What is Skateistan? In simple terms, it’s Afghanistan’s first skateboarding school. But by adjusting to the culture, they offer separate days for boys and girls ages 5 through 17. One of the mission statements for the organization is to provide safe recreational and educational facilities for youth. Excelling way beyond just a facility, Skateistan is growing as an international center of inspiration and cultural exposure.
When describing his work experience at Skateistan, Brandon Gomez who is an Exectuive Assistant says it doesn’t feel like a job, nor a career but “It’s a part of my life now.” He is responsible for documenting much of what is gathered at Skateistan through multi-media outlets.
One of the first statements Gomez made when commenting on the region of Afghanistan pertained to misconceptions. He says the media does a poor job of delivering a clear and positive message about what takes place in Afghanistan.
One of the major goals of the work being done at the school is to “bring youth from different backgrounds together.” Like many regions across the world there is a history of tension within and among the different groups there. By bringing the youth together at Skateistan, they create the chance for “positive change and unifying people from all backgrounds not just all Afghan people”
What’s an average day like at Skateistan?
“Nothing is normal! The winter had been one of it’s worst in 20 years.” Water was frozen and at one point there wasn’t running water for 2 months straight…electricity can be in and out as well,” Gomez laughingly explains.
On the streets, things look more different than some could imagine. Kids can be skating on the street but at the same time you might have Police with AK-47’s just watching out of curiosity. But don’t get the wrong impression; it’s mostly friendly observation. All and all, Afghanistan isn’t that different from many other places in the world.
You have an upper class and a lower class. People there are just trying to make a living for themselves like people everywhere.
Skate instruction is given by experienced international skateboarders as well as some of the very first kids to step on a skateboard in Afghanistan, who now work with Skateistan as skate instructors.
One of those native skaters is Merza Mohammadi.
Merza now works at Skateistan as an instructor and his day-to-day work includes cleaning, scheduling and teaching. At the end of the day, he just loves to skate himself. “Everyone wants to be the best! ” Merza says.
Skateistan The Movie
We at The Manifold Magazine, first learned about the movement of Skatistan through the feature film released at the Hawaii International Film Festival. It was there we met with Rene Kock who was one of the producers of the film attending for Q&A.
What inspired you to first be involved in this film?
My director friend Kai Sehr sent me this article from the German news magazine ‘Der Spiegel’ that talked about this weird idea of a couple of Australians wanting to open a skateboard school in Kabul, Afghanistan. I read this brief article and was immediately hooked. What a great idea these guys had, to connect to the urban Afghan youth through skateboarding!
I managed to track down Oliver Percovich, the Skateistan founder and director, and finally reached him on his cell in Kabul. (On my first visit to Afghanistan he actually showed me the dirt road intersection where he stopped his motorcycle to take my initial call.) – A month later we met in Germany where Oliver was invited to attend a Skateistan fundraiser. During his visit, Nadia, our editor, and I produced a 7-minute short that was cut out of some DV footage that Oliver had shot himself. This short explained and illustrated the work Skateistan did with the street kids in Kabul and it helped Ollie to raise the first $ 50k from the German government for the Skateistan skate park. Ollie and I really hit it off when we first met in person and he granted us the exclusive rights to produce a feature-length documentary.
What do you hope audience members walk away with after watching the film?
We hope that people will leave with a more realistic picture of Afghanistan than what they have seen before in the Western media coverage, which mostly focuses on the negative aspects of life in Afghanistan. We want people to understand that there is irrepressible hope in the Afghan youth, that kids all over the world are very much alike and that Afghanistan has more children than most other countries on earth.
To learn more about Skateistan visit www.skateistan.org