Afghan Girls On A Roll: Skateboarding School Offers Hope

By Dawn Montgomery

skateboarding-school-offers-hope.jpgA smiling girl negotiates a half-pipe on a skateboard in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Just a couple of years ago this would have been remarkable. Today it’s an everyday occurrence, thanks to Skateistan, Afghanistan’s first skateboarding school, founded by Australian skateboarders Oliver Percovich and Sharna Nolan.

When Percovich and Nolan arrived in Kabul in 2007, they found that children of all ages wanted to be shown how to skate. Stretching out the three boards they had brought with them, they developed a small skate school. Buoyed by their success with their first students, the pair brought more boards to Kabul and worked toward establishing an indoor skateboarding venue.

This 10-minute mini-documentary titled To Live And Skate Kabul is a fascinating insight into the project:

On October 29, 2009, Skateistan completed construction of an all-inclusive skatepark and educational facility on 5428 square meters of land donated by the Afghan National Olympic Committee.

Today, the school provides more than 300 boys and girls, ages five to 17, a chance to escape to a secure environment each week, safe from the tensions that mark everyday life in Kabul. The youngsters come for weekly skateboarding and educational classes.

For many youth, this is the only schooling they receive. Some of them have worked on the streets of Kabul since the age of seven or eight. And the girls have virtually no other chance to take part in sport. With separate teaching days for male and female students, as well as classes for the disabled, Skateistan is one of very few recreational spaces for girls and young women in Kabul.

While conditions for women in Afghanistan have improved since 2001 when the Taliban was overthrown, President Hamid Karzai’s March 2009 signing of the Shia Personal Status Law was a significant setback. The law prevents women from refusing sex with their husbands and from leaving the house without permission.

At Skateistan, girls face no such restrictions. The organization fosters an atmosphere of tolerance and equality, critical for all youngsters, male and female, growing up in a war-ravaged society.

Here’s what some of them say about their experience:

Skateboarding has been key in bringing together Afghan youth of all ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds, and the interaction is further built upon through classroom projects and discussion. The students themselves decide what they want to learn, while Skateistan provides them with the resources they need to develop skills and tell their own stories.

A climbing wall is the newest addition to the facility. Skateistan hopes there will be the same enthusiasm among Kabul's youth for rock climbing as there is for skateboarding.

According to Skateistan, youth (under 26) account for 70 percent of the country’s population and so the most worthwhile investment that can be made is to provide a space that encourages tolerance, a civil society built on trust, and opportunities for education.

In addition, the novelty of skateboarding means that there aren’t the social norms attached that prevent girls from taking part in other sports. To give girls in Kabul a venue to exercise, have fun and play together is one of the most important reasons Skateistan was created.

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