Here’s an inspiring story for a summer Friday and in celebration of Go Skateboarding Day yesterday about Oliver Percovich, the founder of Skateistan skate school in Afghanistan.
I interviewed Oliver at the IASC Skateboarding Summit this month, and found out more about how one man who loves skateboarding rallied the support to build a thriving skate school that serves girls and boys in a $1 million, indoor skatepark and educational facility in two years.
Skateistan has become so successful, it has the support of several foreign governments and is expanding to other parts of the country and to other troubled nations.
Oliver seems to have no fear. He and some others from Skateistan have even skated Jalalabad Road, considered the most dangerous road in the world.
Here are excerpts from my interview with Oliver at the skate summit. Oliver grew up skateboarding in Australia but was never a professional – it was just one of his favorite things to do.
Oliver Percovich: Skateboarding took me lots of different places – 42 countries before actually ending up in Afghanistan. I followed my girlfriend to Afghanistan at the time, who got a job there as a researcher.
Oliver Percovich. Photo by Shop-eat-surf.
I just had three boards with me. I was looking for a job, and what happened is that I made a connection with Afghanistan because everywhere I went people were extremely friendly.
I started skateboarding with kids in the street, and I saw that it was something that they were really connecting with. They begged me to bring more skateboards, and I contacted people in the industry, and got skateboards to Afghanistan, and it all grew from there.
We slowly introduced skateboarding. There were the skate sessions at the fountain, and at first, there were just boys doing it, and slowly we got girls to also take part.
We took some photos. The girls took them to their parents. They put the photos on the fridge, and from that, there was also the acceptance from the parents. The parents saw the change in the children, just how much fun that they were having, and so the families of the children started to accept what we were doing, as well.
I noticed that it was just something that was very special, the fact that we were able to do a sport with girls.
Girls don't play soccer there because it's seen as an activity for males. Any of the popular sports in Afghanistan are seen as activities for boys, and so where we actually got girls involved, it was only up to the age of 12 because in Afghanistan, girls and boys needed to be separated from 12 years onward.
The idea was starting to form that if we could build an indoor facility, then girls older than 12 could also take part.
And something that was really important was, "How can these children, also, access education?" So the idea started to come together to build a facility to do both – to get girls between the age of 12 and 17 to also be able to skate and also do some more activities with the kids than just skating because what was important is that this youth demographic is engaged with.
The international community and all of the efforts that were being made were looking at over-20-year-olds, and that's not where the action was, but nobody else knew how to engage with kids, and here we were doing it with skateboards.
See Page 2 for more about Skateistan and founder Oliver Percovich