As a student at Radford University, Brian Shea could be found exploring the infinite outdoor opportunities available in the New River Valley. Or he could be spotted on the lacrosse field, playing defense. Or perhaps you could find him listening intently in classrooms filled with discussions about the use of the English language and project management. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that he is now working with an organization that utilizes a combination of physical activity, education and business development: PeacePlayers International (PPI).
In 2004, Shea began work for PPI, which uses basketball to educate children and communities in conflict regions. While in South Africa, he built the organization’s nonprofit endeavors and coordinated trainings for young men and women to become basketball coaches, facilitators, and managers. He also conducted workshops that focused on leadership and HIV/AIDS.
“Each day was filled with challenges. It was difficult to separate my job and personal life, especially when the South African government was not able to provide basic human rights to its population,” said Shea. “Most of the nation lives a daily struggle against poverty, crime, disease, and physical or sexual abuse. It’s a tragedy to see so many young people born into an environment where they were meant to fail, and in many cases, die before finishing high school.”
It is a job that would test the emotional strength of anyone, but Shea and his colleagues pressed on to develop the program using basketball drills created to exemplify life skills and community interaction, the heart of PPI. Today, 90 coaches and managers work for PPI-South Africa, teaching more than 2,000 youth each week.
As managing director of PPI-Cyprus for the past two years, Shea has been charged with developing an outreach program in the midst of what has been referred to as the “Cyprus Problem.”
“Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots suffer from barriers that hinder reconciliation and personal contact between the communities,” explained Shea. “The youth are mainly educated by negative perceptions in media, politics, and greater society. In order to establish PPI in Cyprus, we needed to secure financial stability and create local ownership by getting key Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots involved.”
Shea has worked diligently to establish a strong presence within each community, and so far, PPI has successfully implemented a program for more than 1,000 youth thanks to support from UNDP-ACT and Laureus Sport for Good Foundation.
Although the nature of his job takes him far from his alma mater, Shea’s time at RU is never far from his mind.
“[RU marketing department chair] James Lollar’s ‘Professional Selling’ course stimulated my concentration in marketing and management. He was an innovative, challenging professor, and cared for the students and his field of expertise,” said Shea. “Louis Gallo’s English courses increased my ability to understand the use of language. This is an essential tool, as I frequently work in communities where English is not the primary language. Both professors required discipline and creativity in problem solving, understanding different perspectives, and achieving desired outcomes.”
And thanks to a study abroad program at Salzburg College in Austria during his junior year, Shea was exposed to a new culture while studying international business. “That experience opened my eyes to new perspectives and a larger world,” said Shea. It’s a world that Shea is directly involved in changing and shaping, one child at a time.
“As citizens, we have a responsibility to educate ourselves and contribute towards social growth on a domestic and global scale,” he continued. “I encourage RU graduates to get involved with PPI.”
To learn more about PeacePlayers International, visit their website.