NEW YORK, USA, 26 December 2012 – In 2007, Oliver Percovich landed in Kabul with nothing more than a couple of skateboards. Having learned to skateboard when he was 6 years old, Mr. Percovich had embraced the sport as a big part of his personality. But he never thought that this passion would lead to the creation of one of the most beloved projects in Afghanistan – Skateistan, a place where girls and boys go to skate and receive an education.
In this instalment, UNICEF’s podcast moderator Femi Oke spoke with Oliver Percovich, Skateistan’s Founder and Executive Director and Benafsha Tasmim, Educational and Cultural advisor to Skateistan’s team in Kabul.
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Opportunities for empowerment
Since its inception, Skateistan has combined skateboarding and education in programmes that inspire cross-cultural interaction and opportunities for personal empowerment for the most marginalized children. Currently, there are 400 students involved in the organization, of whom half are street working children and 40 per cent are girls.
Discussing what triggered him into founding Skateistan, Mr. Percovich said, “A lot of children were very interested in trying out a skateboard, including girls, and that was something that really caught my attention. I also noticed that many projects brought up by people in donor countries…don’t work because they don’t have local ownership, and children weren’t actually giving my skateboards back, so I thought – well, they got ownership over my skateboard; let’s see if we can make this grow.”
Participation of girls
Attracting girl students to skate and participate in the classes has not been easy in Afghanistan. Traditional customs forbid girls to associate with men in public after they hit adolescence at the age of 12. To address the issue, the Skateistan team has built a state-of-the-art indoor skate park and designed female-only classes. The team has also gone door to door explaining to families and community leaders the importance of girls’ education.
“We have our social worker – he regularly goes to their families to talk to mothers, to talk to fathers, to talk to brothers and discuss that it’s important for girls to have fun, to come and do sports and to get educated. So far, it has been good, and society is not so much against it,” said Ms. Tasmim. She also added that, in a society like Afghanistan’s, where physical movement for girls is so limited, the positive impact of skateboarding is easily noticed by society.
Interacting and building skills
According to Mr. Percovich, Skateistan’s key to success has been creating an environment where children’s creativity can flourish and where they can develop a variety of skills, including skateboarding, leadership, civic responsibility, multimedia, culture, traditions and peace.
By Rudina Vojvoda
“What we’re trying to achieve in the classroom is sharing between the students so what they learn is secondary to have them actually interact with each other,” said Mr. Percovich. He added that interaction is imperative in Afghanistan, where different ethnicities don’t easily accept each other and social disparities among a class of children are marked.
To learn more about Skateistan, visit: http://skateistan.org