In 2007, on the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan, professional skateboarder Oliver Percovich dropped his board on a tiled middle eastern road and changed the landscape of sports in the region forever. All at once, the curious youth of Kabul surrounded Percovich, attempting to get a closer look at the four-wheeled object upon which the Australian skateboarder rode. They watched with wide-eyes as he flipped, popped, and spun the piece of wood under his feet like a genie might manipulate his magic carpet. On that day the Afghan children of Kabul found within them a burning desire to learn more about what they'd heard Percovich call a "skateboard". Thus, under his guidance, Skateistan was born, the award-winning, international NGO (non-governmental organization) which uses skateboarding as a tool to empower vulnerable youth, creating new opportunities and the potential for profound change.
When Oliver a.k.a. "Ollie" Percovich and his former girlfriend arrived in Kabul eight years ago, they couldn't have imagined the wave of influence they'd create using only three skateboards they'd packed for their trip to the middle east. Upon witnessing the overwhelming excitement of the street children when they saw Ollie skateboard for the first time, they realized that a once in a lifetime opportunity to significantly aid the community from the inside out had presented itself to them, and they wouldn't be ignorant enough to disregard that. Percovich decided to dedicate himself to a small, non-profit skate school based in Afghanistan, where both local children and young adults could learn how to skateboard, in the process learning valuable morals and making lifelong friendships with their fellow skaters. His first pupils were a group of Afghan friends, aged 18-22, among whom he distributed the three boards he'd brought with him. He soon realized that they were naturals, stretching the three skateboards amongst themselves, and were soon passing down their newfound skateboarding skills to younger boys and girls in the community.
With such a successful turn out using only the three skateboards he'd initially brought with him, Percovich was prompted to think bigger, returning to Australia to scrounge up more skateboards for the kids of Kabul. When he arrived in Kabul for the second time, he was in possession of an abundance of skateboards, and set out to establish an indoor skating facility where he could house numerous eager skateboarding students. Most importantly, he included in his plans for a skateboarding compound a private skatepark for girls only, taking into account the customs of the Islamic religion. In a region of the world where religion restricts females from participating in many of the activities males are able to enjoy, skateboarding offers a rare chance for females in Islamic countries to be completely equal with their male peers.
On October 29, 2009, Percovich's Skateistan completed construction of an all-inclusive skatepark and educational facility on 5,428 square meters of land donated by the Afghan National Olympic Committee. Emerging as the first skateboarding school in Afghanistan, Skateistan had come a long way since its founder arrived in the country back in 2007, and the organization wasted no time in executing the job they came to do. Welcoming with open arms streetworking children (which make up 50 percent of Skateistan's students), girls (which make up 40 percent of Skateistan's students), and interested youth ages 5 to 25, Skateistan grew immensely within its first years of operation in Afghanistan, and has since grown to international status.
Skateistan students constructing skateboarding ramps (Image: www.matadornetwork.com)[/capti... March 2011, Skateistan opened two facilities in Cambodia, offering the same educational skateboarding services to youth in the country. Continuing with this trend of growth, Skateistan opened a facility in Mazar-e-Sharif in 2013 and South Africa in 2014. Inviting students from nearly every socio-economic, religious, and cultural background, Skateistan prides itself on teaching its pupils about tolerance, respect, leadership, civic responsibility, environmental health, and peace.
"Skateistan is the epitome of what skateboarding is all about." -- Tony Hawk
Staying true to their theory of change, Skateistan has provided at risk children with an outlet to let loose, learn, and have fun. "Skateistan is the epitome of what skateboarding is all about," explains world famous skateboarder Tony Hawk. "I honestly share in the excitement those kids feel." Through skating, the youth in these essential third-world countries are able to remove themselves from the everyday trials of life and enjoy the freedom of skateboarding with others who are as passionate about the sport as they are.
One of these excited children, Hanifa, 14, who has enjoyed the encouraging characters of Skateistan's Kabul facility, explains, "I always like to go high on the ramps. When I'm up there I feel free, like I'm flying. I like that feeling a lot." Such a statement encapsulates the goals of Skateistan consummately: to provoke children like Hanifa to realize that they can do anything they put their minds to, and with a confident mentality and an unfettered mind, they are free to conquer their wildest dreams.
Watch the short documentary "Skateistan: To Live And Skate Kabul" on YouTube here.