My name is Ryan McGarry, I’m 25 years old and I’ve worked for PeacePlayers – NI as a coach and coordinator for almost 5 years. In that time, I’ve taught and facilitated for thousands of young people from around the world. I’ve worked on learning sessions covering prejudice, stereotypes, discrimination and more. I’ve attended advanced workshops and classes on how to see people as people and not objects, how to deliver that message to young people, and how to assist future generations in learning the skills of peace building and conflict management.
Yet on my recent trip to the Middle East with PeacePlayers and the Lead4Peace programme, it was incredibly interesting to find out just how deep lying assumptions and stereotypes can stay within myself – someone who has studied and taught on the subject – and just how much more there is to learn.
Coach Ryan (right)
Two mentors leading an activity
I arrived as one of three coaches leading 15 participants and mentors. As coaches we are the role models for these young leaders to aspire to. However, every day I found myself in situations that challenged my perception of the world around me and the people within it.
One of the many great things about PeacePlayers is how these situations can arise. We had structured lessons for the participants and mentors every day, where conversations could take place; and questions about each other, our backgrounds and cultures could be heard. However, I personally found the informal time spent together perhaps even more intriguing for the lessons that you had to learn yourself about your assumptions you make when meeting new people.
Conversations with fellow coaches, staff and participants led to many realisations for myself about how I still had preconceived ideas about these people and places. From talking about the differences in religions and cultures between Christianity, Islam, ‘West’ and ‘East’, to late night discussions on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict with people who lived on both sides, it truly was an eye-opener into the ‘people’ that often get lumped together into the stereotypical groups that get discussed.
In 7 busy days, for myself alone, I had moments and conversations that challenged the ideas I have about:
Sex and Gender
Northern Ireland coaches Ryan, Nicole and Joanne
This is for a coach who wasn’t even taking part in the lessons that may have touched on these subjects. It goes to show just how much an impact this would have had on a younger participant, perhaps hearing and thinking about these things really for the first time, formally and informally.
I came home from the week physically and mentally exhausted, as I’m sure everyone did, but also with a deeper appreciation for so many people and places, and with the resolution to not let myself get caught up thinking I knew it all, when the truth is I’m not even close!