Yesterday evening Yvonne from our project team (in the photo on the right) and I met Oliver Percovich (left) and his Kabul house mate and now communication manager Max Henninger (with cap) in a cafe in Berlin to discuss Skateistans presence on betterplace.org. Skateistan has been big news recently, even making it to the front page of the New York Times Sports section. For those of you still unfamiliar with the project, this is what its about in a nutshell:
Skateistan is Afghanistan’s first dedicated co-educational skateboarding school. The school will engage with the growing numbers of urbanised youth in Afghanistan through skateboarding and provide new opportunities in cross-cultural interaction and education. Students will be selected from a range of different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. Student capacity will be developed in skateboarding, skateboarding instruction, project management, life skills and English. Our aim is to develop a program that empowers youth to take leadership on issues important to them and build networks that will counter current ethnic barriers.
Skateboarding in Afghanistan? As soon as Australian skateboarders Oliver Percovich, Sharna Nolan and Travis Beard lay down their boards in Kabul, they were surrounded by the eager faces of children of all ages, begging them to teach them how to skate. Stretching the three boards they had, they developed an infant skate school.
Six young Afghan males who were naturals at skateboarding (aged 18-22) shared the three boards and quickly progressed in their newfound sport. Skateboarding was born in Afghanistan. The success with their first students prompted them to think bigger. By bringing more boards back to Kabul and establishing an indoor skateboarding venue they would be able to teach many more youth as well as run separate classes for females. Skateistan is Afghanistan’s first skateboarding school dedicated to teaching both male and female students. We aim to build indoor skateboarding facilities thoughout Afghanistan. We will start in Kabul with a indoor skatepark with indoor and outdoor sections.
In our discussion with Max and Ollie we quickly realized a number of similarities, both between our motivation running betterplace, as well as the kind of projects we get really excited about. Starting with local needs and substantially involving relevant stakeholders as early as possible, following a hands-on approach and aiming at turning existing stereotypes around. Concerning the latter aim, I was struck by the similarities to Cinema Jenin.
Marcus Vetter started the project of renovating the old closed down cinema in Jenin after hearing over and over again, how dangereous Jenin, a city located in the Westbank, Palestine, was. Not only in Israel did people warn him to travel there, as Jenin is known as the breeding ground for suicide bombers and fundamentalists. Yet, when he actually went to shoot his film, The Heart of Jenin, he encountered wonderful reflective and generally peaceful people.
Similarly, Oliver and Max recounted how life in Kabul is nothing like what the media make it out to be. Their project is out to prove that there exists another Afghanistan than the one know to Western news readers.
And there is another parallel: just as Marcus is shooting a film about Cinema Jenin, so Skateistan is the subject of a documentary by Rene Kock (the one looking into the camera next to Yvonne), with the proceeds going to the project.
We are very happy to offer betterplace.org to make Skateistan realize their goals!
And yes, for those who know me well, I am already thinking of a trip to Kabul…