Skateistan is a nonprofit organization that works internationally to give poor and underprivileged children an opportunity to skateboard. Skateistan brings skateboarding worldwide by providing skating lessons and education in creative arts to children from low-income backgrounds
Australian skateboarder and researcher Oliver Percovich founded the organization in 2007. Its headquarters are in Berlin, and there are Skateistan schools in Afghanistan, Cambodia and South Africa. Children in these countries, especially girls and those with disabilities, benefit from picking up a new hobby in a safe space, such as skateboarding. A documentary about Skateistan’s work in Afghanistan, “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl),” came out in 2019 and won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature (Short Subject) in 2020. Since it began, the nonprofit has had a positive impact on the lives of thousands of children in these three countries.
Over half the population of Afghanistan lives below the poverty line, making it one of the poorest countries in the world. In addition, the country has extreme inequality between the sexes. The government discourages women from participating in sports and other group activities and strongly limits their education. Less than 14% of women in Afghanistan have literacy skills. These factors make the work Skateistan does crucial to the lives of many young girls there. Skateistan brings skateboarding worldwide and focuses on children who face these barriers. Afghanistan does not technically consider skateboarding a sport and therefore girls are able to take full advantage of the programs offered at Skateistan schools.
Participants in the programs go beyond just skateboarding outside. They gain important skills like teamwork while learning how to skate and are offered interactive courses that teach subjects such as art and nutrition. There are Skateistan schools in two cities in Afghanistan: Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif. Although the organization has had to make concessions due to the culture of Afghanistan, such as having specific girls-only days with female instructors, the program has been very successful. Afghanistan now has one of the highest percentages of female skateboarders in the world, thanks in part to Skateistan’s efforts.
Cambodia is among the poorest countries in Asia, although its poverty rate has been continuously decreasing over the past decade. Less than 15% of the population now lives in poverty. Skateistan has a school in the Cambodian city Phnom Penh. Children are allowed to take a skating lesson for up to one hour a day (using a skateboard and equipment provided by Skateistan) as long as they also study or read in the school’s classroom or library. This is intended to supplement the limited education that children in Cambodia typically receive, as well as to protect them from the crime and violence that many children face. The program also includes special courses for students with disabilities, helping them develop life skills such as confidence and communication.
South Africa experiences intense inequality. The bottom 90% of the country earns only 35% of the total income, and as a result, many South Africans live in poverty. In 2016, Skateistan opened a school in Johannesburg, the largest city in South Africa. The organization received financial support from various groups to fund and build this school, including the Tony Hawk Foundation and the Royal Danish Embassy. As with the Skateistan schools in Afghanistan and Cambodia, this will provide opportunities for underprivileged children to learn to skate while also supplementing their education with classes and homework help. Almost half of the hundreds of students who have enrolled at this school are girls.
Skateistan brings skateboarding worldwide to underprivileged children who would otherwise never have the opportunity to learn to skate. They are able to develop life skills while skating as well as gain education in various other subjects. The emphasis that the organization places on including girls and children with disabilities ensures that they are not left out. Many of the students who take part in the program return as teachers, using their love of skateboarding to help other children grow. This cycle of growth that Skateistan creates has helped thousands of impoverished children in Afghanistan, Cambodia and South Africa.
– Gabriel Guerin