Meet Skateistan and its incredible story of an Australian skateboarder who started living in the Middle East in 2007, kept following his passion and carved out a physical activity niche in his new country. Seven years later he is running a successful NGO. Can you guess in which country 40% of its skateboarders are female?
In 2007, Oliver Percovich moved to Afghanistan to accompany his girlfriend who took a job as a researcher in Kabul. As a passionate skateboarder living in tough new surroundings, he spent his free time skateboarding through the city streets. And he was not the only one enjoying it – the Afghans were fascinated by his skateboard and both boys and girls wanted to try it out and learn how to skate.
“I was very surprised by the position of women in the Afghan society. Women in Afghanistan don’t drive, they rarely attend school and they don’t do any sport. But girls I met on the streets of Kabul were so eager to skateboard I at once realised there is a loophole – skateboarding was not perceived as a sport and thus it was not prohibited for females,” Percovich says.
Though he had doubts as to whether introducing a more structured skateboarding program in the city would work, his enthusiasm led him to expand the idea of daily skateboarding sessions and found a non-governmental organisation, Skateistan.
“There are so many young people in Afghanistan. Half of the population in Afghanistan is under the age of 16 and about 70% of the population is under 25,” Percovich says.
During his sessions with children aged from 5-17 years, Percovich builds trust and a community spirit – elements that can lead to better outcomes in health, education and security. Skateistan has become a significant organisation that helps to share an identity through skateboarding. Globally 5% of skateboarders are girls; in Afghanistan girls now represent 40% of its skateboarders.
Within 7 years of its existence Skateistan has expanded to Cambodia and South Africa. This December the organisation is trying to raise $60,000 to keep providing its programs.
You can learn more about Skateistan here.