Jasmine Bishop realizes now it was her Welcome to Northern Ireland moment.

As a basketball coach with Peace Players International, Bishop teaches the game to Catholic and Protestant children descended from generations that have hated each other.

“I had one session, a kid stand up in the middle of it, saying ‘I hate Catholics.’ One of the other coaches pulled him aside and was, ‘Do you hate me?’ He’s like, ‘No, I love you.’ She’s like ‘Well, I’m Catholic,'” Bishop said.

Bishop said she could see the boy instantly begin rethinking his position.

“You see that light bulb go off,” Bishop said.

A Waterville native and Thomas College graduate, Bishop, 26, is home while she renewes her visa. She expects to go back to Northern Ireland in a week or so for a second year with Peace Players. A captain of the women’s basketball team while at Thomas, Bishop is all in when it comes to Peace Players’ motto: If you can play together, you can learn to live together.

“You can still see some of it. You see it separated by Catholic and Protestant communities. It’s all marked off by flags, or the curbs are painted,” Bishop said. “Some of the kids still feel umcomfortable going into the other territories. In our program, we see them hanging out with everyone. Our participants, they don’t care. Catholic, Protestant, they’re making friends.”

Peace Players is set up in hot spots around world, inplaces like Cyprus, the Middle East, and South Africa as well as Northern Ireland. Places where hate for somebody different has devolved into violence far too often. In Northern Ireland, participation in sports has long broken down by religious lines. Gaelic football, for instance, is a Catholic sport. Protestants play rugby. Basketball, however, is relatively new, and therefore neutral, so Bishhop and Peace Players can get children from both background involved, together. Bishop works with children between the ages of 8 and 18, and they pick up the game quickly, she said.

“The kids, they love to learn,” Bishop said.

Peace Players is one of a few organizations trying to lessen violence through sports. For decades, the Seeds of Peace camp in Otisfield has brought children from communities divided by conflict together. Before working with Peace Players, Bishop spent a year in Rwanda, a nation ravaged by genocide, working with the Boston-based Shooting Touch, coaching basketball and teaching health. In the bigger towns, Rwandan children learn English. Out in the more rural areas, the language barrier was a challenge. Bishop learned to teach the game through hand signals.

“The language barrier was really hard, but the kids, they were amazing. They always worked hard. If we didn’t have practice because it was raining, they were like, ‘Coach, teach me more.’ They always want to learn more,” Bishop said.

When she was settling into her South Belfast apartment in Northen Ireland, Bishop’s coworkers often checked on her to make sure everything was OK.

“I had hot water. I had electricity. I would go for a week without that in Rwanda,” Bishop said.

Now, Bishop can’t imagine a career outside sport for development. Her fellowship with Peace Players ends after her next year in Northen Ireland. Bishop already is looking into her next opportunity.

If you can play together, you can learn to live together. Can basketball help change the world? Bishop is sure going to try.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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