Meet Nathan

2022 Friendship Games Ambassador from South Africa

July 24, 2022
Updated October 3, 2022

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Nathan FG 2022 2

I was born here in Durban and we moved away when I was quite young. My dad was a rugby player. He’s now retired, but he’s played all over, so our family has moved around quite a bit. We’ve lived in five different countries: South Africa, Northern Ireland (we lived in Belfast actually), we lived in France, we lived in Italy and England. So yeah, we’ve been around quite a bit, and then we moved back to South Africa in 2016 and we’ve been here ever since.

 

I live in Hillcrest, which is quite far from Durban central. It’s a very well-off area, I could say. I love Durban – for the beaches, and the people are so nice. Everyone always says, you know “Nathan, why, why did you come back to South Africa? There’s so many problems with the country but, honestly, South Africans are so cool. And I love being close to the beach and being able to surf, and even though I’m terrible at surfing, just having that opportunity to do it is great.

 

If it wasn’t for my next door neighbor and living in Belfast, I might not have been involved in PeacePlayers today. I was six six or seven years old, living in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and my next door neighbor was a basketball coach. She ran a basketball program at a nearby school and I would always hear her son playing basketball in the garden, and sometimes the ball would go over the hedge and he’d ask me to get it and throw it back. But I was growing up around rugby, my dad being a rugby player, so I was never exposed to basketball as a sport. But she kind of introduced it to me, and I think on my seventh birthday, she gifted me a basketball, and she also lent us the basketball hoop so we set it up in our driveway and I would just I remember shooting for hours and hours and hours and hours with this with this next door neighbor who was just teaching me how to play and ever since then basketball has been my main sport i’ve been playing it for 12 years.

Q: What's the one thing that you'd want people to know about you?

I'm just happy to hear people's stories. I'm very open to people's ideologies and I like to know what people think about stuff and have conversations about our opinions and that kind of thing. I think it’s a very good way to learn to know someone very quickly.

Q: Do you have a special talent that most people don't know about?

I can do a rubik's cube in like two minutes.

Q: Who's your hero? Why?

It's such a stereotypical answer but I'd have to say my dad. My dad is really cool. He's just been a really good father figure to me, and I think he's taught me a lot you know, with sports and stuff. My friends will always say, “Nathan, your dad was this super successful rugby player and you're playing basketball. Like, what's going on?” But he's so chill about it. Both my brother and I are mainly basketball players and sometimes we think that he wants us to play rugby, but he's always so understanding about everything. He just lets us do our thing. He doesn't push anything onto us. He just lets us be our own person and discover our own things.

Q: What do you think are the most important attributes of a leader?

I think being able to communicate – that's probably the number one thing. Communication skills are crucial, in my opinion. And, being able to vocalize your thoughts. That's up there as well, because, especially if you're dealing with groups that are very diverse and have cultural differences, being able to find a middle ground so everyone can contribute to the conversation is probably the number one thing for leadership.

Q: What are you most looking forward to about Friendship Games?

I think just meeting everyone in person. You know, it feels like I've gotten to know these people from the online Friendship Gains over the past two years, and everyone is so cool. The past two years, every time the Friendship Games come around in July-August time, I always get so excited to see everyone, even if it's on camera, you know, because everyone is so cool and it's just such a cool community, so it'll be really nice to see everyone and meet them in person. I think that's the main thing that I'm looking forward to, and also playing basketball.

Q: Will it be your first time on an airplane? In another country? If so, what are you looking forward to about visiting another country? How do you feel about traveling abroad without your family?

Not my first time on an airplane, but I've never been to Israel. I've never been to any part of the Middle East or Eastern Europe or Asia. I'm really looking forward to the food because I've heard great things about it, and I'm a huge foodie. I love food too much. Without my family, oh it's gonna be hard, but I think it's good for me. I mean, I'm 19 now. I haven't traveled without my family before, at least overseas on a plane. So it'll be an interesting experience, but I think it's good for me. I'm becoming a bit more independent now and I'll definitely miss them, but I think it's going to be a cool experience traveling with a team as well, it’s a unique experience for someone to have.

Q: Is there anything you're nervous or unsure about going to the Friendship Games?

No, I don't think I'm nervous. I just think it'll take a while.This is my estimate. I think that it's going to take a while for everyone to get familiar with each other. Like, there's gonna be a bit of an awkward stage at the beginning, once we start the Friendship Games, but once we get the activities going and stuff, everyone's gonna be super comfortable with each other, so I'm looking forward to that, but you know that awkward stage, everyone has to go through it.

Q: Why do you think PeacePlayers wants to bring together 150 young people from around the world?

I think it's an event that is going to promote, it's going to develop so many of us, like there’s going to be 140 people, I think something like that. And I can guarantee that all of us are going to take away something different from the Games. I think it’s a really cool thing to do, because then once we come back and we have experienced the Friendship Games, then we're going to have a completely new perspective, maybe not completely new but something's going to change, you know. And I think just taking small steps towards being a better community as a whole and developing the youth is super important.

Q: If you could do anything you wanted when you grew up, what would it be/what's your biggest dream for the future - for yourself, for your family, for your community?

A vision that I have is just more inclusivity. I think a lot of the world is still very racially and culturally divided. I think if we break those walls down completely that'll be an awesome thing, so I think striving for that is my answer. I think just spreading awareness and making sure that everyone is educated on each other's culture and making sure that we're in the right headspace when we're talking to people of different cultures.

