Posted By: Sam Schwarz|Dated: May 29, 2013

It’s 2007, February, and Oliver Percovich is carrying three skateboards with him through Kabul. He’s headed for Makroyan Fountain, where ‘Ollie’ will meet up with a group of local children and teach the kids to pump around the inner lip and cruise the empty fountain. In this dried-up concrete ring, he will begin something amazing that in six years will have grown to an international skate school with a penchant for intense social empowerment: Skateistan.

Skateistan uses skateboarding as a hook for engaging the youth in troubled regions to break down social barriers and empower children from all ethnicities, abilities and social classes. Kids aged 5-17 are offered a safe place to practice skating, as well as actual classroom lessons to provide further education, skills and platforms for self-expression (including a photography and film program, classes for disabled youth, and back-to-school programs). As for the skate lessons, the children have access to a facility that would make most young rural skater in the west drool all over themselves, with ramps donated by IOU Ramps as well as a fully functioning rock climbing wall.

More than 350 kids regularly attend Skateistan for an hour of skating and an hour of classroom work, taught by both local and international instructors. The programs are designed for disabled accessibility and classroom activities for both literate and illiterate students using games, hands-on learning techniques, photography, painting, and puppetry. Classes have centered on interesting and important themes such as peace in Afghanistan, the future of Kabul, environmental health, and gender equality.

In fact, almost half of the students that attend Skateistan are girls; and in a country where gender equality is a serious issue, the NGO maintains a set of core values including complete unbiased equality. The organization pays extra attention to street-working children and girls, ensuring that they are engaged and offered all the same opportunities as other children.

The first major facility was opened in late October of 2009 thanks to a generous 5428 square meter land donation by the Afghan National Olympic Committee as well as significant donations from other key organizations. This past May, Skateistan was able to open a second facility in Mazar-e-Sharif almost three times the size of the first, with the capability to accommodate up to 1000 regular students.

Skateistan isn’t limited to Afghanistan, though, with two facilities in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, a grassroots street lesson program in Pakistan, and over 250 volunteers in 14 countries assisting the overall program. With sponsors and donors such as the German, Danish, and Norwegian embassies, the organization has managed to build and maintain their facilities. And with donations from Fallen Shoes, Spitfire, Quiksilver, TSG safety gear, Zero Skateboards, Theeve Trucks, and Lomography cameras; the kids are kitted out in fantastic equipment to help their skating progress.

In such a politically charged environment, with intense social disagreements, it would seem that the introduction of a culture of skateboarding could come as an intrusive, dangerous activity. And yet, Skateistan has thrived and the children with it, becoming the world’s first co-educational skateboarding school and an independent, neutral, Afghan NGO.

Documentary Short on Skateistan Kabul:


Skateistan Cambodia:


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About the Author:

Sam Schwarz is a philosophy graduate of the University of Edinburgh.

Sam grew up in Manhattan, and went on to attend the University of Edinburgh. In Edinburgh, he became part of a community of artists and skaters with music, street art, and video production being a large part of his life during his college years. After studying philosophy, Sam went on to work in London and then Bombay, beginning a career in advertising.

The views expressed above are those of the author, and not necessarily representative of the views of the Mahindra Group.

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  • Nick Pan

    This is a real cool initiative.

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