In Afghanistan, though, skateboarding isn’t as common a phenomenon. It’s becoming a big deal, though. Skateistan, Afghanistan’s first skateboarding school, is making a huge difference in the lives of young children, and especially in the lives of young women. Founded in 2009 by Australian skateboarder Oliver Percovich, the non-profit school educates young women and men while they learn how to skate — granting students confidence and developing leadership skills in the process.
By offering these young women the opportunity to learn something new in a non-traditional setting, Skateistan allows them to become involved in a special community of their own. Skateboarding didn’t really exist in Afghanistan prior, and girls were not allowed to do things like play soccer or ride bikes due to the fact that they were viewed as activities that were reserved exclusively for boys. Afghanistan is a country with a very traditional patriarchal culture, and many women are often married at a very young age to men much older than them. It has been proven time and again that providing young women with educational opportunities has a direct and positive impact on their quality of life, their self-sufficiency, and their odds of marrying at an older age to men of their choice.
In an interview with Marie Claire, Percovich explained that the majority of children in Afghanistan struggle with a lack of access to quality education. Percovich decided that he would contribute to solving the problem by helping these young people develop better leadership skills and harness their ability to solve complex problems. The school originally started with eight regular students –and has now grown to 1,500. And the organization has changed lives, there’s no doubt about that; several of the original students who were homeless and living on the streets are now managers on various projects that the organization is working on.
Participants are typically between the ages of 5 and 17, and the organization offers three programs: Skate and Create, which provides an hour of skateboarding and an hour of creative arts activities; Back to School, an accelerated learning program that provides the first three years of school to children that haven’t gone to school previously; and Youth Leadership, which highlights the top students from the first two programs and provides them with leadership opportunities.
Pro skateboarder Tony Hawk also serves on the Skateistan Advisory Board, and the organization hopes to grow to include over 100,000 participants in the future.
“I’m excited to see the impact Skateistan students will have on the countries where we operate,” Percovich told Marie Claire. “And I’d love for the first female president of Afghanistan to be a former Skateistan student. Then the country would be in good hands.”
Here’s to these girls grinding their ways to a better future, one olly at a time.
For more information on Skateistan and for ways that you can get involved with this awesome project, check out their website.