Panelists Ali Fahour, Rodrigo Fonseca, Sara Potler-Lahayne, and Brendan Tuohey
Oliver Percovich, founder of Skateistan
Tami Hay of the Peres Center for Peace
Scott Lee shows how small
a land mine can be.
Eagles legend Brian Dawkins
What do Israeli and Palestinian children in Jerusalem have in common? Protestant and Catholic kids in Belfast? Sunni and Shia children in Kabul? The answer is a love of sports.
On September 10, activists who have been in all three cities to build peace and understanding through sports gathered at Neumann University. They shared stories of their methods and results at Beyond the Divide, a conference to explore how sports can bridge religious differences and reduce conflict.
Speaking at the conference were people from organizations that have successfully used sports to make sworn enemies recognize their common humanity.
“Kids who learn to play together can learn to live together,” explained Brendan Tuohey, capturing the theme of the conference. As executive director of Peace Players International, he has used basketball to build peace in South Africa and Northern Ireland.
Ali Fahour, founder of the Australian Football Rules Bachar Houli Islamic Program, agrees. “You leave religious views behind once you step on the pitch,” he stated.
Executive Director Oliver Percovich of Skateistan was eloquent in explaining the humanizing impact of teaching skateboarding in Afghanistan. “It’s powerful to see a young Afghan with a skateboard rather than a gun or a suicide vest.”
Sport and Social Change Director Tami Hay of the Peres Center for Peace shared stories of diffusing stereotypes by teaching Israeli and Palestinian children to play soccer and cricket.
“The priorities of the Center,” she said, “are to provide access to sports and to bring Israeli and Palestinian children together on a regular basis. It’s slow work and it takes time because the politicians want us apart.”
Also presenting were Spirit of Soccer CEO and Founder Scott Lee, who uses soccer camps in Iraq, Cambodia and Laos to teach children how to avoid land mines, and Move the World Founder and Fulbright Scholar Sara Potler-Lahayne, who uses creative movement to teach empathy and compassion in Colombia, the Philippines and Europe.
Philadelphia Eagles legend Brian Dawkins closed the day's proceedings with a talk at 2:40 p.m. Close to the end of his remarks, he compared faith to a muscle. “The more you use it and the more you trust it to lift more weight, the stronger it becomes.”
Dr. Rosalie Mirenda, president of Neumann University explained the appropriateness of the University hosting this event. “Neumann is home to the Institute for Sport, Spirituality and Character Development, which we founded in 1999. The Institute is committed to the belief that sport possesses an inescapable spiritual and ethical dimension. Exploring the uses of sport to build peace and raise awareness about our shared humanity is a noble cause that is perfectly matched to Neumann’s values.”
Beyond the Divide is part of the 2013 Beyond Sport Summit, which was in Philadelphia from September 9-11. Beyond Sport is a global initiative that seeks to celebrate and support any organization or individual with the goal to drive positive social change through sport.
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