The Colgate Scene
September 2002

The give and go
Basketball as a balm for children in strife-torn lands

Through Playing for Peace, a nonprofit organization headquartered in their parents' home, Brendan '96 and Devin Tuohey '02 (and their brother Sean) are using basketball as a tool of reconciliation in Durban, South Africa and Belfast, Northern Ireland. [Photo by Mark Abraham]

Devin Tuohey '02 freely admits he was nervous the first time he visited Umlazi, a black township near Durban, South Africa.

"When we told whites in Durban we were going to Umlazi they looked at us like we were crazy," the former Raider basketball player recalled. "They warned us to bring a knife or a gun for protection."

As he approached the township 15 miles outside of Durban, Devin saw depths of poverty he had barely imagined. How, he asked himself, can people live under such conditions and still maintain an optimistic view of life? He received a large part of the answer to that question when he got out of his car.

"We showed up and met the most open and friendly people there," Devin said. "The most willing to learn, and the most willing to be receptive."

The "we" in this instance is Playing for Peace, a organization that Tuohey's older brothers, Brendan '96 and Sean founded in December 2000. The nonprofit organization uses basketball as a tool for reconciliation in two countries that have seen more than their share of strife from racial, ethnic or religious conflict -- South Africa and Northern Ireland.

During the past two years, Playing for Peace has brought together thousands of children, ages 10 through 12, from diverse backgrounds to learn about basketball and, hopefully, about each other in ways that may help build a more peaceful future for their countries.

Their belief in the transformative potential of athletic competition was instilled in the Tuohey brothers while they were growing up in Washington, D.C., where the brothers each starred at Gonzaga High School. Basketball, explained Brendan, was a sport through which the brothers formed "great connections and relationships with all kinds of people."

"In all sports you need teamwork, but especially in basketball," said Brendan, a development officer at Gonzaga who also serves as junior varsity and assistant varsity coach of boys' basketball. "It's a great way to break down barriers and make friends. That's why we focus on 10 to 12 year olds. They're at an age where religious intolerance and racial prejudice aren't fully instilled in them. They're at an age where they're still learning and developing."

Playing for Peace grew out of Brendan's and Sean's respective experiences playing professional basketball in Ireland. After graduation from Colgate, Brendan played professional basketball for one year in Dublin, supplementing his income by coaching men's and women's basketball at a local college. At the urging of another former Raider player who played pro ball in Ireland, Jonathan Stone '92 (now associate director of programs for Playing for Peace), he got involved with cross-community youth basketball programs in locales along the border with Northern Ireland, and began to consider the potential positive impact of such programs in other places.

When Sean went to Ireland after graduating from Catholic University in 1999 he became involved with a program called Belfast Basketball Action for Local Schools (B.B.A.L.S.), an effort to bring Catholic and Protestant children together. Meanwhile, a Northern Ireland police chief he befriended had a contact in South Africa who was starting some grassroots community youth work. The chief thought that a program similar to B.B.A.L.S. might work there if the right person led the effort.

After Sean returned from Northern Ireland, the brothers started thinking about developing a program along similar lines as B.B.A.L.S. With the help of their father, an attorney, the Tuoheys incorporated Playing for Peace as a nonprofit organization and started raising money, using their parents' home as their headquarters. Sean, and later Devin, traveled to Durban and got things rolling there. Playing for Peace has been an overwhelming success in the short time it has been active in Durban, overseeing the construction of 30 basketball courts and enrolling more than 10,000 children from different races. That success was made possible by the dramatic growth in the organiza-tion's operating budget, which has gone from about $40,000 to more than $420,000 thanks to support from private foundations, the National Basketball Association and individual donors.

Playing for Peace not only teaches the fundamentals of basketball and teamwork to children, it also trains local coaches to administer its cross-community programs, leagues and tournaments. The program now has 42 coaches (including 13 women) to conduct program activities in and around Durban. The coaches are trained not only in basketball but also to become local community leaders, which Brendan said is important for the program's long-term sustainability.

Another key aspect of Playing for Peace is its willingness to partner with local organizations to address particular problems. In Durban this takes the form of combining basketball with AIDS awareness initiatives. (South Africa has one of the world's worst AIDS infection rates.) In Northern Ireland, Playing for Peace is working with B.B.A.L.S. and Cooperation Ireland to recruit local coaches to participate in an ongoing training program. American coaches (including Devin, James Detmer '02 and James Franke '02) will be in Belfast and Dungannon from August through June 2003 to organize and administer junior basketball clubs and to coordinate leagues, tournaments, clinics and other programs to facilitate integrated competition among Catholic and Protestant youth. The Tuoheys hope to enroll more than 5,000 children in Belfast in the next year.

"Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland live in different neighborhoods, go to different schools and play different sports," Brendan said. "Basketball is seen as an American sport and isn't seen as affiliated with either side."

Looking ahead, the Tuoheys are hopeful that Playing for Peace will grow and flourish. The organization, which recently received a Power of Good Award from the Institute for International Sport, plans to expand to Kosovo and Washington, D.C. in the near future.

"Look at the world today. Look at how many conflicts are going on. Many, if not most of them, are based on racial, religious or ethnic intolerance," said Brendan. "We work with children because if there is going to be a change in this world, if there is going to be a change in people's perceptions, it's going to start with young people."

(For more information, contact Playing for Peace, 1655 Kalmia Road, NW, Washington, D.C. 20012, or visit www.playingforpeace.org.)

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