POSTED ON BEHALF OF DANIEL KNOLL
When I was in 9th grade I took part in the Jewish Youth Philanthropy Institute. With 25 peers we were tasked with donating a certain amount of money to what we considered worthy non-profits. The catch was that we were being asked for more than we had, and we had to allocate our money wisely. Growing up I played a lot of sports, so I feel in love with one organization, Peace Players International (PPI). 14 year old me loved the idea of combining conflict resolution and sports, and the concept has stuck with me for all these years. PPI’s motto is simple – “Children who can play together can learn to live together.” What started as an idea between 2 brothers from Washington DC turned into an international movement, with programs located in Northern Ireland, Israel / West Bank, Cyprus and South Africa.
Each region provides a diverse set of learning opportunities for ‘would be’ conflict communities. The primary focus of the sports programs are designed for youth between the ages of 6 and 14. By creating opportunities in a non-formal setting, PPI creates long-term relationships between its participants, even offering ‘graduate’ programs on leadership in the community for those who are too old for the original curriculum. One problem PPI faces is “exceptional” thinking. Too often participants think their teammate is the “exception,” and that the rest of the ‘other group’ is bad. Coaches emphasize making sure lessons stick off the court by encouraging their students to think “outside the box” and develop a way of “interacting with those around us that honors both others’ humanity and our own responsibility for change.”
As an educator programs such as these encourage the concept of peace building through cooperation necessary to accomplish a common task. Whether it’s scoring a basket, completing a puzzle or writing a group paper, the objective is the same: teaching students how to work together. What I particularly enjoy about PPI is the incorporation of the bodily kinesthetic side of students, which is often difficult to present in a traditional classroom setting. And the curriculum can be tailored to the needs of the community. In South Africa, athletes are taught about making healthy decisions and HIV/AIDS education. In Northern Ireland, students focus on how to handle “the complexities of growing up in a post-conflict society.”
South Africa – http://www.peaceplayersintl.org/locations/south-africa
Northern Ireland – http://www.peaceplayersintl.org/locations/northern-ireland
When looking at the 7 pillars of peace education, PPI is built around community building and transforming conflict non-violently. By giving the youth within conflict communities an opportunity to build their own perceptions of the conflict in a nonviolent way on the court, PPI reshapes the future discussion between the parties. Often times conflict is so rooted with in the culture and fabric of peoples history that the best way to break the cycle of conflict is by giving children the chance to build relationships in their own way. Their team becomes their community. A diverse community that sets the example that the two sides cannot just peacefully coexist, but thrive and succeed together. While studying abroad in Israel and seeing first hand the separation between Israel and the West Bank it is inspiring to see children creating a possibility of peace in the future through success on the basketball court.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XqhyDArfvfA – PPI was even featured on an ESPN segment about Conflict in the Middle East. The 5 minute segment has some very interesting interviews from coaches, athletes and parents.
I really like the idea of this program – I often felt like many of the NGOs and non-profits that I worked with or saw when I lived in West Africa were good in theory, but not in practice and that often the skills taught were not transferrable to the larger population or it became just the giving of stuff in a misguided attempt to help. I like that this program focuses on sustaining long-term relationships and would be interested to see data on the sustainability of this program.