Skateistan: Supporting displaced people through skateboarding and education
Inclusion is at the heart of Skateistan’s mission. Since our inception in 2008, we have aimed to provide opportunities for children who are often excluded from sport and educational opportunities; girls, children with disabilities, those from low-income families and those affected by conflict and displacement.
In Afghanistan, over 1.8 million people have been displaced by conflict, as violence continues to compromise safety and wellbeing in many parts of the country. Both Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif (the locations of Skateistan’s Afghan Skate Schools) have relatively high numbers of people who have been displaced by conflict - many of them living in internally displaced people’s (IDP) camps.
For many years, Skateistan has reached out to these communities, providing safe transport from the camps to and from Skateistan, so that children can enjoy the safe space and the freedom of skateboarding. Many of the children living in the camps are out of school, either because their education was disrupted by relocation or because their home province was too dangerous for them to make the journey to school. Skateistan provides a program called Back-to-School, which is designed to help school children to rejoin formal education.
Children come to the Skate School for three hours, five days a week, and cover grades 1-3 in just 11 months. They are then helped to enroll in public schools in Afghanistan, having completed the national curriculum during their early years at Skateistan.
One such student is Safia, who lives in the IDP camp in Mazar-e-Sharif. She could not start school in her home province of Faryab, because the journey was too dangerous.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, Skateistan had to cancel in-person programs at the Skate Schools to protect children and staff. But the teams were determined to keep reaching out to our students, especially those in the IDP camp. Most families in the camp have no internet or access to phones, so the usual check-ins were not possible. Instead, the team in Mazar-e-Sharif reached out to members of the IDP community with experience as educators. They recruited two former educators (themselves displaced) from Faryab, and trained them in running the Back-to-School program, while considering Skateistan’s ethos of encouragement, fun and self-expression. The new educators were able to gather the students, while keeping appropriate distance and practicing hygiene, to ensure their education could continue through the lockdown.
Although the Skate Schools have recently re-opened, distance requirements mean that Skateistan cannot accommodate as many children as before. With this in mind, the Back-to-School program continues to run in the IDP camp in Mazar-e-Sharif, and transport is provided once a week to ensure children can still experience the fun of the skatepark.