a drill to some lady PeacePlayers.

This week’s post from the Middle East was written by none other than Managing Director Karen Doubilet’s brother, Daniel. He visited our program last week as part of the larger Board of Directors Trip attended by many high-profile guests. Below he shares his experience:

I’ve never been a great basketball player. Standing at a meager 5 feet, 6 inches (on a good day) and hailing from Toronto, Canada, I was always more suited to ice hockey and soccer. Yet despite these disappointing truths, somehow I found myself playing 5 on 5 on a sunny late July afternoon in Jerusalem. My teammates – Sam Presti, General Manager of the Oklahoma City Thunder, RC Buford, General Manager of the San Antonio Spurs, Chad Ford, ESPN NBA Analyst (and Professor at Brigham-Young University, Hawaii) and Limor Mizrahi, whose reign in Israeli professional women’s basketball can be described as no less than legendary.

You readers may find yourself asking some of the same questions that were running through my mind during that game. How does someone like me end up on such a star-studded roster? What would possess these people to subject themselves to the misery of Israel’s summer climate? The invariable answer is an extraordinary organization that is breaking boundaries across Israel and Palestine to bridge social divides between, and build leadership skills for, Israeli and Palestinian children and teens – PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI-ME) – of which my big sister Karen has been Managing Director for half a decade. Being a huge fan of PeacePlayers International and of basketball, it didn’t take much convincing from Karen for me to make the last minute change to my plans for backpacking through Europe and abandon a week in Portugal and Paris to come to Israel and Palestine for PPI-ME’s Board of Directors trip.

Spurs GM, RC Buford coaches a young PeacePlayer.

The trip started with a quiet weekend overnight retreat at Kibbutz Nahsholim (part of a program funded by the Middle East Partnership Initiative) which gave me an opportunity to re-acquaint myself with some of PPI-ME’s participants and staff. The relaxed beach-side atmosphere at the MEPI retreat for Palestinian female teen leaders made it easy for me to get to know some of the girls from East Jerusalem, who are some of the Program’s most talented hoopsters. The highlights of the retreat included a midnight basketball game, during which I received a rude awakening at just how badly I could be embarrassed by a group of 12 – 16 year old girls on the court, and the impromptu karaoke session in which some of the girls showed off their pipes by confidently resurrecting Celine Dion’s “Because You Loved Me” in front of a bunch of strangers – a dazzling display of the girls’ confidence, to say the least.

On Monday morning, Chad Ford delivered a three-hour workshop to educate board members, representatives of USAID (a major PPI-ME partner), family and friends about the Arbinger conflict transformation model on which much of the PPI-ME curriculum is based, followed by another afternoon in the gym of Jerusalem’s Hand-in-Hand school for Bilingual Education. At Hand-in-Hand, some of PPI-ME’s minis (the youngest group of PPI-ME participants), teenage girls and Leadership Development Program participants showed off their skills and engaged with board members to demonstrate just how well the players from very different backgrounds have learned to play together. After the formal basketball activities, the guests (who also included Brian Kriftcher, Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors, Brendan Tuohey, Executive Director and Co-Founder of PeacePlayers International, Brad Bessire, Director of Democracy and Governance Office for USAID, West Bank and Gaza, and board members of the Jewish Community Center Association – JCCA) were able ask questions to individual participants to gain some first-hand knowledge as to how much PPI-ME means to them. It was truly inspiring.

The group spent the next day in the North of Israel where we visited Zichron Ya’akov, a quaint Israeli town 35 kilometers south of Haifa, for a “twinning” (joint activity) between some of the female participants from Jerusalem and Zichron. PPI-ME has started working in Zichron as of this year. The board members and PPI-ME supporters got to see an intense game between mixed teams of Jerusalem and Zichron players, which ended in a tie after double over-time. Spectators were on their feet as the players performed in dazzling fashion, coached by Presti, on one end, and Buford on the other, who despite managing different NBA teams, have a long-time friendship, since working together in San Antonio before Presti moved to Seattle to lead the Supersonics (now Oklahoma City Thunder). You couldn’t have scripted this type of competition.

Chad Ford's students Ryan and Mason came all the way from Hawaii to join the training.

The trip came to a close with a journey to the West Bank city of Ramallah where coach Vito Gilic’ (the “Croatian Sensation”) ran a practice for the girls from an UNRWA Refugee Camp with a little help from his high profile friends. The court in the camp school was less than perfect – the backboards need a new coat of paint and new rims, and the concrete floor is in desperate need of re-paving – but the girls were in high spirits despite their long clothes (modest dress, as is customary in many parts of Palestine) and grueling summer sun. They practiced some of the fundamentals including lay-ups, sharp passing and two-handed dribbling. The smiles on their faces dispelled any doubt as to whether or not they were having fun, and learning useful skills as well, from some of the best the game has to offer to boot. This was a testament to how meaningful PPI-ME is for young participants from across the region, especially in otherwise dismal circumstances and on both sides of the green line.

We packed in a heavy schedule during the 5-day tour, but I still feel there was much more to see and do. Hopefully this trip was a striking reminder for board members, partners and other supporters, as it was for me, of just how important PPI-ME is for all those involved and how much more support it needs to expand its reach and make an even bigger difference. As I sit here in Tel Aviv, getting ready to take off on a month long trip around Europe, I feel somewhat disheartened – that as exciting as a month-long trip to Europe will be, it will be no match for a week-long trip with PPI-ME.

P.S. If anyone is wondering how I performed in that game along-side my star-studded teammates, I took one three-point shot – and missed by a mile!

Photos: Joel Dzodin

PPI – ME is grateful for the generous support of the American people through USAID.