Bringing out the Best: PeacePlayers International

How playing together turns enemies into friends

With the advent of Playworks’ 20th Anniversary and our aim of reaching 3.5 million kids in 7,000 schools by 2020, I've launched a blog that I am calling "Bringing out the Best." I welcome your ideas and suggestions for stories! 

Three years after entering the first ever integrated Jewish and Palestinian team into the Israeli National League, Peace Players International (PPI)—the Middle East‘s under-18 All Stars girls’ basketball team—won the National Championship for the Southern Region. While this doesn’t necessarily sound like a big deal, it is.

As ESPN wrote when covering the team’s win: “Their neighborhoods are less than two miles apart. Without this team, they would have spent a lifetime living next to each other, but never with each other, separated by an invisible boundary established decades ago and strengthened by years of war, sanctions, and distrust.”

Brendan Tuohey, Executive Director of PPI, explains that the goal isn’t to build the best athletes. Certainly fielding successful teams is a draw, and being seen as a competitive sports body is critical to attracting participants and to keeping them coming, but PPI is really about creating significant social change.

PPI unites communities in conflict through sport. By bringing together children from the opposite side of religious, ethnic, and cultural divides to develop friendship and mutual respect, PPI is a model for leveraging the power of play to bring out the best in all of us.

PPI has five offices around the world—in Israel; Belfast, Northern Ireland; Durban, South Africa; Cyprus; and Washington, DC. Founded by two basketball playing brothers, PPI reaches over 5,500 kids annually, and they have plans to expand their reach through training and partnerships—bringing programs to Ethiopia and Yemen in collaboration with Save the Children, and to Kansas City in conjunction with the Police Athletic League.

PPI also coordinates a fellowship program that promotes youth leadership for rising high school sophomores. The program creates advocates around the globe working for peace and using sport to do it. The program has operated in DC and Israel and will be offered again this summer in Belfast.

Change is a long process, Brendan insists, not just one and done. Frequent and long-term interaction among teammates is critical to PPI’s  impact: friendship and bonds are created over time as team mates play together. Slowly but surely, they are showing communities—and the world—the importance of play.

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