Skateboarding in Kabul

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A skateboarding park in Afghanistan might seem a little out of place, but in a country where nearly 70 percent of the population is under the age of 25, Oliver Percovich  -- the founder of the NGO Skateistan -- decided there was an unique opportunity to work for peace. In Skateistan: The Story of Skateboarding in Afghanistan, Oliver explains, "The whole idea was that we're building something for the kids, in Afghanistan, and it doesn't matter if they're poor, or rich, or coming from different ethnicities." As soon as he loaned out a few boards, he says, "I saw the gleam in their eyes and knew they were hooked." Since 2007, Skateistan has grown into an organization that employs youth from the street, teaches kids a new sport, and provides a please for boys and girls to play together.

Above, Erika, a Skateistan member, performs a jump called an ollie in front of the destroyed Buddha statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. The statues were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001 because the hard-line group believed them to be un-Islamic. 

Shams Razi, the Afghan country manager of Skateistan, is a 24-year-old who says he can still remember the first time he skateboarded. "We're doing something for Afghan kids, we're bringing the poor kids all together, the rich kids all together," he says. "We're connecting them to other countries, that's the whole idea: to change the negative ideas that they have." Skateistan now boasts the largest indoor sports facility in Afghanistan and the group -- which is funded through public and private donations, sponsors, and grants -- has about 500 kids skating.

Above, two girls living at an orphanage in Kabul help each other learn to use a skateboard.

 

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Skateistan has gained the support of pro-skateboarders around the world. Cairo Foster, a professional boarder who visited the organization in 2009, says, "At the most basic level, skateboarding and Skateistan allow kids to forget where they come from. When such barriers are overcome, then people learn to appreciate others for who they are, within, not who they're thought to be, based on labels." Above, Fazila Shirindil, a former Skateistan student who has since become a skateboard instructor, plays on a mini-ramp outside a guest house in Kabul in 2010 at the age of 12.

 

http://Kenny%20Reed,%20another%20professional%20skateboarder,%20says%20that%20the%20%20most%20surprising%20thing%20he%20saw%20during%20his%20trip%20to%20Skateistan%20was%20"grown%20men%20%20stepping%20on%20a%20board%20for%20the%20first%20time%20while%20in%20uniform,%20carrying%20automatic%20%20weapons."%20Above,%20another%20Skateistan%20instructor%20performs%20an%20%20ollie%20in%20front%20of%20Darul%20Aman%20Palace,%20a%20European-style%20castle%20%20built%20in%20the%201920s%20by%20King%20Khan%20that%20was%20destroyed%20during%20Afghanistan's%20civil%20war%20and%20remains%20%20in%20ruins.%20%20%20%20%20%20%20 

Kenny Reed, another professional skateboarder, says that the most surprising thing he saw during his trip to Skateistan was "grown men stepping on a board for the first time while in uniform, carrying automatic weapons." Above, another Skateistan instructor performs an ollie in front of Darul Aman Palace, a European-style castle built in the 1920s by King Khan that was destroyed during Afghanistan's civil war and remains in ruins.

 

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Feroz, a student, says, "Everyone feels united. Skateistan students shouldn't think they are Pashtun, Tajik or Hazara, they are like a family." Above, a staff member's feet during a skate session in Mekroyan, an old Soviet fountain in Kabul. The fountain was the site of Skateistan lessons before the organization had its own facility.

 

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Critics accuse the staff of supporting a cultural import. But Percovich, the group's founder, insists, "The last thing I want to do is impose Western culture." At the skate school, he says, the students are encouraged to wear their traditional clothes and bring a unique flavor all their own to the sport. Above, skateboard lessons take place in an orphanage in Kufa, outside Kabul, in 2009.

 

http://Fazila%20Shirindel,%20a%2014-year-old%20skate%20instructor,%20says%20she%20wants%20%20to%20be%20a%20doctor.%20"I%20want%20to%20graduate%20from%20high%20school%20and%20to%20either%20become%20a%20%20successful%20doctor%20or%20a%20pro%20skateboarder."%20She%20also%20says%20that%20she%20doesn't%20"want%20%20the%20world%20to%20think%20that%20Afghanistan%20is%20a%20bad%20place%20...%20my%20wish%20is%20that%20there%20is%20no%20%20more%20war%20in%20Afghanistan.%20I%20wish%20for%20peace%20and%20love."%20Above,%20Fazila%20rides%20at%20the%20%20skate%20park%20in%20Kabul.%20%20%20%20%20%20 

Fazila Shirindel, a 14-year-old skate instructor, says she wants to be a doctor. "I want to graduate from high school and to either become a successful doctor or a pro skateboarder." She also says that she doesn't "want the world to think that Afghanistan is a bad place ... my wish is that there is no more war in Afghanistan. I wish for peace and love." Above, Fazila rides at the skate park in Kabul.

