This weeks blog was written by former PPI-CY Fellow, Ryan Hage. Ryan was an outstanding member of our family for over a year. After finishing his fellowship, Ryan accepted a position at his alma mater, Fordham University, where he currently works with their men’s basketball team. The following is his “ode” to the fellowship:
Looking back, it’s funny to me that when PeacePlayers offered me the fellowship, there was a moment of hesitation to accept. Little did I know that it would be one of the greatest things I would ever do.
Let’s put aside for a second that you get to live on a Mediterranean island or work with kids in the outskirts of Durban, South Africa. That you can get the best hummus in the world with some hummus experts in Jerusalem or explore a country that is famous for warm people in not so warm Northern Ireland.
Your job is to TEACH THE GAME OF BASKETBALL IN THE NAME OF PEACE. Does that even sound real? I look back at it now and think of it as almost too good to be true. I have to look at Facebook pictures and text old coaches to make sure it wasn’t just a dream. I know the role of an International Fellow is different from site to site, but the main responsibility is to share your knowledge of the game of basketball while making kids feel comfortable enough to build relationships in conflict areas. Sounds pretty amazing, right?
I received a once in a lifetime opportunity to do something I am extremely passionate about and share that with others, but I also got to do it while making a Cypriot family 7,000 miles away from home. The greatest part of my fellowship was going to help with practice in Iskele and then being invited for dinner every single week at Coach Sevki’s house; getting a coffee with Coach Koulendis to talk PeacePlayers strategy for hours after watching him work his magic at Faneromeni school; having a boss that is so supportive and helpful with anything issue or topic, from helping me with the annual budget to helping me cook a turkey for Thanksgiving. Jale Canlibalik is the greatest boss I will ever have.
Calling up PeacePlayers Coach Nicos Mashias to play pickup with International Fellow and great friend Jessica Walton on a random Tuesday night and then going out for a Mediterranean feast afterwards was a regular occurrence that I will miss forever. Asking PPI-CY Program Manager Stephanie Nicolas about political barriers to hosting an event and then calling her because I blew a tire again and need her help is a resource I will miss very much. But I know I have made a Cypriot family that I will have for life, and I couldn’t be more thankful for that.
While the details are different, I know the love, learning, and support to be the experience of each fellow at every site because I have had countless conversations with fellows from the other sites. After traveling to PeacePlayers-Middle East many times and seeing the impact a single fellow can have on a site and how much that site can have on a fellow, I knew it wasn’t only my experience. Now I have best friends like Heni Bizawi, Program Manager of PPI-ME, that I could ask for advice for our own programming and also someone who I count as a friend for life.
If you are thinking about applying to the fellowship but may not be sure how it will affect you with your career or if it will be everything you want it to be, then let me put your worries at ease. It will be the most transformational experience of your life. You are given the freedom to really make a difference and put your stamp on a program that is changing lives. Former fellows have gone on to work for the NBA, Nike, and attend Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service.
It has been very sad to see my time with PeacePlayers end, but I will be forever grateful for being able to do something I love with such amazing people. To use PPI-ME Fellow and friend Jamie Walsh’s words, “how lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
So if you are thinking about applying or know some who should, APPLY NOW!!!!!