The fastest growing sport in the world is alive and well in Afghanistan, thanks to Sharna Nolan, a Sydney aid worker and scientist who runs Skateistan, Afghanistan’s first co-educational skateboarding school.
When Nolan went to Kabul to work as a researcher with an aid organisation in 2006, she took her skateboard with her, and found it to be an excellent communication tool. Nolan, the only female western skateboarder in Kabul, was joined by friend Oliver Percovich and they formed the Skateistan project in May 2007, teaching kids in Afghanistan how to skate without any of the street culture around skating. The initiative has grown and become very successful.
“Our focus is to get kids communicating across cultures, genders, classes and ethnicities. We use skateparks to build hubs of community in and around the capital, Kabul,” Nolan said.
“It’s a very different society but you really can’t believe the sensationalist hype in the media. There are some really positive things for Kabul’s youth; it’s still baby steps but women are now playing football, learning taekwondo and boxing behind closed doors. You just need to know where to look.”
Nolan says 50 per cent of participants are girls who seem to have a natural aptitude for skating.
The project has seen a change in attitude for most of those involved, from being depressed and wanting to escape Afghanistan to being engaged and proud to be part of a global movement. The program offers Kabul youth free skateboarding classes from a team of international and Afghan volunteers. Kabul’s first indoor skatepark will soon be built, with funding assistance from the governments of Germany, Norway and Canada. This will make it possible to reach more than 500 students in 2009. But help is still needed.
BY DEBORAH WILLIAMS