Skateboarding seems like it has been around forever, though it is embedded in American Culture, we forget it’s still a very young sport. What if you never had seen or heard about skateboarding before? What would you think of it? Would it change your life? Oliver Percovich experienced this first hand when he visited Afghanistan in 2007. After meeting children in Kabul fascinated by his skateboard, a lightbulb went off in his head: Skateboarding could be used to link vulnerable youth to education. Thus he founded Skateistan
and due to a loophole in what the country considered sports, allowed females to skate during a time they weren’t even allowed to ride bikes. Model Natalie Westling who just launched a sneaker collab with Vans was honored to design a shoe with the iconic brand because she’s experienced firsthand what the sport has done for her, making the shoe a symbol of her journey.
Passionate about empowering females through skating, Natalie was inspired by what Skateistan is doing for young girls. Below she interviews founder Oliver Percovich about his encounters and first hand experiences.
NATALIE WESTLING: When I heard about your organization I was blown away, just knowing what skating does for me, it's remarkable—What made you start it?
OLIVER PERCOVICH: There is an urgent need to engage with young people in Afghanistan, as many are not engaged in a way that is interesting to them. Increasing access to education is of vital importance for youth, especially girls. When children in Kabul saw my skateboard, both girls and boys wanted to try it out. I thought that skateboarding could be a great hook for engaging them and providing them with high quality educational opportunities.
Skateboarding didn't really even exist in Afghanistan and there weren't any rules or social customs saying that girls aren't allowed to do it. It was a loophole, because girls were not allowed to ride bicycles, fly kites, or play soccer because they were seen as "boys activities." So skateboarding was ideal for getting girls involved because it was fun, it didn't have any cultural taboos, and it created a special community.
Is skateboarding empowering women to venture back into other sports? If not at an Olympic level, a recreational level? Or is there still a hesitation?
Skateistan is empowering girls through skateboarding and education. Their self-confidence grows. They have opportunities that change their lives. We have had female students talk in front of Afghan parliament, present at Ted X Kabul and take part in the World Urban Forum run by UN Habitat where the only female delegate from Afghanistan was a member of Skateistan out of 20,000 people! So skateboarding and Skateistan has paved the way for lots of opportunities, not just in other sports but in life.
What happens at the school besides skating?
Skateistan runs programs at Skate Schools, external locations and with partner organizations. It is free for youth to be part of our programs but students need to register with us and consistently attend. You can start when you are 5 and you can stay with us for up to 12 years. We have 3 programs: "Skate and Create" which is one hour of skateboarding and one hour of creative arts based activities; "Back to School" which is an accelerated learning program which helps out of school youth enroll in Afghanistan public school, whilst in South Africa it offers older youth services such as career advice and homework help; and "Youth Leadership" which takes the brightest students from Skate and Create and Back-to-School and gives them leadership opportunities. So it’s not just skateboarding!
If not donating money, what else can people do to help Skatesian?
In December we are launching a new fundraising campaign called ‘Give Her Five’. It is all about the impact Skateistan is having on the lives of girls at their Skate schools around the world and girls empowerment through sport and education. We hope that people will support by donating a small amount, sharing our campaign and giving her five. It launches on December 5th!