Skateistan and The UN, a kickflip and hope in Afghanistan

The World Urban forum was a tidal wave of impressions. Medellin is impressive and truly progressive when it comes to urban development. The possibilities are tremendous, given that so many people from all over the world come together and share their ideas and experiences.

One of these is Madina, a 16 year old girl from Afghanistan who has left her country for the first time to talk about Skateistan, a project giving opportunities of a better life for children and youth in Afghanistan and Cambodia.

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Madina is ‘one of the oldest students and most accomplished teachers representing Skateistan‘ and her story is touching as well as empowering. Young girls her age are living this life on a daily basis all over the world so it is therefor motivating to listen to Madina’s story and how she has developed over the past years:

 “In 2010 Madina was selling trinkets on the streets of Kabul in order to contribute to her families economy. She has six sisters and one brother (where most of them are younger than her), and while many Afghan families would keep their girls at home that is not an option for a family with only one son. One day Madina saw a group of young boys skateboarding and she asked them where they learned how to do it. From there she got introduced to her new found passion and Skateistan.”

Skateistan was founded in Kabul in 2007 where skater Oliver Percovich established a small skating school in Afghanistan. With a large amount of eager children and youth and only three skateboards they soon realised that the potential was big. They eventually made an indoor skate-park, imported more skateboards and made facilities where both girls and boys could safely participate.

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Skating is a way of connecting with children and youth whom are usually difficult to reach. It has a therapeutic effect on them and it is easier for them to open up and socialise when they are sharing a hobby.

With the big effect on the children and Youth, the people behind Skateistan has implemented education to the programme which is a big advantage – Skateistan has in addition to the skating a variety of programmes with different goals aiming to contribute to the development of young people between the ages of five and eighteen. One of the programmes is about creative self-expression whereas another one aims to create young leaders. Their program “back to school” gives children that have fallen out of the public school system a way to get back in. Skateistan also aims to have the participants progress within the system, which resulted in Madina becoming one of their employees.

   Skateistan engages over 400 young people every week. Some comes to skate, others paint, participate in classes or do other types of sports. Skateistan takes the children of the streets and has a unique way of reaching underprivileged young people. Skating as an activity in Afghanistan is still quite unknown, so all skateboards are either imported or made by themselves.

The kids at Skateistan gets the opportunity to start fresh with something unknown but yet very safe. Madina expresses that it takes some diplomacy and work to create an understanding among the parents that what they are doing is safe, especially when it comes to the girls. They have separate days for boys and girls, which makes it possible for many to participate. As it says on Skateistans website: “Afghan girls can´t ride a bike, but they can ride a skateboard”.

 

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– Safety is a relative term, and there is no doubt that for a country who is for the first time conducting to elections in a row there is still a lot of concerns. Madina hopes the future for Afghanistan is bright, and that girls and women will get more opportunities. She is still very aware of the realities. Strong forces do not want to see girls get the opportunities Skateistan is giving them, and there is always a risk of attacks. Madina talks about a friend from Skateistan who was killed in a suicide bombing. That is their reality, attacks on a regular basis and an overwhelming uncertainty of what might happen in the future.

Over 60% of the worlds urban dwellers have been victims of crime over the last five years. Developing countries have higher rates of crime and violence in their cities. Creating safer cities is among other things about infrastructure – proper lighting, transport and safe ways of travelling. Girls are particularly vulnerable in this context. An example is how many girls have reduced access to education because they rely on travelling while there is daylight, making them having to leave school before their classes have finished. At Skateistan they provide safe transport for girls, without it they could not have had nearly as many girls there as they do.

Safety in cities is still about more than physical conditions. It is about creating an environment where you can unfold without risk, and its about creating alternatives to an everyday life without sensible activities, a life that for many leads into crime or substance abuse. Skateistan represents such an alternative, targeting the most vulnerable and marginalised groups among children. Skateistan is about giving children and youth a possibility of a better life, but it is also about creating a sense of community. Skateistan is creating a generation that can contribute to society through the opportunity of individual and collective development. 68% of Afghanistan’s population is under the age of 25 – they are shaping the generation that will be responsible for developing the country, and they are giving the most vulnerable groups, girls, poor and disabled children a chance to take part in this.

– When Madina was 14 she spoke to the Afghan parliament about the challenges that young people in Kabul face. She is also the youngest person to have spoken at the TEDxKabul. When Madina speaks to an assembly of UN officials, politicians and civil society about Skateistan and the realities for children and youth in Afghanistan, they listen. It is both engaging, sore and completely unmasked. We must stand with Madina in the fight to give young people better opportunities – for play, education, work and a decent life.


 

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 – Madina teaching Tone (UN-Habitat) how to skate at World Urban Forum 7, Medellin.

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