Officially I’ve donated money to only two organizations. Those two are the Red Cross and an organization called Skateistan. Recently ‘Skateistan: Four Wheels and a Board in Kabul’ came available on Itunes, and I quickly bought the HD version for 12.99. There is also a cheaper version Itunes and a rental option. I think every skater should be aware of Skateistan. Also educators and social reformers should take a look at this documentary.
I knew the history of the organization before watching the documentary. Basically two Australians, Oliver Percovich and Sharna Nolan, stationed in Afghanistan for aid work brought their boards along with them. Soon they noticed kids gathering around them wanting to try out their skateboards. Over a few years 2007 to 2008 I believe they started teaching skateboarding. With international support, from European countries like Norway and Germany there were able to build a facility for the purpose of a skate park and a school. They educate kids unable to go to school and they draw them in because skateboarding is fun.
During the opening shot it has two facts stated, and one of them is that around fifty percent of the Afghanistan population is under fifteen years of age. Thirty years of war ravaged the country meaning a lot of the population died. After the statements the documentary starts with stunning filmography of Kabul. Mountains are in the distance, roads that are rubble, and destruction is apparent. But it shows first kids playing with kites. Anyone familiar with the popular novel, The Kite Runner, associates kites as a national pastime for Afghanistan. Then it shows kids playing on an abandoned tank, then playing cricket I think, and finally sliding down a hill. You see smiles on kids and adults several times in this documentary. In the five minute opening it shows that the natural curiosity of kids to play and learn games is alive and well in the war torn country.
At first the Skateistan founders skated this empty fountain, and they documented showing several kids how to skate well. They had two challenges with the kids that stood out. One was the social structure of the kids. There were wealthier, middle class, and even different variants of street kids. Oliver Percovich and Sharna Nolan stuck to their intentions that this was for everyone, and they found out while in the act of skating, the kids could get past their social standing. The second challenge was gender because the girls had as much interest in skating as the boys. The main reason they built the indoor park was so older girls could skate in there away from the public eye.
Four international pro skaters were documented in this for spending time there. They were Cairo Foster, Kenny Read, Maysam Farah, and a top female pro Louisa Menke. One scene shows them skating an abandoned palace. In other countries this at one time large architectural structure would be part of national history. But it was bombed at one point. Anyway, in the documentary the guards let them skate it. They found some spots, and also found graffiti by the Taliban. These pros searched for spots. In what they thought was a school yard the saw a ramp structure with a rail. When they learned it was a hospital for amputees, they had reservations about skating it. But a worker encouraged them to do so. One pro skater commented that in some western countries it would be considered insensitive to skate in front of amputees, but in Afghanistan is was almost entertainment for the people of the facility. With the exception of the female skater being taunted while skating downhill without headdress, the pros were appreciated and encouraged to skate.
One cleric interviewed stated that Islam has no problems with sports like skateboarding. Skateistan was careful not to promote a western lifestyle. So in a way the skating is unique there to other places. Yes woman skate everywhere, but the percentage appears larger with the Skateistan kids, because they enjoy it. In United States I think girls especially are directed to other sports by their parents. Also there are some negative stereotypes associated with skating like pot use, partying, and reckless behavior. The kids at Skateistan are not seeing the new Baker or DGK skate videos, and they simply like the experience of riding on a board.
Lastly, the kids in Afghanistan do have it rough, and the education component tied in with skateboarding makes it valuable to the area. Several of the kids the documentary showcases were basically subjected to child labor in poor conditions, and this got them back on tract education wise. Again I’ll mention that statement about fifty percent of the population of Afghanistan being under 15. If they are given opportunity to learn and develop there is hope, but if poverty and indifference prevails the cycle of war will continue. The movie ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ really tells the United States involvement against the Russians through Afghanistan in the 1980’s and then the abrupt stopping of funding of money into infrastructure once the war was over. Basically the lack of funding led the Taliban to the youth and take over. This organization, Skateistan, in addition to using skateboarding in a great way, shows that perhaps instead of putting money in war, if people put money into developing the youth through non-profits and education after the United States military leaves perhaps there is hope for the region.
Here is the link the Documentary website: http://www.skateistanthemovie.com/