That’s the name of an amazing skateboarding school, founded in Kabul in 2007 with just a few students, which has now grown to a weekly enrollment of more than 400 students, providing much needed support to Afghanistan’s youth.
From being a Kabul-based Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), the group has developed into an international non-profit charity providing skateboarding and educational programming in Afghanistan, Cambodia and Pakistan.
From the Skateistan website:
Skateboarding in Afghanistan?
Absolutely. As soon as Australian skateboarder Oliver Percovich dropped his board in Kabul in 2007, he was surrounded by the eager faces of children of all ages who wanted to be shown how to skate. Stretching out the three boards he and a former girlfriend/aidworker had brought with them, “Ollie” began dedicating himself to the creation of a small skate school in Afghanistan.
A group of Afghan friends (aged 18-22) who were naturals at skateboarding shared the three boards and quickly progressed in their new favourite sport—and so skateboarding hit Afghanistan. The success with the first students prompted Ollie to think bigger: by bringing more boards back to Kabul and establishing an indoor skateboarding venue, the program would be able to teach many more youth, and also be able to provide older girls with a private facility to continue skateboarding.
The mission statement of Skateistan speaks of using skateboarding as a tool for empowerment by:
• providing access to education
• focusing especially on girls and working children
• developing leadership opportunities
• building friendship, trust, and social capital
How does Skateistan work?
Skateboarding is used as a hook to entice hard-to-reach young people. Participants in Kabul come from a wide variety of Afghanistan’s ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, and include 40% female students, hundreds of street working children and youth with disabilities.
These young people are attracted by the free skateboarding lessons, but they also get regular classroom instruction.
Skateistan currently operates six days a week for children ages 5–17. Girls and boys attend once a week, on separate days, and they get one hour of skateboarding along with one hour of classroom programming, taught by both Afghan and international instructors.
The curriculum for the classroom varies, depending on the students, but includes a back-to-school program for street working children, as well as classes designed for disabled youth. Since students are both literate and illiterate, lessons provide basic reading and writing skills, but also incorporate hands-on projects such as photography, puppetry, painting and drama. The curriculum is constantly changing, but previous themes have been environmental health, the future of Kabul, peace in Afghanistan, gender equality and culture.
Just as I was reading about Skateistan, I was excited to come across this article in The Guardian, documenting how uniformed women in Afghanistan are taking on the Taliban. According the The Guardian, there are 27 female police officers in Helmand province; although most of them are restricted to doing body-search duty, a few have become detectives, and others are lobbying for firearms and driving training.
Also from The Guardian:
The government in Kabul has made some efforts to change the culture; it set up a ministry of women’s affairs, and the country has a constitution that enshrines women’s rights to equality, work and education. In 2001, only 5,000 girls were enrolled in schools across the country – by last year that figure had shot up to 2.7 million.
There are 69 female members of parliament, making up more than a quarter of the total (27.7%) – a higher proportion than in France, Canada and the UK – and in 2009, the Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women was passed.
So hopefully the situation for Afghan women is improving.
Certainly, to judge by this video, girl power in Afghanistan is looking good!
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Photo Credit: screenshot from Vimeo video