Today’s blog was written by new International fellow Amber Brown.
On January 21st, I arrived in the beautiful island of Cyprus and became a part of something incredibly bigger than myself. After a 50 hour trip across four countries, I finally landed at the Larnaca airport where I was greeted by our awesome fellow Sean. Not knowing what to expect, but excited about everything, I sat back and took it all in as this was my first time out of the United States.
Prior to becoming an international fellow in Cyprus, I worked as an M&E intern in the Washington, D.C. office. It was there that I learned about the PeacePlayers International’s way of life. From that experience I fell deeply in love with the idea of using basketball to overcome conflict and build long-lasting peace in places like Cyprus.
So now that I have been experiencing Cyprus and doing PPI work for a little over a month, I thought I would share some of my perspectives from a neutral, outsiders view of what life is like on a beautiful, divided island.
Since November of 2017, PeacePlayers officially began their partnership with the joint education project IMAGINE, taking place under the auspices of the Bi-Communal Technical Committee of Education and implemented by the Association for Historical Dialogue and Research (AHDR) and the Home for Cooperation (H4C).
During my first work week, I had the opportunity to participate in one of the IMAGINE events, and it was one of the most magical, eye-opening days I have had so far.
In the PPI way of life, we understand that there are deep rooted stereotypes and views embedded in the minds of many youth who live in Cyprus due to the historical conflict that’s taken place. As PPI staff facilitates the bi-communal activities, you see the subtle non-verbal actions of kids being hesitant with their choices of who to choose as a partner, who to high-five or who to cheer on. For the first time, I saw these deep-rooted stereotypes come to life. It was so surprising to me, as an outsider. For anyone, it does not matter how many books you read, or how many YouTube videos you watch on the underpinnings of conflict that have taken place in Cyprus. It’s not until you witness first-hand, kids doubting if it is ok to play and interact with another kid simply because they are Greek-Cypriot (GC) or Turkish-Cypriot (TC), that you realize the kids today still carry these generations of mistrust, even 46 years following the United Nations implementation of a buffer zone for peace.
Make no mistake, the stereotypes and lasting effects of the conflict are real and still exist is Cyprus. However, in such a short period of time, so many positive changes took place in this one event and these stereotypes were dispelled. Eventually the TC children were running around cheering for their new GC friends, and vice versa. By the end of the day, if the kids did not have on different school uniforms, you would have no way to tell the kids were from one side or the other.
With all that said, the IMAGINE program partnership is just a small reflection of what happens when PPI holds twinning’s throughout island of Cyprus. The work of PPI is so critical for peace building and without twinning’s and physically bringing together youth from both sides, it is truly difficult to break these stereotypes.
So when PPI-CY is twinning, the whole island of Cyprus is winning and becoming a more peaceful and trusting place. I am so thankful and excited to be a part of such a meaningful organization.