- Internal Operations Manager, PeacePlayers Cyprus
What are contexts and issues that you work on? How are you using peace education to address these issues? What keeps you going?
For the last 46 years the community in Cyprus has been physically divided into two separate communities, Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots. Many inter-ethnic tensions have been raised these last years and individuals from both communities fear, do not trust or like each other. Through initiatives such as PeacePlayers-Cyprus, we use sport and especially the game of basketball as a tool to overcome inter-ethnic barriers that our community created 46 years ago. As the only year-round bi-communal youth sports organization on the island, PeacePlayers Cyprus brings together Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot youth to play, learn, and build meaningful friendships leaving behind generations of mistrust for a future of peace and unity. Observing the youth growing up with PeacePlayers and becoming young leaders and role models for younger participants and their communities, puts everything in perspective and through them you see hope that one day we will be able to coexist again and live on one united island.
What has been your most meaningful or noteworthy moment in your peace education career?
Every year PeacePlayers – Cyprus hosts its annual summer camp that takes place for 6 days and 5 nights in a hotel up in the mountains of Cyprus at a place where all our participants stay together and interact with one another each day. During the 2012 camp, I was interviewing participants for my thesis and one of the interviewees, a young 13 year old Greek-Cypriot, was the one that stood out to me the most. I was asking questions such as, what do you think about the Turkish-Cypriots overall, and his answer was “The thing that separated the two communities was the war, they took our villages and they still continue to do so, we need to become one and they should give us back our homes”. He also pointed out that there cannot be peaceful relationships between Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots and the future of Cyprus might still be the same or even worse and that the Turks can occupy the rest of Cyprus. Nevertheless, after 6 days interacting with Turkish-Cypriot participants and coaches, the same 13 year old boy came back in the interview room with a different attitude, a more positive one towards the Turkish-Cypriots. He stated “I thought Turkish-Cypriots were bad people but after interacting with them I found out that they are good”, thus throughout his PPI-CY camp experience he also changed his mind regarding peaceful relations between Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots. “When I found out and other people can find out that Turkish-Cypriots are good people, we will be able to become one and live together”. Through the yearlong work of PeacePlayers - Cyprus, the interactions, teamwork, leadership, cooperation and communication workshops we have, we managed to change the perceptions of this 13 year old boy and many more participants throughout the years.
How and why did you start working in peace education?
My involvement in basketball has led me to participate in Doves Olympic Movement a bi-communal sport educational initiative that began in Cyprus in 2005. With the help and support from Doves Olympic Movement I gained scholarships to participate in extensive Youth leadership programs in Cyprus and the USA (World Scholars Athlete Games, Leadership Camps and workshops). I started in this program as a youth participant, youth leader and since the summer of 2008 I was actively engaged in all the programmatic and educational activities of the organization as an Instructor and Project Coordinator. I also knew about PeacePlayers and the work they do but was too old at the time to take part as a participant. So in 2011 when I found out they were hosting a summer camp I immediately contacted them to help out. That’s when I started working for PeacePlayers, I was a coach during their summer camps, twinings and Leadership development programs, and finally when I graduated from university I was offered a full time position at the organization.