The mechanical sound of skateboarding wheels on concrete, the grunts and falls of riders is the last thing you expect to see on the streets of Kabul, but international NGO Skateistan somehow made that happen.
Skateistan was founded by Oliver Percovich – an Australian skateboarder who has held a lifelong passion for the sport and has been skateboarding since the age of six.
During a visit to Kabul in 2007, Percovich mesmerised kids on the streets with his skateboarding prowess and started giving out informal lessons, which eventually culminated in the formation of the NGO.
“Oliver noticed how skateboarding was helping to bridge divides that were entrenched elsewhere in society, such as economic status and ethnicity. Because skateboarding was new in Afghanistan, there were no rules preventing girls from joining in. Oliver realised he had tapped into something powerful,” Jessica Faulkner, Skateistan’s communications manager, told Sport360.
Skateistan’s first skate school was formally opened in 2009, where skateboarding and creative education were combined in the war-torn nation.
The same year, Skateistan won the NGO of the year award at the Peace and Sport Forum in Monaco and has gone on to win several awards since then and was also featured in the HundrED top 100 innovators in Education in 2018.
“Skateboarding offers children the chance to have fun – something that is not always part of their lives in the countries where we work. There is a freedom in skateboarding because there’s no right or wrong way to skate so children can express themselves and find their own style,” said Faulkner.
“Skateboarding can build resilience as there’s no way to get better without falling. Our students set themselves goals and this helps them to understand self-improvement.”
As of 2018, the school has over 2,500 active students, of which 50 per cent are girls.
13-year-old Ahmad and 12-year-old Madina are just two of the countless lives the school has changed (both Ahmad and Madina’s names have been changed, in line with Skateistan’s policy).
When asked about how Skateistan helped them, Madina said: “Skateistan helped me to develop myself and now my confidence is better than before. Now I can talk with elders, my family members and my teachers very easily.”
The 12-year-old Kabul native now aspires to be a teacher, a goal that she otherwise wouldn’t have been able to set for herself had it not been for the school.
“In the future I want to become a good teacher because teachers are like lights and the lights give brightness to others. I want to change other girls’ lives in the future,” said Madina.
Ahmad, on the other hand, fled his hometown in Afghanistan and lives in an internally displaced people’s camp in Mazar-e-Sharif, where he found a sanctuary in the skate school that gave him a purpose and taught him the importance of education.
“It helped me to see that I could learn new things and that education is important. Now I know how to read and write,” Ahmad told Sport360. “When I grow up, I want to build a facility like Skateistan, so that I could help the kids to learn new activities.”
Following the massive success of their operation in Afghanistan, Skateistan has opened have opened their facility in Cambodia and South Africa as well.
Afghanistan has had a very tumultuous political history and ever since 2001, the ongoing political and social troubles have left a power vacuum in the country, which plunged the country into deep crisis.
Under such circumstances, the organisation provides a creative outlet for kids along with access to education.
Moreover, since Skateboarding is set to make its debut appearance at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo 2020, the skate school opens up a wealth of opportunities for the youth, equipping them with the means to better their situation in the future.
To learn more and support Skateistan, you can log on to www.skateistan.org.
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