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



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


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.



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!

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.


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.


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.


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




Kfar Saba and Meiser Bring the Energy!


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.


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.


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!

Building on Success: what can PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland be in the future?

This week’s blog is written by PPI-NI’s Managing Director, Gareth Harper. 

On September 29th, PPI-NI held its 13th Annual General Meeting. Along with the usual business of an AGM (Chairs report, auditors report and appointment of officers), PPI-NI board members initiated a strategic conversation about the future direction of the work of PeacePlayers in Northern Ireland.


Over the last 14 years PPI-NI has established its reputation as the go-to organisation for community relations and peace building through sport work in Northern Ireland. From this solid foundation, Board members have tasked themselves with thinking about where they want PPI-NI to be in the future and with developing a strategy that will get us there.




During FY15/16, PPI-NI identified and monitored progress against a total of 72 core programmatic indicators. Some headline results from FY15/16:

  • 79% (57/72) of the indicator targets identified have been achieved or over-achieved
  • 3% (2/72) of the indicator targets are still in progress
  • Only 18% (13/72) of the indicator targets were not met

PPI-NI worked with 1,851 children and young people and provided sustained and regular opportunities for contact and community relations through sport conversation and capacity building. A total of 146 participants took Open College Network (OCN) accredited courses, with 84% achieving a pass result.


PPI-NI’s findings when it surveyed 139 participants in November 2015:

  • 95% reported that they enjoy taking part in PPI-NI with people who are from different religious backgrounds
  • 91% reported that PPI-NI has given them a chance they would not have otherwise to interact with people from a different religious background
  • 90% of youth (BIL participants and PPI-NI coaches) reported that they feel comfortable to be a leader in their community.

We are very proud of what we have achieved and we are excited for the future. The core challenge is now considering how we can leverage the great work the organisation is doing and the reputation it is building to deliver increased community and institutional level impact. We also need to consider what resources we will need in realizing these aspirations.

Over the coming weeks and months, the Board will be working closely with the staff team and with our participants to consider the following questions:

  • How should PPI-NI define community level impact?
  • What are the major institutional barriers to peace building in NI?
  • Among the barriers identified, what areas does PPI-NI have the ability to positively influence? Where is PPI-NI best positioned to focus?
  • What potential partner organisations could be helpful to PPI-NI in achieving its community impact goals?


We would love to hear your thoughts on these big picture questions. In the spirit of co-design, we wish to elicit the views of as many of our stakeholders as possible. So please share your ideas, thoughts and questions by leaving a comment on this blog. You can also PM us on Facebook or drop us an email northernireland@peaceplayersintl.org. We look forward to hearing from you!

Building Leaders at PPI-CY


This week’s blog was written by Jessica Walton and Ryan Hage, two fellows who met during their shared time at PPI-CY and have been inspired by their leaders ever since.

Sport has the power to bring out leadership skills in the simplest form: through a common goal. Those of us who call ourselves PeacePlayers are lucky enough to be able to work with an organization that uses sport as a way to build relationships in a conflict area. Sure, it brings children together who otherwise may have never met, but it also gives participants a chance to become leaders. They dare to be bold and play basketball with someone from the ‘other side.’

Some of our oldest Cypriot participants have transformed from shy young girls and boys, afraid to speak and play with kids from outside of their communities, into strong and outspoken leaders, tasked with greeting public figures such as professional basketball players visiting camp or better yet, public officials like US Secretary John Kerry. Young people who start up their first Twinning with extremely limited English, quickly become the participants chosen to present the mission of PeacePlayers to ambassadors and CEO’s of corporations. They state, “Why did I join? Simple, it gave me purpose and it made me happy. It gave me the feeling of belonging somewhere.” Sport has provided them with purpose and a sense of stability.

Through this new confidence, participants become leaders at the age of fifteen in ways that most adults cannot fathom. Being part of a bi-communal organization is a very courageous thing to do on the island, no matter what age. Many see it as a form of betrayal, fraternizing with the enemy, even though the conflict has not been violent in many years. Ask any leader…many will share a story of a skeptical friend or family member who poked fun at their new choice of extra-curricular activity or even worse, judged them in a negative light. Each of their responses will be different but equally moving, reflecting their desire for change and their overwhelming belief in bridging divides, developing leaders and changing perceptions.

For many, PeacePlayers acts as a safety net of sorts. Leaders look forward to entering a safe environment and a special community where building new relationships is encouraged and exuding confidence and the ability to stand up for what you believe to be true is not only admired but truly valued. Being a leader isn’t easy; like any worthwhile challenge there is risk involved. However, it is those risks and the choice to accept those challenges along the way that mold character and shape each of our leaders into the young people they are today. Using sport we put discipline, honesty, integrity, trust and BASKETBALL into practice each day. And we have every faith that our leaders will guide us in the future during times of adversity!

PPI-NI Gets Ready to Host U12 Blitz Tournament


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U12 girls looking happy and tired after the first blitz

Today’s blog post is written by PPI-NI International fellow Casey Tryon.

This Sunday, 24th January, PeacePlayers International-Northern Ireland will host the first under 12 Basketball Northern Ireland Blitz Tournament of 2016, and the fourth of the 2015-2016 season.

In a change from past years, U12 season matches now take place in a monthly blitz tournament, as opposed to weekly individual matches. This change, agreed on by local clubs and Basketball Northern Ireland, has proven to be a welcome change for all. Each month a different club plays host to the other clubs. This month, with PPI-NI as the host, it’s sure to be a great day for all involved. The first few hours of the blitz will consist of round robin style play where teams will get a chance to play one another. Once those matches are complete, teams will be seeded for the competitive matches in the second half of the afternoon.

