The Skateistan skateboarding school first established in Kabul shelters girls and street kids from Afghanistan’s harsh realities. Since then, it has been so successful, the non-profit NGO has established two more locations.
Many do-gooders go to countries like Afghanistan, where culture prohibits girls from certain activities common in the west, in an effort to save them, but Australian skater Oliver Percovich took his mission one step further by consulting with the local community and government to establish a facility that fits in with the prevailing cultural ethos.
Although girls are not permitted to ride bicycles in Afghanistan (like Saudi), skateboarding is considered a perfectly modest activity.
So when Percovich first showed up on the streets of Kabul with three skateboards and found himself surrounded by happy faces eager to learn what to do with them, he faced few obstacles upon opening a skateboarding school.
“I always like to go high on the ramps,” said Hanifa, a 14 year old Afghan skater. “When I’m up there I feel free, like I’m flying. I like that feeling a lot.”
In fact, the Afghan National Olympic Committee donated the 5,428 square meters of land on which the first school was built, though certain cultural exigencies have to be observed, such as keeping girls and boys classes separate, and girls have to be instructed by females only.
In addition to teaching skateboarding, the facility offers educational classes, including environmental science, so that children between the ages of 5 and 18 are developing their minds along with their confidence and physical dexterity.
It is the first international development initiative to combine skateboarding with educational outcomes, according to its website.
Several years down the road, Skateistan has uplifted hundreds of children. Roughly 40 percent of them are girls, and 50 percent of them are either street kids or refugees. And after experiencing such great success in Kabul, they opened two more branches – first in Cambodia and most recently in Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan’s fourth largest city.
They have also established a grassroots street-level program in Pakistan.
“The students themselves decide what they want to learn – we connect them with a safe space and opportunities for them to develop the skills that they consider important,” according to Skateistan.
Since many of the children live in dangerous areas, the school even provides transport to ensure they are able to attend classes safely. Even so, a few children were once killed in a bombing attack, underscoring the devastating context in which this beautiful program uplifts our precious youth.
Images and video via Skateistan