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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Teens from Cyprus here for the summer learn peace begins with friendship

The Cypriot teens at Great Falls.
Twenty teenagers from Cyprus are spending a few weeks in the D.C. area this summer, living with host families while they absorb American culture, go on outings, and make new friends.

But it’s not just fun and games. The teens are here with the Cyprus Friendship Program, which is aimed at building trust and understanding among people from the northern, Turkish-speaking part of the Mediterranean island and the southern, Greek-speaking part. The island has been split since 1983, when the Turkish-speaking area declared independence, and there is limited contact between the two sides.

During their stay in the United States, two Cypriot teens—one from each side of the island—stay in the same home for a month, sharing a room and participating in the host family’s activities. They also come together for community service activities and conflict resolution workshops.

“The island of Cyprus is really small, so a program like this can really make a difference,” says Amanda Messinger, a former Annandale resident who relocated to McLean, and has been hosting Cypriot youths since 2010.

“I’m having the time of my life,” says Kyriacos Neophytou, 16, who is staying with the Messingers. “It’s so green here,” he says, expressing surprise at all the lakes and trees.

Kyriacos, from the city of Nicosia in southern Cyprus, has bonded with his roommate, Barkın Cihanlı, also 16, from northern Cyprus. “We share everything. He is like my brother,” says Kyriacos.

Barkin agreed, noting that this is the first time he has had a friend from the south. “We are so similar,” he says. He was surprised to learn that “we a common language, and our food and traditional dances are very similar.”

They both swam on the Broyhill Crest swim team in Annandale, and Barkin placed second in the individual medley during Divisionals July 28. 

The teens take part in a conflict resolution workshop.
The Cyprus Friendship Program is modeled after the successful Children’s Friendship Project for Northern Ireland. The goal is to promote peaceful interaction, reconciliation and leadership skills in the teenagers who may well become the nation’s future leaders. 

The teens took part in a peacemaking session led by Colman McCarthy, founder and director of the Center for Teaching Peace. They helped ship donated bikes to Africa as volunteers with Bikes for the World. They visited Congress, worked on a sustainability project at Great Falls, and toured the United Nations headquarters on a trip to New York. And there was also time for fun outings to places like King’s Dominion.

Kyriacos is hopeful that programs like this will help Cypriots find a solution to the conflict between north and south. “I would like to see the country unified without borders and without violence,” he says. Barkin also wants to see his country united, “so people won’t have to cross a border to meet new friends.”

Barkin is studying for the SATs so he can attend college in the United States, because “they have the best universities in the world here.” He wants to pursue a double major in psychology and history. Kyriacos hopes to be an oceanologist.

“I love it here,” says Orla Nicole Hadjisofocleous, 15, from Nicosia, who is splitting her time here with the Fish and Blevins families.

A visit to the Capitol.
“People are really open minded and friendly here,” Orla says about her impressions of the United States, “and there are so many different kinds of people.” Her favorite experiences so far are the
ropes course at Hemlock Overlook Regional Park and the peacemaking session. She would like to come back and attend a U.S. college. Her goal is to be a human rights lawyer.

She also made friends with her roommate and says, “I’ve never gotten that close to anyone from the north before.”

If you would like to host a pair of Cypriot teens next summer, contact Mike Messinger.


  1. Wow, they seem like a great bunch of kids. Gives you hope that maybe someday soon things can work out. Good luck to all of you!

  2. Kind of cool...