(From TODAY producer Terry Schaefer)
As Today show producers, we often we have the privilege of meeting wonderful people doing good things. And experience helps us develop a sense of whether or not those things really impact the lives of others.
Peace Players International
Peace Players International – once called Playing for Peace – does just that. It is a remarkable non-profit organization, which was started by two young Washington, D.C. brothers, Brendan and Sean Touhey, to bring children in areas rife with conflict together on…of all places, a basketball court. WATCH VIDEO
Basketball?! Does everything have to be about sports, you might say? I did. But…no is the answer here. This only starts with sports. In most countries around the world, basketball is apolitical – neutral territory for kids 7 to 15 years old whose parents have been torn apart by years, even centuries of religious, political, and cultural differences. Kids who are often not even sure who their enemies are, or why they are supposed to hate them.
Sometimes great good really does come from a simple idea. Kids who play together can learn to live together. That is the basis on which Peace Players is built. Sean started by putting Protestant and Catholic children together on courts in Northern Ireland. He saw friendships develop -- hate-shattering friendships. He raced home to the United States and told Brendan what was happening. And the rest, as they say, is history. Seven years and growing.
Now, in South Africa…Northern Ireland…the Middle East…Cyprus…and soon, in New Orleans, children of conflict, often poor, are playing basketball together. Once on the court, they learn to like and understand one another – and while they are doing that, a growing web of local coaches, fired by Brendan and Sean’s passion, have become their mentors, teaching them other important life skills. Kids admire coaches. They let them in to their lives, sometimes into places their parents can’t go.
So, for instance, in South Africa, more than 3,000 children (so far!) are learning about HIV/AIDS, which has orphaned millions. First comes basketball, then comes trust. After trust, learning. After learning, powerful change. And the walls come tumbling down. Walls adults built. Barriers children are breaking.
OK, so it is based on a simple idea (one that is often complicated and difficult to execute). But in just over seven years, 45,000 children are truly bridging divides by making new friends. Children led by a wonderful, growing web of adults and coaches. Like Irishmen Trevor Ringland and Dave Cullen, a Protestant and a Catholic, who just won the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2007 ESPN ESPY awards this spring.
As one Irish mother said, “We’ve been in the dark place…” the dark place of hate. We’ve taken our kids there. And as Dave Cullen said so eloquently, when you make a friend you lose an enemy.
Ann Curry and I first watched this happen on basketball courts in South Africa in 2005. Today we bring you the story of Peace Players International. One orange ball, one child, one court, one country at a time.