Four Wheels and a Vi­sion

Will Skateis­tan se­cure the fu­ture of Afghanistan’s chil­dren dur­ing un­sta­ble times?

Southasia - - Sports Skateboarding - By Muhammad Omar Iftikhar Muhammad Omar Iftikhar is As­sis­tant Edi­tor at SouthAsia. He writes on re­gional is­sues and so­cial ac­tivism.

Dev­as­ta­tion has be­come syn­ony­mous with Afghanistan’s state post-9/11. While the coun­try is now grad­u­ally mov­ing away from its dark past and em­brac­ing moder­nity, Afghanistan’s youth re­main want­ing. With un­cer­tainty loom­ing ahead in the post-2014 sce­nario, com­mu­nity build­ing has be­come the pri­mary ob­jec­tive. Ed­u­ca­tion, in many dif­fer­ent forms, can trans­form the lives of Afghan chil­dren. To­day, young Afghans read­ily take to the con­cept of Skateis­tan, one such ini­tia­tive where chil­dren re­ceive skate­board­ing lessons along with class­room learn­ing.

Skateis­tan was founded by an Aus­tralian pro­fes­sional skate­boarder, Oliver Per­covich, who vis­ited Afghanistan in 2007. Im­pressed by the en­thu­si­asm dis­played by Afghan chil­dren to learn skate­board­ing, Per­covich re­al­ized that lo­cal chil­dren, es­pe­cially girls, lacked the op­por­tu­ni­ties for growth and skate­board­ing could be­come a vi­able sport in com­mu­nity build­ing. Skateis­tan be­gan as a Kabul-based Afghan NGO that now func­tions as an in­ter­na­tional non-profit char­ity. In­ter­nally dis­placed chil­dren com­prise nearly half of the stu­dents en­rolled at Skateis­tan, who lack ac­cess to proper school­ing and nearly 40% of them are girls.

With a dearth of for­mal ed­u­ca­tion fa­cil­i­ties in Afghanistan and the aca­demic in­fra­struc­ture in sham­bles, Skateis­tan at­tempts to guide the youth in break­ing the shack­les of de­feat. The pro­ject pro­vides ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion, fo­cus­ing es­pe­cially on girls and work­ing chil­dren, de­vel­ops lead­er­ship op­por­tu­ni­ties and builds friend­ship, trust, and so­cial cap­i­tal.

Skateis­tan’s ef­forts bore fruit in 2009 when it re­ceived the first prize in ‘Ar­chi­tec­ture for Sport with a So­cial Out­come’ in the ‘Ar­chi­tec­ture for Hu­man­ity and Gamechanger’ com­pe­ti­tion for Nike. Dur­ing the same year, Skateis­tan re­ceived the ‘NGO of the year Award’ at the ‘Peace and Sport Fo­rum’ in Monaco; while in 2012, Be­yond Sports, a Lon­don-based global NGO pre­sented Skateis­tan with the

‘In­no­va­tion through Sport Award.’

The Skateis­tan Pro­ject aims to elim­i­nate class dif­fer­ences, break eth­nic and so­cioe­co­nomic bar­ri­ers and gen­er­ate so­cial set­tings where street chil­dren study along­side those from af­flu­ent back­grounds. Even with a mod­ern syl­labus and a co-ed­u­ca­tion setup, the school holds classes for girls and boys on dif­fer­ent days. Stu­dents at­tend the school once a week for an hour for skate­board­ing and for an hour for class­room learn­ing. The skate­board­ing ses­sions in­clude 10 min­utes of warmup ex­er­cises, 30 min­utes of in­struc­tion and 10 min­utes of free skat­ing that al­lows chil­dren to over­come their fears and en­gage in self-learn­ing.

Spe­cially de­signed class­room lessons cre­ate har­mony in­stead of bridg­ing the chil­dren over aca­demic qual­i­fi­ca­tion and so­cial sta­tus. Creative arts projects such as pho­tog­ra­phy, paint­ing, theatre, and pup­petry help the chil­dren break free from my­opia and em­brace orig­i­nal­ity in thought.

Skateis­tan con­structed an all-inclusive Skateis­tan Park and an ed­u­ca­tional fa­cil­ity in Oc­to­ber 2009. The Afghan National Olympic Com­mit­tee (ANOC) do­nated the land while IOU (In­no­va­tive - Orig­i­nal - Unique) Ramps built the in­te­rior. Skateis­tan has emerged from the ashes of de­struc­tion as Afghanistan’s first skate­board­ing school and aims to build more skate­board­ing fa­cil­i­ties across the coun­try where the youth can tran­scend so­cial bar­ri­ers and be­come part of a united Afghan com­mu­nity. The school draws nearly 350 stu­dents in the age bracket of 15-17 com­pris­ing kids who hail from di­verse eth­nic back­grounds such as Pash­tun, Hazara, Uzbek and Ta­jik. Skate­board­ing is gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity in Afghanistan where football is the other pop­u­lar sport. Other sports played in the coun­try in­clude cricket, vol­ley­ball, boxing, ice skat­ing, bowl­ing, and chess. Afghan play­ers sel­dom play in­ter­na­tional matches ex­cept for par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Olympics or play­ing cricket tour­na­ments; how­ever, they do com­pete at the national level.

Al­though Skateis­tan is an Afghan NGO, its in­ter­na­tional pres­ence in 14 coun­tries with over 250 vol­un­teers is a tes­ti­mony to its suc­cess. In 2010, vol­un­teers raised nearly USD $200,000 world­wide that helped re­fur­bish the NGO’s fa­cil­i­ties. ANOC is the fron­trun­ner in pro­vid­ing Skateis­tan with a 10-year land lease for its Kabul fa­cil­ity and has ar­ranged land for a sec­ond fa­cil­ity in Mazar-e-Sharif in 2011. Oliver Per­covich acts as an ad­vi­sor to the ANOC, fa­cil­i­tat­ing in­ter­na­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties and pro­mot­ing sports in Afghanistan. Skateis­tan en­gages the youth in cross-cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties, ed­u­ca­tion and em­pow­er­ment pro­grams.

Ed­u­ca­tional part­ner­ships of Skateis­tan in­clude a mul­ti­me­dia li­brary and in­ter­na­tional youth ex­change pro­ject funded by AusAID, and Skateis­tan’s Youth, Arts, Peace! (YAP!) sup­ported by the UN As­sis­tance Mis­sion in Afghanistan (UNAMA). In ad­di­tion, Skateis­tan joined hands with the French NGO Pour une Sourire D’En­fant in Phnom Penh to help build Cam­bo­dia’s first skatepark in Fe­bru­ary 2011.

Afghanistan is grad­u­ally ac­cept­ing in­no­va­tion and pur­su­ing aca­demic op­por­tu­ni­ties for chil­dren. How­ever, the threat from fun­da­men­tal fac­tions still haunts in­ter­na­tional in­vestors. There might be a change in the ex­trem­ists’ heart, who have sur­vived a decade un­der the con­trol of the U.S.-led NATO forces and have seen de­vel­op­ment work in all sec­tors. Nev­er­the­less, ter­ror can strike at any mo­ment and Skateis­tan must take pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sures to avoid any un­fore­seen in­ci­dents. How­ever, ac­cord­ing to the founders, de­ploy­ing se­cu­rity guards at the cam­pus will send a neg­a­tive im­age that Skateis­tan has a se­lec­tive ad­mis­sion pol­icy, which is one rea­son why the pro­ject has never had any such se­cu­rity plan.

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