SEATTLE, Washington — In 2019, director Carol Dysinger shined a light on a very special initiative in Afghanistan, leading her to win an Academy Award. The country has many limits on the activities women and girls can participate in, including school and athletics. This is due to safety concerns as well as cultural norms. The country has been deemed “the worst place in the world to be born female.” However, in 2008, Australian skateboarder Oliver Percovich founded a nonprofit school to change that.
“Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)”
“Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)” is a short film that follows a group of girls at Skateistan, a school supported entirely by donations for children in poverty struck communities. Located in Kabul, Afghanistan, Skateistan teaches basic life and educational skills, such as reading, writing and math. But, it also teaches girls how to skateboard, which is something that girls would normally be frowned upon for doing. The school aims to help less fortunate young men and women join public school systems.
The school offers unique experiences to girls that have been previously encouraged to stay at home and do housework while their brothers would go and get an education. The school also gives them a safe space during any violence that occurs where they live.
The film follows students of the school as well as their teachers as both parties encourage each other to reach their full potential. It shows the teachers’ patience with the students as well as their ability to make the girls feel as though they matter when society tells them they don’t. “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone” has shown heart in a country criticized for its treatment of women.
Before attending Skateistan, some of the girls featured in the film said they spent their previous years selling gum and tea in order to make ends meet. The film shows how the school gives these girls freedom for the first time. They would never be able to freely skateboard in their neighborhoods without the possibility of violence. The school currently has close to 400 students ages 5 to 17 years old. While boys also attend the school, their classes are on separate days than the girls’ classes.
Creating the school has not been an easy task, and some of the teachers have put their reputation and safety at risk to help the girls of their community. One of the teachers interviewed in the film wished to not have her face shown out of fear that her family would tease her for the rest of her life after seeing her on television.
Struggles for Women in Afghanistan
In Afghanistan, only about a third of girls attend school. Only 13 percent of Afghan women are literate. Between 70 to 80 percent of women are forced into marriage at an early age, and almost 90 percent of Afghan women have been victims of domestic abuse. Many young girls often do not have hope that they can create a better future for themselves. However, Skateistan has made a positive impact on the lives of thousands of girls, teaching them that they are important.
The significance of “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone,” is that the film depicts hope in a country that is known to be struck with war, poverty and sexism. Viewers finally get to see that girls in Afghanistan have role models, dreams, interests and goals that they can achieve. Girls in Afghanistan are not always miserable. The film shows many of the students smiling and laughing with their friends and teachers. Though only 40 minutes long, “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone” has given an incredibly impactful nonprofit a mainstream platform and shows audiences how resilient young girls are.
– Alyson Kaufman
Photo: Wikimedia Commons