Meet the Skate Girls of Kabul
When I first stumbled into Jessica Fulford-Dobson’s photos of these badass girls skating in Afghanistan I was completely enamored. Just the feel of it—young girls flying down ramps in traditional garb and proudly holding their decks! But the fact that the skateboards are actually giving girls confidence and getting them back into school is incredible. Here’s the story:
When Australian skateboarder Oliver Percovich first visited Afghanistan in 2007, he knew he had to do something. Wheeling through the streets of Kabul, he was struck by the number of kids working the roads, begging for money. As he saw it, the youth of Afghanistan had clearly been hit hard by the country’s 30 years of conflict. He was also stunned by how restricted the young girls were—they couldn’t play sports or ride bikes due to their prohibitive clothing.
But skateboarding, he realized, could provide a solution. So he and his friend took their three boards and started letting the kids play, teaching them to carve sidewalks and do kickflips. That’s how he started Skateistan, a non-profit that uses skateboarding as a hook for education and empowerment.
It’s a wonderful program—Skateistan provides a safe space for low-income and displaced youth to play. 50% of the students are streetworkers, 40% are female. Kids who show interest are also shepherded into accelerated school programs to get them back into public schools. But the effort doesn’t stop there: Skateistan also monitors these kids for a few years to ensure that they don’t slip.
The most heart-warming example I found was from Fulford-Dobson’s first photo. She spotted this beautiful 7-year old determined to master the board gripped in her “tiny hennaed hands.”
But that ferocity resonated in other ways as well. One year after attending Skateistan’s Back to School program, she had not only advanced three grades—enough to enter public school with her peers—but was still coming back to ride in her free time. The story makes me so happy. Since Skateistan launched, skateboarding has become the #1 sport in Afghanistan with female youth. And just reading the quotes from other girls at the facility, like this one, should warm your heart:
“When I’m up there, I feel free, like I’m flying. I like that feeling a lot.” – Hanifa, 14, Afghan Skater
If you’re in London, be sure to check out Jessica Fulford-Dobson’s incredible exhibit Skate Girls of Kabul at the Saatchi Gallery, April 15-28. Or do what I'm doing and pre-order her book here.
And for more information on Skateistan, which now operates in Afghanistan, Cambodia and South Africa, be sure to click here.