May 21, 2013
Laureus supports and works with charity sports projects across the world. Here we talk to a young man from a basketball project in Cyprus to learn how the sport is helping bring both Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot youngsters together in friendship.
Alexis describes his home-town as a community of cuddlers. Loving hugs are shared between different families. Everyone, he says, knows everyone.
It’s a heart-warming image.
But if togetherness best describes where Alexis grew up in Cyprus’s Latsia, a darker tale of division and conflict characterises the country at large.
Cyprus has long been characterised by a Greek and Turkish ethnic divide. Following a conflict in 1974 the island was effectively cut in two. Greek Cypriots now inhabit the south, Turkish Cypriots the north.
Growing up in a country like this has left an indelible mark on young Alexis, one of curiosity and deep concern.
“As a young person, I would question what the other side think of me,” Alexis tells Laureus.com.
But answers would not be easy to find. He explains: “School doesn’t really help you with these questions. They just teach that the Turkish are bad, that they do harm to us. They would never say the conflict is our fault or anything like that. We are always the ‘good people’ in the conflict
“They didn’t tell the whole story.”
Alexis was passionate about finding a better understanding of his place in the world and of his homeland. To do so, Alexis turned to an unlikely source of education: Basketball.
And this was offered by the Laureus-supported sports charity PeacePlayers International [PPI] in Cyprus.
“I heard about PPI from a friend… I asked him to introduce me and from that time I have participated in every event.”
But, for Alexis, this was never just about playing basketball.
He explains: “I like to talk to people and I was looking to meet new people. Normally I would never come into contact with Turkish Cypriots, and had never met any before starting at PPI.
“I wanted to see how they communicated, how they lived as people. My friends would just say ‘they are bad,’ but I refused to believe them.
“I would only believe what I see.
“At the beginning, I didn’t know anyone! And because of the language barrier it was only through basketball that we learned about each other.
“But through basketball I got over my fears, my thoughts and the stereotypes that we were taught in school. Basketball helped me to become friends with those guys without even speaking!”
This is made possible by the incredible work Laureus achieves alongside PPI in Cyprus.
But this work is now going on across the world thanks to Laureus support of the PeacePlayers International sports charity in places as diverse as Northern Ireland, South Africa and the Middle East.
Now we are working together to design a training package that will help other sports charity projects use sport to tackle the kind of conflict and tension between communities as found in Cyprus.
Seeing this already take effect in the life of a single individual like Alexis makes the on-going project so exciting.
But what of the future for Alexis having finally found the answers to the questions he once looked so hard for?
Now the young Cypriot is keen to promote the sense of friendship and community he so loved in his hometown so it manifests itself between both Turkish and Greek Cypriots across the island.
He says: “My future plans are to play basketball in a team, to get my degree in Sport Science. But I also want to continue being a member of an organisation that helps to resolve conflicts.
“I appreciate that work. I want to see my country united again.”
Find out more about the work of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation here.