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Stories, Weekly Interviews, things to see and footnotes.
Stories, Weekly Interviews, things to see and footnotes.
Stories, Weekly Interviews, things to see and footnotes.

June 4, 2019


Skateistan 5 minute read

Girls' Youth Leaders, Hanifa and Shogofa. © Skateistan
Girls' Youth Leaders Crew, Kabul. © Hamdullah Hamdard for Skateistan
Girls' Skate and Create Session, Phnom Penh. © Skateistan
Running Race, Mazar. © Skateistan
Girls' After School Skate and Creat Session, Phnom Penh. © Skateistan
Skate and Create, South Africa. © Tim Moolman for Skateistan
Outreach Girls' Session, Troyeville Johannesburg. © Nidaa Husain for Skateistan

In Afghanistan, it is deemed inappropriate for a woman to ride a bicycle. Despite its complete ban being overturned when the Taliban were toppled in 2001, it remains a taboo that many women are afraid to break. But while it might be frowned upon for a woman to be on two wheels, there is no such stigma attached to getting on four.

Author Gillian Orr

Skateistan, a non-profit organisation that uses skateboarding and education for youth empowerment, was set up in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, by Australian skateboarder Oliver Percovich in 2007. With a particular focus on tackling gender-based inequality, Skateistan has expanded its skate schools to Cambodia and South Africa. Over 40% of their students are girls aged between five and eighteen.
Childhood is tough in Afghanistan: illiteracy is rife, begging is common, and there is a shameful number of child drug addicts (the country produces 90 per cent of the world’s opium poppy supply). Percovich wanted Skateistan to be a place that inspired children, especially girls. “I want rich kids and poor kids, kids from different ethnic backgrounds and religious boundaries, all skating together,” he has said.
In Kabul, over 300 girls skate after school three times a week. Percovich reckons they are every bit as good as the boys: “They fall down just as hard and get back up just as quickly.”
In 2012, a skate school was opened in Cambodia, a country that UNICEF estimates sees half of all children experiencing at least one form of violence before the age of 18. Since opening, skating legend Tony Hawk has even dropped by to hang out with the girls and offer some tips.
Then in August of last year, Skateistan opened in South Africa, providing a safe space for children in dangerous environments. Violence against women is a huge problem in the country, and young girls living in places such as Johannesburg are particularly at risk. But this is a project about hope, not fear.
“These sessions help build confidence in the students because they get a chance to express themselves through skateboarding,” says Kelly Murray, the 27-year-old programs officer in Johannesburg. “When it’s girls-only, they don’t have the pressure from the boys, so the less-confident girls don’t feel intimidated.”
For Murray, the most rewarding part of her job is seeing the transformation in the girls.
“One of the female students started at skate school here on day one. She was extremely shy and couldn’t even stand on the skateboard. Now, just a few months later, she is dropping-in on the huge quarter pipe and has become really proactive in the sessions and has made a lot of friends.”
Simply watching the girls flip, grind, and carve can bring those who work with them to tears.
“I am overwhelmed with joy when I see the girls skate,” says Murray. “Since I started skating, I have always hoped to see a skate park full of girls skateboarding and because of Skateistan, this dream has come true.”

Skate and Create student
Eight years old
Johannesburg, South Africa

How old are you?
I'm eight years old.
Why did you start skateboarding?

I didn't have a place to play and then a friend showed me Skateistan. Then I knew I wanted to learn more about skateboarding.
How do you feel when you're skateboarding?
When I skate I feel very happy.
What is your favourite thing about Skateistan?
We learn more about things we didn't know about before. There's nothing we aren't learning here.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
When I grow up, I want to be a doctor so I can help my family and sick people. People who can't see and people who can't walk.

Skate and Create student, also on the student council
Age unknown
Mazar, Afghanistan

How long have you been with Skateistan?
I have been coming to Skateistan for almost one year.
How did you find out about Skateistan?
I was at public school and an educator came to visit our school. She told us about Skateistan’s activities — sports and education. I thought I would like to enrol myself at Skateistan.
What was your first time like there?
The first time I came to Skateistan, I liked the teacher's kindness to students.
What was your first time like on a skateboard? What do you like most about skating?
I always like to skate! My favourite thing to do on a skateboard is go down from big ramps.
What do you like about skate school and learning?
One of the good things that I like about skate school is that I made new friends! When I am at Skateistan, I am with my friends and they are making me really happy.
How did you spend your time before you joined Skateistan?
Before Skateistan I didn’t have as much to do — sometimes I went on courses to study but they were not a fun place. When I came to Skateistan, I was using my time a lot better.
What is the thing you are most proud of doing since you joined Skateistan?
When I skate with the Skateistan Educators, I am proud of myself. Also, when I joined the student council (a group of Skateistan students who are elected for the position) it was really cool and I was proud to be a leader.
What are you most proud of doing when not at Skateistan or with your friends/family?
When I am not at Skateistan, I study.
Any plans for what you want to do as you grow up?
When I grow up, I would like to be a journalist. I am trying now to find the way to become one.
Did you have these goals or dreams before you started skating? How have things changed?
I had never dreamed of skating and finding a place like Skateistan. It teaches us new activities, like sports, skating and learning. Skateistan has brought many changes to my life.
What is the most important thing that has happened to you since you joined Skateistan?
The most important thing for me is skating, learning new activities, and having conversations with the Skateistan Educators.

Skate and Create student and Youth Leader  
15 years old Phnom Penh, Cambodia

When did you first start with Skateistan?
I came to Skateistan because I love skating, growing my knowledge through education classes, and helping students in art class. Plus learning from creativity.
How does skating make you feel?
What I like about skateboarding is that when I feel stressed, I can release it by skating. Even if I fail, I have to get up and continue. If I play it very well, I can join in competition and make more friends everywhere.
Have you made friends since you started skating?
I have lots of friends with the students and staff here.
Do you want to skate when you’re older?
Yes, I want to be a pro girl skater and continue to help next generation kids to skate!
Apart from skating, what other activities do you enjoy doing?
As a youth leader, I help to teach in the classroom. We do different curriculum like gardening, child rights—things I hadn’t learned before.
Do you think you’ve changed since you started skating?
I didn’t know about Skateistan before, but since I came with my friends, I feel more comfortable and confident and have learned more from the educators that work at Skateistan. It’s a great opportunity for me to build my own future.
What’s your favourite skate trick?
I learned to ‘shuvit', ‘ollie’ and ‘kickflip' a little bit!

Skateistan believes girls have an equal right to be safe, play sport, go to school, have confidence and become leaders. At Skate Schools in Afghanistan, Cambodia and South Africa, youth are skateboarding and learning together in a much-needed safe space. A single donation will help empower girls through skateboarding and education. Skateistan wants to show other girls that they can do it too.