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.


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.


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”.



– 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.



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

Visit… Wadi Foukin

Sharek Youth Forum and Wadi Foukeen’s Youth Local Council Conduct the “Visit Wadi Foukeen” Campaign

Sharek Youth Forum alongside with Wadi Foukeen’s Youth Local Council conducted the campaign, “Visit Wadi Foukeen”, in hopes to shed the light on Palestinian farmers and show the cruel realities in which they face. By organizing regular visits from families and tourists and whilst inviting the media to document and track these violations we have been able to show what the village is currently experiencing. This was accomplished with the presence of more than 250 visitors and a number of officials including local and international organizations.

Abdel Sabaaneh, the Project Manager, affirmed that this campaign is one of many campaigns conducted by Sharek in accordance with local youth councils conducted by Sharek in accordance with local youth councils to promote youths’ role in their communities and ensure their active participation in making all possible changes.

Sabaneeh added, “These kinds of activities can help youth get involved and influence local government policies”.

Salah Baba, the Director of Agriculture in Bethlehem, asserted the importance of youth in preserving the local agriculture despite all the obstacles they currently face. Baba confirmed the necessity of continuous agriculture advancement in this village, stating that these factors help them supply the city with crops.

Furthermore, the Youth Local Council of Wadi Foukeen stressed that this campaign was born out of a sense of responsibility for the village. Expressing that they are determined to improve the situation of the village and preserve its’ cultural and natural heritage whilst promoting the role of Palestinian farmers and the resistance.

The council added that this is only their first step in encouraging the regular visits to the village and stated that they will not stop until they have fulfilled their duty.

“We Have a Role”, is a project implemented by Sharek Youth Forum alongside UNHABITAT and three local governing bodies that are located in Jenin, Bettir and Al-Khader. This project works to engage young people with their local governing bodies and encourage them to strive for policy development, further hoping to enhance their social accountability.


PDF download with pictures available here: wadi foukin

United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Forum on Youth 2014

There was a lot of talk surrounding the ECOSOC Youth Forum which took place on Monday June 2, 2014 and Tuesday 3, 2014 at the UN Headquarters in New York. These discussions focused on one clear mission: ‘mainstreaming youth in the post 2015 development agenda’. But, what exactly was the ECOSOC Youth Forum all about and why was it such an important milestone for global youth development and engagement?

The ECOSOC Youth Forum under the theme “#Youth 2015: Realizing the Future They Want” was organized by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) as part of the preparatory process for ECOSOC’s 2014 Annual Ministerial Review (AMR), which is scheduled to be held in July, under the theme: “Addressing on-going and emerging challenges for meeting the Millennium Development Goals in 2015 and for sustaining development gains in the future”.

The forum was organized specifically to engage young people from every side of the globe, to form a collective voice and speak on issues which affect them, and to safeguard their future and that of their countries. Youth representatives from around the globe participated in dialogue sessions such as “promoting youth employment-creating decent jobs for a more sustainable future” and “Youth: The Future They Want Beyond 2015.” Youth delegates were given the opportunity to listen and engage in an interactive discussion among themselves and with member states on how they could be included in shaping the post-2015 development agenda.

There were several breakout sessions which gave participants an opportunity to further engage in more in-depth discussions about these thematic areas: youth employment and entrepreneurship, education, health, governance and participation and peace building and stability. These themes followed the structure of the Post 2015 Crowdsourcing Initiative which was organized by the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, in partnership with other UN entities, international NGOs, youth groups and stakeholders, in an effort to promote youth priorities in the post-2015 development agenda. The outcomes from this Global Youth Call were further discussed in these breakout sessions and participants/youth delegates also outlined how they intend to maximize on the Global Youth Call initiative in their countries. Youth delegates were also urged to make recommendations on what further steps they can take to continue to advocate for youth inclusion and prioritizing youth issues in the Post 2015 agenda. These conclusions and recommendations will be shared with the council during the AMR in July.

Having attended the ECOSOC Forum, I saw firsthand the importance and benefits of this event on youth engagement and the mission to prioritize youth in the Post 2015 agenda. As a youth delegate, I was given a chance to engage in discussions with UN and other stakeholders regarding issues which affect youth in my country/region. Furthermore, I was able to share best practices for youth engagement in the Post 2015 Agenda. As a youth delegate, it is my duty to sensitize youth about the Post 2015 Agenda, share the discussions of the forum and create an action plan based on the needs of youth in my country.

