Skateistan has its origins in the war torn streets of Kabul, Afghanistan, where fighting had left not only scarred streets and buildings, but scarred people as well. In 2006 Australian skateboarder Oliver Percovich was visiting his then girlfriend who was in country as an aid worker, and brought his skateboard. The second he dropped it on the streets, children flocked to him and wanted to try, forgetting for a time the war that was raging and continues in the country. Subsequent trips would have him bringing other boards over, and soon Skateistan took form. Building from skateboarding’s best lessons and challenges; the organization hooks children with community and sport, and introduces them to leadership and education.
Why is it important?
Often times, in areas like Afghanistan, Cambodia, and South Africa where Skateistan has spread, youth have little to no opportunities in life, facing structural and historic barriers that keep many from reaching for their dreams. By presenting them with a skateboard and a safe place to skate, Skateistan takes many of them off the streets and away from the seductions of crime, violence, and other detrimental paths and presents them with opportunities and education instead.
Who do they reach?
Through generous and ongoing donations, Skateistan has been able to reach thousands of children and youth ages 5-17 with over 1,500 youth participating weekly in various programs throughout the world. Around 40% of the youth are girls, and 50% of them hold jobs to help keep their families afloat. Skateistan provides safe places for youth to skate, and learn. Some go on to Skateistan’s leadership programs where they are able to lead within the organization and community.
But why skateboarding?
Good question. In my experience, and that of many others, it comes down to the idea that skateboarding is an innately unnatural activity. It’s beautiful that way. You stand on a board of wood with four tiny wheels and kick the ground to move. It sways side to side, and every moment of use at first requires balance and focus. This makes for a challenging and absorbing activity with a no-shortcuts learning curve that bonds skaters together through the difficulty and constant practice required to progress in the sport. As skaters take to the streets environments change, remapping sidewalks into places to cruise and laugh with friends, tired crumbling architecture become puzzles waiting to be solved with ollies, kick flips, and grinds thrown in. Most importantly, skateboarding teaches that over time, obstacles that once seemed impossible can become sources of pride, achievement, and joy through persistence. A lesson that is invaluable to the future of anyone, let alone the disadvantaged youth that Skateistan works with.
With the recent opening of the newest Skateistan school in Johannesburg, South Africa,on August 1st 2016, Skateistan now has a headquarters in Africa, where it continues to spread the opportunities and community building that Skateistan represents. More information can be found on the organization here, or take ten minutes for this superbly shot documentary following the day to day lives of three students from Skateistan’s Afghan school.
David Bonomo is a freelance journalist who spent time studying Arabic and living in the Middle East. He first learned about Skateistan in 2011 while catching up with a friend he’d known in Palestine-
“I remember being a bit incredulous and oddly excited regarding the words ‘Afghanistan’ and ‘Skateboarding’ being in the same job description, but there was also the obvious pride and excitement Freddie had in working for the youth of Kabul through Skateistan. Since then I’ve been sure to keep my eye out for the organization.” -David
If you would like to support Skateistan, feel free to donate here!