- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 22, 2002

Sean Tuohey is jumping up and down in the middle of the basketball court, dancing for joy as much as anything. Hundreds of kids are around him, jumping up and down as well.

In the townships of South Africa, moments of joy are worth this kind of celebration.

It is those moments of joy seen on a video waves of hope in a sea of hopelessness that Sean Tuohey, his brother Brendan and others hope to bring to some of the most desperate places in the world.

How? Through basketball. Hoop dreams.

Playing for Peace is the organization started by Sean Tuohey in December 2000 in Durban, South Africa, to bring children from different races, religions and cultures together in a place where the walls of mistrust and ignorance still stand.

"We are bringing kids together who have never been together," Sean said. "They have no concepts of each other other than what they have heard or read or been taught. They are learning about each other through basketball."

Basketball is a language in which the District's Tuohey boys are well versed. The sons of attorney Mark Tuohey, Sean, 26, and Brendan, 28, both starred at Gonzaga High School. Brendan played ball at Colgate University and Sean at Catholic University. They went on to play professional basketball briefly in Ireland.

When Sean went there in 1999, he became involved in a new program called Belfast Basketball Action for Local Schools, a program to bring both Catholic and Protestant children together in the embattled community. Sean embraced the program.

A Northern Ireland police chief and a friend of Sean's had a contact in South Africa who was starting some grassroots community youth work. The chief thought that something similar might work there as well given the right person. He suggested the idea to Sean, who jumped at the chance.

The Tuohey boys were raised with a sense of community service, and Sean was carrying it to new heights when he landed in South Africa on his own, faced with the prospects of building a new program called Playing for Peace with very lofty goals.

"People just kept pushing me in the right direction," Sean said. "When I got there, I found people were willing to embrace this idea, to bring kids together from different sides in such a divided community. These kids don't have much structure in their lives, and part of the problem they have is boredom. We are giving them structure and also teaching them as well."

That's why Emmanuel Madondo, a 22-year-old South African psychology student, got involved in Playing for Peace. "Because of the strife in our country, there is nothing for kids to do," Madondo said. "Everything is negative. Crime, racism, this is all they face and hear about. But there are no color lines in this program, no attachments to any race. But there is hope, and something good happening in their lives."

A video shows a day when kids, ages 10 to 12, from Clifton Prep, the most affluent white school in the suburbs of Durban, came to a black, poor township for a game. "These kids from Clifton had never been to a township before," Sean said. "They don't see it, they don't understand it, but have just been told that it's off limits. But now it is somaething real to them. And they loved playing against each other and learning about each other. It was something incredible to see."

Playing for Peace grew in Durban to the point where it helped build 30 basketball courts, hired 40 part-time coaches and enrolled about 10,000 kids, Sean said. The courts all have backboards with messages about AIDS awareness. Playing for Peace is conducting a survey to see what kids think of such issues as race to help better structure the program. "We're using these [surveys] to try to measure what these kids think about racism, and how they perceive themselves and their community," Sean said.

Sean managed to do all this with the help of friends, family, limited donors and those in South Africa who saw the results of the program. It was easy to involve Brendan, who is inspired by the courage of his younger brother. "He is quite amazing," Brendan said. "He doesn't fear things. He has a vision."

That vision is to see Playing for Peace grow and go into other areas of the world. The organization is sending five coaches to Northern Ireland in August including another Tuohey brother, 22-year-old Devin and eventually would like to go to Kosovo and other strife-filled places. The goal would be to put a program in place that will last.

"We want to get local involvement to the point where it is self-sustainable," said Brendan, who works at Gonzaga and is the junior varsity and assistant varsity basketball coach there. "But what we have been able to accomplish in the past two years, with just me and Sean, with limited resources, has been remarkable."

But to continue to grow, Playing for Peace will need more than good works.

The group hired a development director, Baltimore resident Thibault Manekin, to run the program in South Africa. The brothers are hoping to raise some much-needed money this summer. They have gotten the interest of a number of donors, including the NBA. Anyone interested in learning more about the program or donating can contact the organization through its Web site, www.playingforpeace.org.

Brendan is confident they will find donors. "We are seeing black and white kids in South Africa who have never talked to each other now learning to respect one another through basketball," he said. "I am confident this will work, but what I am most confident in is my brother."

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