Never before has the UN and its stakeholders presented so many opportunities for youth engagement. This year (2014) has presented so many opportunities for our collective voices to be heard. The ECOSOC Youth Forum was only of many opportunities for youth to speak on issues which affect them and make recommendations specific to their regions. We must take full advantage of all the attention we are getting; so start speaking up if you have not done so in the past…and remember…our future starts NOW!

To learn more about the ECOSOC Youth Forum 2014 and the Crowdsourcing initiative on youth in the post-2015 development agenda, visit and

On the way to creating a new urban agenda


Come 2016, the world is getting ready to establish a new urban agenda at the Habitat III meeting. Urban challenges and possibilities are all about youth and our livelihood. Lets make the new urban agenda a youth agenda.

Habitat III
In 2016 the UN-­conference on housing and sustainable development, Habitat III will set a new urban agenda, deciding what the governing principles for urban practice and development will be. It will reinforce the commitments made at Habitat II in Istanbul in 1996, and adapt the agenda to current reality and projections for the future. Habitat III will also be the first UN conference discussing the implementation of the post 2015-­agenda, the new development goals.

Habitat III is about creating progressive and universal goals for urban practice, but creating a new urban agenda is also about how this is implemented in national and local governance structures. In order to set good goals that can actually be implemented, the process needs to be an inclusive one from start to finish, and then ensuring lasting participation in the implementation, meaning good and inclusive governance structures- on international, regional, national and local level.

Urban youth
More than 18 per cent of today’s world population, are between the ages of 15 and 24, the UN definition of youth. 87 per cent of these live in developing countries. A growing number of youth live in urban areas. Youth in urban areas often lack access to housing, transportation and other basic services and have unequal access to opportunities for education, training, employment, and recreation. In other words, increasing numbers of young people live in cities where they face difficult economic, political and social challenges. The amount and scope of urban issues concerning youth are alarming, and it will be essential to address them in a new urban agenda. Youth then, must have a key role in creating and implementing the new urban agenda.

National Habitat reports
The process leading up towards Habitat III will be initiated by all member states creating a national report on best urban practices and challenges. The general assembly, through its resolution 67/216, paragraph 11, encouraged this process to include “…the active participation of all relevant stakeholders…”, stating that in writing this report, the national governments are strongly advised to have a broad inclusion of all stakeholders, including youth. The report is due on the 30th on june this year, and although the practice of creating the report will vary from country to country, youth participation needs to be a main focus for all.

Although 30th of june is right around the corner there is still a huge potential for youth and youth organization to give their input before it is finalized. We need to stress the importance of giving input on this specific report because the reports will be the basis for further work on the agenda. Come september the first preparatory committee for Habitat III will be held, and from here on it will only narrow down, and it will be extremely hard to get new thoughts added.

Most countries will probably facilitate some form of consultation, but unfortunately these consultations are not always as inclusive they should be-­ not reaching out to all relevant stakeholders, lack of practical information and done in a bit of a hurry a few weeks before the report is due, making it harder for the parts giving input to find the time and resources to do it. This is of course not the case for all, but it will be for some.

Inclusive consultations or not-­ give your input. National ministries have e-­mail addresses, mailboxes, facebook pages-­ you will be able to give your input even though you are not formally invited to.

In order to be able to get your organizations goals in the new urban agenda it should to be on the table for this first round. If youth are mobilized to give their input on the national report, it will send strong message on how important youth issues and participation is for the new urban agenda.

And then..?

Whats next you say? There will be three preparatory committee meetings which will discuss the agenda, one in september 2014, one in april 2015 and one right before Habitat III in 2016. Youth need to have a strong presence on all three, but also in between, pushing our governments to push the youth agenda. How? Lets discuss that further. In the meantime, get your best practices and ideas down on paper and push that youth agenda like never before. It is our urban future, let us be the one to create it.

Tone Vesterhus
Norwegian youth delegate on urbanization

World Urban Forum in Medellín, Colombia

First day at the World Urban Forum! Follow this blog and the YAB Facebook page to keep up with news from Medellín, Colombia!

Youth Advisory Board members met with representatives of the Medellín Youth Secretariat to discuss mutual objectives and ways to integrate their actions at the Youth Assembly and Forum. In addition to their collaboration at  the Youth Assembly, it was decided to organize a joint visit to innovative youth-led projects, in order to share information and experiences between Medellín youth and youth from around the world. The Youth Advisory Board thanks the Medellín staff for their warm welcome!