 

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Women in Afghanistan have little opportunity to play sports (only one female athlete from Afghanistan made it to the London Olympics); there are few facilities for women and few coaches. But at Skateistan, lessons at the skate park take place six days a week, with two of the days reserved just for girls, who are taught by female staff. The girls are also provided with transportation to and from classes because in many traditional families, women need to be chaperoned outside of the home. The project has become the largest female sporting federation in the country. Above, girls skate the ramps in the skate park.

 

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The park is just adjacent to the Afghan Olympic facility, and staffed largely by local teenagers, many of whom worked the streets before finding a job with Skateistan. The majority of the teachers are former students between the ages of 14 and 23. A few international volunteers continue to help out at the park, like Sophie, pictured above, who came to Kabul from Germany. 

 

http://Wahila%20and%20Fazila,%20two%20female%20skate%20teachers,%20have%20their%20portrait%20%20taken%20in%20front%20of%20the%20facility%20in%20Kabul.%20They%20were%2013%20when%20this%20photo%20was%20%20taken.%20%20%20%20%20%20%20 

Wahila and Fazila, two female skate teachers, have their portrait taken in front of the facility in Kabul. They were 13 when this photo was taken.

 

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Fazila holds a screwdriver while working to build a climbing wall. Skateistan is expanding its project, including developing climbing facilities, teaching kids how to snowboard, and opening a new skate park in the northern part of the country. The group is also going global -- it now also has projects in Cambodia and Pakistan.

 

http://Every%20July%2021,%20the%20kids%20of%20Skateistan%20skate%20the%20%20streets%20of%20Kabul%20for%20Skateboarding%20Day,%20a%20global%20event.%20"It%20was%20crazy,"%20a%20staff%20%20member%20recalls%20of%20the%20first%20event%20in%202009.%20"Skating%20through%20the%20streets%20of%20%20Kabul%20for%20three%20kilometers%20and%20having%20next%20to%20no%20security...%20The%20people%20on%20the%20%20sides%20of%20the%20street%20were%20applauding,%20and%20there%20were%20people%20standing%20in%20the%20%20street%20that%20couldn't%20believe%20what%20we%20were%20doing."%20%20%20%20%20%20Above,%20a%20picture%20of%20the%20first%20Skateboarding%20Day%20in%20Kabul%20in%202009.%20%20%20%20%20%20%20 

Every July 21, the kids of Skateistan skate the streets of Kabul for Skateboarding Day, a global event. "It was crazy," a staff member recalls of the first event in 2009. "Skating through the streets of Kabul for three kilometers and having next to no security... The people on the sides of the street were applauding, and there were people standing in the street that couldn't believe what we were doing."

Above, a picture of the first Skateboarding Day in Kabul in 2009.

 

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Many different major skateboarding companies sponsor Skateistan, although getting the equipment -- boards and safety gear -- into the country can be a hassle. The organization relies on sympathetic partners in embassies or military posts who allow them to use their post offices, because Afghanistan doesn't have a functioning postal service. Above, the crowds enjoy Skateboarding Day.

 

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About 40 percent of Skateistan's students and instructors are female. Above, Faranaz, an instructor, holds up her skateboard proudly.

 

http://Taken%20on%20Skateboarding%20%20Day%20in%202011,%20this%20photograph%20won%20image%20of%20the%20year%20from%20Peace%20and%20Sports.%20"My%20%20mother%20always%20tells%20me%20I%20can%20become%20anything%20I%20want,"%20Fazila%20said.%20"I%20would%20%20also%20like%20to%20become%20the%20first%20Afghan%20director%20of%20Skateistan."%20%20%20%20%20%20%20 

Taken on Skateboarding Day in 2011, this photograph won image of the year from Peace and Sports. "My mother always tells me I can become anything I want," Fazila said. "I would also like to become the first Afghan director of Skateistan."

 

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