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!