YAB Medellín
Youth Advisory Board members Dana, Maya and Edi with Medellín Youth Secretariat representatives Juan Camilo, Luz Marina and Julio

Positively influencing life in the slums


Raphael Obonyo’s story is one of a dogged determination that has seen him fight all odds to be an influential youth leader.

 Raphael grew up in Korogocho, a sprawling urban slum in Nairobi, Kenya where he has co-founded vibrant community youth led initiatives.

Raphael, 32 is the external adviser and a member of the UN Habitat’s Youth Advisory Board, which advises the agency on how to engage, integrate and respond effectively on issues affecting the youth. This puts Raphael at the global sphere of influential young leaders who can help shape the world by addressing post 2015 thematic issues that touch on the youth.

Recently, the German Marshall Fund of the United States has recognized Raphael Obonyo from Kenya as one of the emerging leaders.

In 2001, he co-founded Miss Koch initiative to promote girls’ empowerment and education. The initiative has done remarkable work of advocating for the rights and dignity of the girl child.  In 2006, together with other youth in the area, he co-founded the Koch FM community radio, to give voice to the urban poor. He is also the founder of the Youth Congress, a vibrant youth organization that promotes youth leadership and participation. He also co-founded the K Youth Media, an organization that equips youth from the slums of Nairobi with skills on media and film.

Having been born and raised in harsh conditions in the slums, Raphael has a first-hand experience and has been conscious of the negatives effects of urbanization, underdevelopment, poverty and its related problems. Raphael, has certainly come a long way from the days when he was a boy studying in the dim light of a tin lamp.

As such, Raphael tends to understand deeply the issues affecting the urban poor and their families. This could be one of the reasons as to why nothing beats his sheer determination to see young and needy brilliant students from Korogocho, Mathare and other urban slums get an education and liberate themselves from their hardships. In the true sense of the word, Raphael is an enemy of poverty.

In 2008, he started a noble initiative to promote education as an important tool for development. He started by awarding best performing students. Through some of his friends in the Netherlands, he has managed to give full scholarship to 20 needy students from the slums of Nairobi to get them through secondary school. All the students go to Our Lady of Fatima Secondary School in Nairobi.

Such efforts to serve the community where he grew up in and better the lives of other young people have not gone unnoticed. In 2010, he was nominated by young people from Korogocho to sit in the UN Habitat Youth Advisory Board. In May 2012, the UN Habitat officially confirmed him as a member of the Board.

Raphael will soon be heading to Morocco to meet with high level policy maker, business leaders, media and opinion shapers from across the world to discuss a range of global issues.

Raphael who was pleasantly surprised by the recognition as an emerging youth leader in the world believes that being a member of the UN Habitat’s Youth Advisory Board has given him immense opportunity to serve the youth causes at the national and global arena.

He says that to be recognized as an emerging leader in the world is not only humbling, but calls for more determination in his part to give back to his global and local society. It has given him more enthusiasm and momentum to continue serving the youth and his community with determination.

Blog Post Taken From:

Meeting With Global Land Tool Network

Kneeling over some land.

During the 23rd Governing Council YAB members were fortunate to have the opportunity to meet with members from the Global Land Tool Network (GLTN) team, including Eirik Sorlie and Siraj Sait.

The GLTN’s main objective is to contribute to poverty alleviation and the Millennium Development Goals through land reform, improved land management and security of tenure.

Just hanging out… talking planning!

The GLTN originates from requests made by Member States and local communities world-wide to the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), who initiated the network in cooperation with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the World Bank, in 2006.

Our meeting focused on how their research group can work with youth to incorporate youth perspectives into land issues.  Staff and researchers were very receptive to YAB input and after fruitful discussion some key conclusions were reached.  The following provides a brief overview:

  • Defining youth is very important as there are significant differences between age groups of 12 -24 and 25 -32;
  • Youth branches of professional organizations could be important actors on youth and land issues;
  • It is vital that youth are put at the same table as other partners and not always separated;
  • It is important to build youth capacity on land issues and use language that is accessible to youth (e.g. “youth in informal settlements” and “youth and rural livelihoods”);
  • Similar to goals to achieve ‘adult diversity’, involve a mix of youth professionals and grassroot youth in GLTNs work.

We look forward to continuing to consult with the GLTN as the research progresses!