The Skate Girls of Kabul, Afghanistan
by Ashley Zucker
Aussie skateboarder Oliver Percovich accompanied his girlfriend on a research trip to Kabul; naturally he brought along his skateboard. As he was skating through the streets of Kabul; young children stopped him and wanted to try it out- even the girls wanted to be involved. Percovich handed over his board, with no repercussion- he had found a loophole.
Females are extremely restricted in Afghanistan, especially when it comes to sports. They aren’t even allowed to ride bicycles but they are allowed to skate. Since the concept of skateboarding was so new to the country, there was no preconceived gender stereotype that went along with skating. It was seen as a tool with wheels created to have fun.
The skate sessions brought together children of all social classes. After one particular session, the girls all held hands and sang a song together (not so typical after a skate sesh) but this sing-a-long sparked an idea in Percovich- skating could bring together a country where unity is much needed. One young girl, who was apart of the sessions, was from an extremely poor family and was forced to drop out of school to support them. Percovich made a pitch to the family to allow her to be a skate instructor to make some money and be able to go back to school. To his disbelief- the family agreed.
In 2007 Skateistan was born: a non- profit grassroots project that links youth to education through skateboarding in Afghanistan. The organization has since grown to an award-winning international NGO and has expanded in other countries as well.
“Skateistan’s not just about skating. It’s about giving people life skills and hope for their future.” -Tony Hawk, pro skateboarder and Skateistan Ambassador.
Oliver spoke at TedxSydney and delivered an important message- “Skateboarding itself doesn’t change anything. Skateboarding is a very attractive sport, but it is what comes next that is most important. The community Skateistan has created for youth in Kabul (and now Mazar-e-Sharif and Phnom Penh, Cambodia) provides stability and educational opportunities and ultimately changes lives.”
“They come for skateboarding and they stay for education.”
Globally, only 5% of skateboarders are female but Afghanistan houses the largest percentage of skater girls in the world coming in at 40%! In 2012 London- based photographer Jessica Fulford-Dobson made the trip to Kabul after hearing the growing percentage of female student skateboarders. She won 2nd place in the 2014 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize with a photo titled “Skate Girl”.
Photos by Jessica Fulford-Dobson, Joel Sames, Skateistan