Q: What's it like in your city/town/neighborhood? How would you describe it to someone who's never been there?

Durban is like every other place in the world. There's places that are very well off that are very wealthy where there's mansions and then there's the townships and the rural areas and stuff that aren't as well off – like they have to walk kilometers and kilometers to go to school or to fetch water, whereas I can just turn on the tap and it's not a privilege for everyone in the place that I live, but I think our community in Durban is really strong. They have this completely different mentality of brotherhood and you get a really deep connection with the people that you go to school with.

Q: If you could time travel for one hour, where would you go? What would you do?

I'm definitely not going into the future. I don't want to mess with the future. That just sorts itself out. In terms of the past, I think being able to witness the first day of Nelson Mandela's freedom would be crazy. So I think I would just go back and spectate Nelson Mandela's release from prison.

We followed up with Nathan during the Games to hear about his experience in real time. Here’s what he had to say! 

Q: So, first of all, what's the most important thing that you've learned so far?

So the most important thing that I've learned this week is probably how fast people can get to know each other. I feel like these guys are already my family. It's actually crazy. And I think we can attribute that to PeacePlayers and the work that they're doing here just because of how open everyone is to different experiences and perspectives.

Q: And have there been any interesting things that you’ve learned from those other people that you've been meeting?

Yeah, definitely some interesting things that I've learned. So there's a lot of cultural differences, especially in the Middle East and Cyprus – like in Cyprus, they speak Turkish in the north and Greek in the south. So I've been trying to learn numbers and stuff, but then I spoke to a Greek [Cypriot] person. They were teaching me their number system. And then I went to a Turkish [Cypriot] person and I tried to be like, “Oh, I'm learning the language.” And then they were like, “Nope, we don't speak that one.”

Q: So, have you heard of people calling PeacePlayers a global movement? Is that a phrase that you've heard people say?

I think, yeah, I have actually heard it in a very specific context. It was the night before when we had the dance party and the Middle East [Palestinian and Israeli] ex participants, now coaches, came up and explained their story and how they became best friends. Everyone got really emotional. And I think that was because we all connected with the fact that we know this is a global movement and we know how much it can impact people all around the world.

Q: Awesome. What do you think that means to have a global movement? Like? What do you think has the power to do? Like a global movement versus like, let's say, just PeacePlayers South Africa,PeacePlayers Middle East? Like when you have all these different sites working together, like what is the power of that?

I think as one big PeacePlayers community, we've already been having discussions like I've been speaking with a few of the participants and we've been speaking about just making an impact on the world and changing certain things within our countries. We're talking about the advantages and disadvantages of living in a certain country, having poverty in a certain area, and just wanting to improve that in our communities. I think as a whole community, we can brainstorm ideas for other sites because then we have a different perspective coming in and it's maybe something that we've never thought about before. So I think that's really that's a really cool thing to have and something that we wouldn't have if we weren't one big global community.

Q: Okay. So do you think there are things that you as a young person or you as young people, all of you all together? I think there are things that you can accomplish that might be a little harder for older adults to do. Do you think there is something specific about being young and relatively at the beginning of your life journey?

I think something that we could do as the youth, something maybe that adults wouldn't be as inclined to do is just having the foresight. You know, we have so many years ahead of us and we really have the opportunity here and we have the time to think about what we're going to do in the future. And I think as an adult, life happens. You know, life happens and it moves quick. So you might not have that time or sometimes you don't make the time to sit and really think about what you're trying to accomplish in the future. But I think with this event, and especially with us being the youth, we can sit and really ponder on that.

Q: So, one of your coaches shared with us that you were going to the Western Wall [in the Old City of Jerusalem], and you were at the checkpoint you have to go through to get in. And a woman comes up to you, your whole group, and says that she's seen other folks with the same Friendship Games t-shirts on. And the coach said that without missing a beat, you were one of the first ones to sort of step up and share what was happening about what peaceplayers is, what this event was about. And I'm just curious, like what made you share what was going on with someone who you didn't know.

So basically what happened was we walked through security to get to the Western Wall area. And there was a woman who was going through security, and she kind of glanced at us and she saw the whole group there. And she said to us, “Oh, what are you guys doing here? Like, what is your what is your organization about?” And she noticed the puzzle [in the Friendship Games logo] and we were explaining to her, and she was already in such a positive light. You know, she approached us so kind-heartedly. And really, I just wanted to tell her what we were about so she could educate herself, I guess, and maybe do some more research into what PeacePlayers are about. But, I gave a quick description and just said that through basketball, we're developing the youth to be leaders, and we're coming here with the Friendship Games, with sites all around the world to make that happen. And she was really thankful for that. She was like, “Keep it going. We need more peace in the world. We need stuff like this to happen.” So what actually ended up happening afterwards is a few of the ladies from our group, the red group, took a red PeacePlayers shirt and our team bracelet and gave it to her while she was praying at the Western Wall. And she was praying and then she noticed the stuff there on the side and she thanked people quietly, and then she went on with her day. So I think that's really going to make an impact on her. And then hopefully she does some more research on her own about PeacePlayers. And you never know. Maybe she goes and makes another organization that can go on to do great things as well.

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