Ballymena Borough Council has engaged PeacePlayers International-Northern Ireland to provide its innovative Basketball Twinning Programme.
Over the course of 17 months, from November 2013 to March 2015, children from predominantly Catholic maintained schools and predominantly Protestant controlled schools in Ballymena will explore culture and identity through a series of basketball activities and community relations lessons.
Schools taking part in the programme include: St Paul’s Primary School & Harryville Primary School, St Patrick’s College & Ballee Community High School, St Brigid’s Primary School & Ballykeel Primary School, and St Colmcille’s Primary School & Camphill Primary School.
“The curriculum developed by PeacePlayers encourages children to ask questions about the conflict that is taking place around them,” said Gary Boyd, Community Sports Development Officer, Ballymena Borough Council.
“It also gives them tools they can use to understand this conflict when they encounter it face-to-face. As a result they are better prepared to promote peace in their part of the community.”
Students from the twinned schools come to the Seven Towers Leisure Centre for 90-minute sessions over the course of eight weeks.
During the first session students are introduced to their coaches and are given an overview of what they can expect during the Twinning.
They also learn the “three rules of PeacePlayers” and what will be expected from them over the coming seven weeks.
Importantly, at this stage students are placed on integrated teams and remain in these teams for the entire eight weeks. Frequently this is the first time they have played sport alongside a Catholic or Protestant team-mate.
During the remaining seven sessions the students rotate among four stations. Two stations are focused on learning the skills necessary to compete in the game of basketball.
Expertise is developed in dribbling, passing and shooting as they receive guidance from highly skilled coaches.
Students learn about teambuilding at one station, and engage in the PeacePlayers community relations curriculum at another (PeacePlayers has licensed many aspects of this curriculum from the Arbinger Institute, a recognized leader in peace building research).
During this last station students discuss topics like: developing self-awareness, self-respect, and self-esteem; the meaning behind the flags and symbols prevalent in our community; the effects of treating people like objects as opposed to treating them like people; and acknowledging that people differ in what they believe is right or wrong.
There is also a visit from a Police Service of Northern Ireland officer who speaks about anti-social behaviour, Ballymena Borough Councils Environmental Health Department who discuss healthy eating habits and the Hope Centre who deliver a dugs awareness talk.
Thanks to this project, children who normally wouldn’t have met, much less interacted with each other, are brought together to learn a new sport and to discuss difficult issues.
They will have tools they can use to better understand and manage the conflict that affects their lives on a daily basis.