PeacePlayers Welcome Refugee Children to their Summer Camp Programme
Watching Cypriot and refugee children play basketball together in the cool mountain air of Agros would convince anyone that social integration and peaceful coexistence is possible and easy to achieve. They are children aged between 12 and 18, Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots, as well as refugees living on the island, some of whom have never played basketball before and others who did not even think they liked this game. Yet, thanks to the initiative by PeacePlayers, they all came together. Watching them all in action, displaying genuine solidarity and a love to learn and play together, it becomes impossible – and irrelevant – to know who is from where.
PeacePlayers – Cyprus is a locally led, non-profit organization that aims to unite, educate and inspire young people in divided communities through basketball. They welcomed in their summer camp this year a number of refugees. One in five of the 54 participants were refugees from different countries including Syria, Cameroon and Iraq. PeacePlayers approached UNHCR in order to extend an invitation to children from refugee families living in Cyprus to participate in their summer camp programme that takes place annually at the Rodon Hotel in Agros. “We wanted to give these kids who have less opportunities the chance to try something they haven’t tried before,” said Stephanie Nicolas, PeacePlayers Cyprus Program Manager. With the community outreach assistance of Caritas Cyprus to identify interested families, all the spots being offered were filled.
“Our programme is all about how to view ‘the other’, seeing people as people, and putting things in perspective to find different ways of seeing and handling conflict,” said Stephanie. “The change is visible on the court, when we observe the teams showing care and respect for their opponents.” In addition to time on the court, the participants share accommodation, meals and leisure time together, as well as classroom time where peace education workshops take place. “We witness peer-to-peer support and team strengthening with the older kids towards the younger or newer participants,” said Stephanie. “It’s nice for us to see the kids participating actively in the class sessions too. Their confidence is really boosted and we are delighted when we witness integrated thinking from children as young as 12.”
All the participants will return from these experiences to their regular environments, and no doubt will take along with them the imprints from the week. Until then calls of encouragement from the sidelines are heard throughout each game, no matter which team scores. “Bravo Nicolas! Hatice! Cinderella! Mehmet! Katerina!” Constant praise and endless high-fives promote happiness and a genuine team spirit that captivates. The PeacePlayers camp is a slice of how society could look, if more boundaries and prejudices could be overcome.