Skateistan began as a grassroots project on the streets of Kabul in 2007, and is now an award-winning, international non-profit with projects in Afghanistan, Cambodia, and South Africa, engaging more than 1200 youth each week. Its mission is to use skateboarding as a tool for educating, empowering, creating new opportunities, and driving potential for change in each student. It works with 5 – 25-year-olds and 40% of its students are female while 60% of the students are low-income street working children. The organization is based on values such as creativity, trust, respect, and equality, with a vision to change the lives of hundreds of thousands of youth through skateboarding and quality programs. In 2009, Skateistan completed construction of an all-inclusive skatepark and educational facility land donated by the Afghan National Olympic Committee. Skateistan's development aid programs work with growing numbers of marginalized youth through skateboarding and provide them with a variety of new opportunities, including cross-cultural interaction, education, and personal empowerment programs.
In 2007, Oliver Percovich, the founder, went to Kabul and noticed that skateboarding caught the eyes of the local children. Oliver envisioned a way to make a practical difference in these kids’ lives through this sport, and the rest is history.
We interviewed Lauren Marta, Skateistan’s Communications and Development Officer, who is currently working in Cambodia to raise awareness of their current efforts and accomplishments.
What are some of the major challenges that Skateistan has faced while trying to help the children in these third-world countries? How have you overcome them?
Security can be a pretty big challenge in Afghanistan, but Skateistan manages this by regularly communicating with all of our local stakeholders, such as the Afghan Olympic committee, local officials, and our Student Support Officer. The Student Support Officer regularly meets with student's families. While working in Afghanistan, cultural difference is another challenge, and we make enormous efforts to ensure that our programming is safe and also culturally appropriate. This is especially important for girls, since boys' and girls' have classes on different days of the week, with all-female teachers for the girls and safe transport to and from Skateistan. We also invite families to regular community events at the skate school.
Swapping skate stories in Afghanistan
(Photo Credit: Skateistan Photographer Chad Foreman)
We understand that Oliver's initial visit to Afghanistan wasn't to create Skateistan. However, how did he discover that one of the keys to empowering the youth and educating them was through skateboarding?
When Oliver arrived in Afghanistan, hardly anyone had seen a skateboard before. He started skating around the streets of Kabul and loads of street working kids started following him and wanting a turn. He noticed that some girls were starting to join in. He hadn't seen any girls play sports or even ride a bicycle up until that point, so it was pretty amazing that the community was accepting it. When he learned that only about 13% of Afghani females are literate, the connection fell into place and he had the idea of using the skateboard as a tool for education. Many of Skateistan’s first students were the same street working kids he first met, and now they are staffed at Skateistan, teaching the next generation.
Describe the initial stages at Skateistan and the reaction from the locals.
It wasn't easy to introduce a new sport in Afghanistan. Even though the kids and community members’ reactions to skateboarding were of excitement and awe, and many people were openly critical of Skateistan, calling it a stupid idea. However, when Oliver saw that it was possible for young girls to skateboard in the streets, it came to light how skateboarding could be used to connect more Afghan children with education. Now, Skateistan has grown to build the two largest indoor sporting facilities in Afghanistan, and another in Cambodia, with classrooms alongside each of the skate parks. We are building our newest skate school in Johannesburg, South Africa this year.
Learning to shred in Kabul
(Photo Credit: Skateistan)
What goals does Skateistan have for the future?
Skateistan puts a lot of effort into making sure each project runs with quality programs and local staff, so we will be putting all our energy into that for now, as well as building the new skate school in South Africa. In the next three years, we plan to work with 3,000 kids, develop the skill capacity and ownership of our local staff, and provide formalized education opportunities and training for our youth leaders.
How would someone apply to be an intern? Outline day to day activities of an intern's life abroad, and as well as what they might experience.
Due to the success of Skateistan's training programs and employment of local staff, fewer international employees are needed as interns nowadays. I might have been one of the last Skateistan interns, at least for the time being. I started as a Communications Intern at Skateistan for six months, one and a half years ago. I initially went through 3 stages of interviews back at home in Australia, and the next thing I knew I was on a plane to start the internship at Skateistan Cambodia! Life abroad can be challenging and test your ability to adapt to all kinds of situations, but it is also loads of fun. On a regular day, I will wake up and drive the motorcycle to work, stopping for some pork and rice (a common Cambodian breakfast) on the side of the road. Once at the skate park, I work in the office upstairs on projects or Skype with international staff, sometimes taking photographs of the sessions. Between sessions, I chat to the local staff (a mix of English and broken Khmer) and if it's a training day, conduct a workshop. Lunch is either traditional Cambodian food or there are many international food options in the city. If we have time in the afternoon or after work, I also skate a little! Today I'm working full-time as Skateistan's Communications and Development Officer and I'm based in Cambodia.
Skatepark opening by Skateistan in Cambodia
(Photo Credit: Skateistan)
What is one of your most memorable experiences within the organization?
My most memorable moment was during my first week working at Skateistan Cambodia. It was the first time I saw physically challenged students at the skate park. They were just having the best time, laughing and skating with their friends. For me, that was a concrete example of how universal and important skateboarding can be in transcending social barriers. In the skate park, everyone is equal. Afterward, I found out that in Cambodia, over half a million people are living with a disability and 50% are under 20 years old. When speaking with some of the students from Skateistan Cambodia's partner organizations, I was really moved to learn that these kids wake up hours ahead of time on the 'skate day' because they are so excited to come to the skate park.
If you would like to get involved with Skateistan, please click here. They have several options for you to help out. If you would like to support their cause and have them continue to make a difference in these countries, send a donation to show your interest. You can do this by visiting: www.skateistan.org/donate. If you learned something new from our interview, please leave a comment and let us know!
About The Interviewer:
Yogin Patel is a serial entrepreneur who currently attends Arizona State University. At the age of 16, Yogin became an independent marketing consultant, along with an avid blogger and online marketer. In the past year, Yogin has worked with several small businesses, including local restaurants, hotels, and personal brands. He builds clean websites, ranks businesses on the first page of Google, and manages social media for brands. In his free time, Yogin likes to read thought-provoking books and play basketball with friends. To learn more about Yogin, or to get in touch with him, go to YoginPatel.com, or add him on his LinkedIn. Yogin blogs at Doolid.com.