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Skateistan: Classroom meets halfpipe in Afghanistan

Skateistan: Providing access to education and sport

Skateistan: Providing access to education and sport, © Skateistan/Andy Buchanan

07.02.2020 - Article

The Federal Foreign Office has been supporting the NGO Skateistan, which established the first skateboard school in Afghanistan, for over ten years. A recent film about the project, “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You're A Girl)”, is up for an Oscar on Sunday.

Reading, writing, arithmetic – and skateboarding! Girls and boys in Afghanistan can learn all of these at the schools run by the NGO Skateistan. In 2007, Australian skateboarder Oliver Percovich arrived in Afghanistan equipped with three skateboards. It was not long until he saw the enthusiastic response to the skateboards in Kabul: they held a magical attraction for boys and girls of all ages. The idea for Skateistan was born.

Bamiyan, Afghanistan: A third school is currently being set up
Bamiyan, Afghanistan: A third school is currently being set up© Hamdullah Hamdard

The first Skateistan school opened in Kabul in 2009, followed later by another in Mazar-e-Sharif. Since August 2019, there has been a third school, in Bamiyan, one of the poorest regions in Afghanistan. In the Skateistan schools, the students spend part of the time in the halfpipe, and part of the time in the classroom. The majority of the children come from poor families, and some of them have had to flee conflict and violence. The skate schools give them access to both sport and education. For many of them, this is their first taste of school.

Empowering girls

For girls in particular, the skate schools provide an important means of access to education and sport. Between 30 and 40% of the children who go to the skate schools in Afghanistan are girls. In fact, on some days the school in Kabul is only open to girls. As well as providing education, Skateistan is one of the few possibilities at all for girls to do sports, which are otherwise frequently forbidden.

Reading, writing, skateboarding – all on the curriculum at the Skateistan schools
Reading, writing, skateboarding – all on the curriculum at the Skateistan Schools© Skateistan/Andy Buchanan

For a year, filmmaker Carol Dysinger followed a group of girls who go to the skate school in Kabul. Her short documentary “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re A Girl)” depicts their progress both on the skateboard and in the classroom and looks not only at the day-to-day challenges at school but also the political situation in the country. The film has been nominated for an Oscar in the category “Documentary (Short Subject)”. At the beginning of February it won the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) award in the category “British Short Film”.

Federal Foreign Office supports Skateistan

The Federal Foreign Office has supported Skateistan from the outset: it provided funding for the construction of a skate hall with a half pipe and ramps when the first school was set up, and is financing the further development of the new school in Bamiyan, where a dedicated building is to be constructed in 2020.

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