Skateistan, a skateboarding school in Kabul that takes youth off the streets, offers some normalcy to Afghan children who more often than not experience no real childhood and are forced to find work to help support their families.
Afghanistan may not seem like the ideal place to work, but it is a place that often attracts the incredibly committed and passionate. I quickly recognized that Oliver Percovich, who was running a coffee bar in Kabul when I first met him, was one of them. It was not long before my coffees were free and we would exchange stories about our daily musings of Kabul life.
Oliver would tell me about how it would be so easy for the international community, particularly large military bases, to support the Afghan economy by purchasing locally grown fruits and vegetables rather than spending massive amounts of different countries’ tax dollars to fly in lettuce heads from Denmark.
And it is not just food: millions of dollars are spent each week to supply toilet paper, paper cups, and other basic necessities that could easily be made locally if this chunk of international aid was used to create jobs and build factories in this war-shattered country.
I told him how, on the weekends, I taught at a girl’s school run by Aid Afghanistan and saw the harsh realities of a country that has gone through over two decades of war. The majority of my students grew up with no father-these students’ fathers were either dead or severely disabled. With massive unemployment, there are few opportunities for steady work. Most of my students had brothers who were supporting an extended family by doing odd jobs such as pushing a fruit and vegetable cart around the city.
They lived in a world where freedom and security did not exist. Other than school, they had no other form of recreation. With weakening security, few economic opportunities, and deplorable living conditions, there was no reflection of the billions of dollars of foreign aid Afghanistan had received.
It was not long before Oliver, along with two others, founded Skateistan, a skateboarding school in Kabul that takes youth off the streets and provides them with ever-so-rare recreational activities. Like the Aschiana Foundation in Kabul, Skateistan offers some normalcy to Afghan children who more often than not experience no real childhood and are forced to find work to help support their families. It provides a place where both boys and girls can play together – unlike how, under Taliban rule, interactions with the opposite gender were rare unless it was with a relative.
Declan Walsh quotes Oliver in a piece he wrote last year in The Guardian saying that Afghan kids are naturals at skateboarding mainly because they are not afraid to fall and get back up. That is a lesson we can all learn from.
Rahilla Zafar is a contributing writer for Altmuslimah. She was based in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2008 working for the International Organization for Migration and the NATO-led mission.