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U12 boys showing off their new uniforms

In total, eight boys teams and seven girls teams from across Northern Ireland will come to Methodist College for a chance to win the January blitz. Winning at this blitz means a lot more than just beating the other teams. While there will be a winning team at the end of the day, there will also be a sportsmanship award given out to one player from each team. Throughout the day, coaches will have a chance to select a player who has demonstrated teamwork, hustle, love for the game, and respect for opposition, teammates, and referees. While the sport of basketball is growing in Northern Ireland, it is still considered a minor sport. Through engaging young children in this blitz type atmosphere and by rewarding not only wins but also sportsmanship, local clubs hope to retain and increase player numbers.

The monthly blitzes have created a sense of excitement for many young players around the league. It’s helped bring teams together, and has also helped create friendships among players on different teams who have the chance to compete with and against each other every month. For PPI-NI this also provides opportunities not just to our U12 players, but also for participants in our Champions4Peace Leadership Development Program. C4Ps will be participating during the day by running a snack bar, keeping score, and even helping assist in the coaching. I’m sure we will also see plenty of friendly faces there to cheer on our girls and boys teams as well.

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Our U12 boys and girls along with our Champions4Peace after a great practice session

No matter the results on Sunday, all teams and Basketball Northern Ireland should be proud of their efforts to better the game of basketball across the region. PeacePlayers is excited to be a part of this effort and is looking forward to lots of fun and great basketball on Sunday.

An interview with a Northern Ireland ‘Champion4Peace’

Michaela Thompson with Anna Tuohey presenting their group work in Cyprus

Michaela Thompson with Anna Tuohey presenting their group work in Cyprus

International fellow and Senior Champions4Peace Coordinator Nasiphi Khafu (NK), interviews Michaela Thompson (MT).  

NK: Who are you and what is your involvement with PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland?

MT: My name is Michaela Thompson; I’m 21 years old. I am from West Belfast but I mainly coach in North Belfast. I am a sessional and fast track coach at PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland. I am also a member of the Senior Champions4Peace (C4P) and a leader of the Junior C4P. I currently run the U16 PeacePlayers basketball development programme on weekends.

NK: How long have you been with PeacePlayers?

MT: I have been involved for 10 years now. I joined when I was 11 years old.

NK: How and why did you join PeacePlayers?

MT: I joined PeacePlayers because I wanted to learn a new sport. My uncle runs a youth club and we got invited to join the Cross Community League where we joined up with children from other youth clubs and played against each other.

Michaela taking a selfie with North Belfast participants

Michaela taking a selfie with North Belfast participants

NK: With your involvement in the organization, what have you learned so far?

MT: I have learned a lot; mainly that Catholics and Protestants are no different. Growing up as a Catholic child in West Belfast, you hear a lot of stories about the ‘other side’. PeacePlayers helped me realise that people are people, regardless of their religion or background. One of the biggest things I have learned is how the other PeacePlayers’ sites work. I was one of 2 participants that represented PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland in the Basketball and Leadership Program that was hosted by PeacePlayers International – Cyprus last summer. For the first time in 15 years all PeacePlayers’ sites were brought together in one venue. Each site had to do a presentation of what goes on in their communities through PeacePlayers. I learned that even though we are the same we are also different, and even though we do the same programmes they are run very different at each site.

NK: Outside of PeacePlayers what else are you involved with in Northern Ireland?

MT: I volunteer at my local youth club in West Belfast, called Whiterock, with children aged 6-11. Last year I shaved my hair off and I raised £3200 for Cancer Research UK and I have raised £1700 this year for Macmillan Cancer Support. Other than that everything I do is PeacePlayers related.

NK: Why is cancer so close to you?

MT: It is so close to my heart because my granny, my aunt and my uncle have cancer. I am doing as much as I can to raise money and help in anyway possible.

NK: Could you please describe the life of a typical young person in Belfast?

MT: As you may know we have religious divides between Catholics and Protestants. Normally young people in Belfast would stay in their own communities or we would go into city centre where it is more diverse to shop or just hang out. We usually can’t stay out too late because there are still a lot of bomb scares and it makes it more difficult to get home.


NK: How do you think PeacePlayers is helping or can help young people more in Belfast?

MT: I think PeacePlayers helps young people because it allows them to have a voice, unlike some other places that don’t want to listen to the opinions of young people in Northern Ireland. It gives us something to look forward to doing. It’s also helping more young people in Belfast by giving them all sorts of opportunities that they wouldn’t get anywhere else.

NK: Are you a leader/Champion4Peace, why or why not?

MT: Yes I am, not because I’m older than most of the other participants but because I have taken on a bit more of a leadership role within the group. I help to organise who is coming to meetings and help organise events with other Champions4Peace. I feel that using the experiences I have gained from PeacePlayers and the fact that I’ve been through what most of these youth are going through helps me be a better leader.

NK: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

MT: In five years I hope to play for a basketball team in the Basketball Northern Ireland (BNI) league. I hope to complete the Level 3 of my Childcare Certificate with the hope to get to levels 4 and 5. I would really love to be a project coordinator within PeacePlayers. I would love to visit all PeacePlayers sites and travel around the world to see different places and learn from my own perspective.

NK: What is your message to young people of NI?

MT: We are the future of Northern Ireland. It’s okay to know our past and understand it, but don’t let the past define our future.