KABUL, Afghanistan — There are few sights more inspiring than a group of Afghani children landing kick flips like a pro. Kids are now flying up and down the ramps of Afghanistan’s capital city, Kabul, due to the award winning NGO Skateistan. This special school was developed as a means to engage Kabul’s impoverished and disadvantaged children both educationally and athletically.
Australian athlete Oliver Percovich first came to Afghanistan in 2007, bringing his skateboard and his talent with him. Witnessing the obvious fascination of the children of Kabul, none of whom had ever seen a skateboard before, inspired him to stay and share his skills with a generation in need.
The realm of opportunity Skateistan delivers is vast. Aside from skating, the school provides classes in more traditional educational topics, such as literacy and mathematics. Students are also encouraged to partake in the creative arts, environmental studies, and discussions about politics and international relations. Gym class remains the favorite, though, as many American schoolchildren can appreciate.
What is also broad is the range of students involved in this skateboarding movement. The literacy rate for girls in Afghanistan is only 18 percent, as opposed to 49 percent for boys. Impressively, Skateistan has a student body that is 40 percent female. Building an indoor skating park where girls could skate freely helped to facilitate this ratio.
Almost all of the several hundred children enrolled are refugees, orphans or street workers. In the city of Kabul, where 70,000 children live and work on the streets, a non-profit educational directive is direly needed and hugely valued. Skateistan also offers their students the opportunity to become paid instructors, giving them a future with alternative job possibilities to help support themselves and their families.
Percovich built Skateistan around the notion that all children deserve the right to play, despite any socioeconomic circumstances forcing them to grow up too fast. Sports foster feelings of confidence, teamwork, and mutual respect. The empowerment they offer female athletes, otherwise discouraged from such activities, is especially profound.
Skateistan’s website quotes 14-year-old Hanifa as saying “I always like to go high on the ramps. When I’m up there I feel free, like I’m flying. I like that feeling a lot.”
The growing popularity and international renown of Skateistan is depicted in the 2011 documentary “Skateistan: To Live and Skate in Kabul.” The film follows several of the school’s burgeoning athletes, both male and female, as they skate through their daily lives in Afghanistan. Since then, it has attracted the appreciation and funding from many major skateboard industry partners, as well as the governments of Canada, Germany and Norway.
In May 2013, Afghanistan welcomed a second Skateistan school, this one in Mazar-e-Sharif. In 2011, after a year of traveling to various public locations in the city, a branch was also opened in Phnom Penh. The organization hopes to keep the wheels turning in the near future with more facilities to accommodate a growing number of students.
– Stefanie Doucette