By Carly Choffo
Last Wednesday, April 9, many students gathered in the Library Auditorium for the presentation “Skateistan: Using Skateboarding to Empower the Youth of Afghanistan,” which displayed skateboarding as a platform for learning in Afghanistan.
The lecture was presented by Benafsha Tasmim as part of the College’s “Art Amongst War: Visual Culture in Afghanistan.”
“It’s been extraordinary,” history professor Jo-Ann Gross said as she introduced Benafsha Tasmim. “I’ve learned so much.”
Tasmim gave a presentation of video representations and slideshows displaying the life of the skateboarders at Afghanistan’s first skateboarding facility: Skateistan.
Skateistan, founded in 2007, aims to provide education for youth, foster relationships and communication amongst kids in Kabul, and build confidence in kids and give a voice to both boys and girls living amongst war in Afghanistan.
Skateistan is essentially a school. Skateboarding lessons are what keep the children coming to the facility, but the main goal is to educate them with an art-based curriculum.
Skateistan’s mission, as told by Tasmim, is to use skateboarding “(as a) tool for empowering youth, to create new opportunities and the potential for change.”
Every day, 400 students — 50 percent former street workers — attend Skateistan. Of these students, 40 percent are girls. Thus, Skateistan is currently the largest female sport facility in Afghanistan, Tasmim said.
When creating Skateistan, founder Oliver Percovich realized that even if they’re taught at a young age, girls stop skateboarding at a certain age because it’s socially unaccepted in Afghanistan, Tasmim said. So, he created Skateistan, a gender-neutral place where girls can learn to skateboard because they like it.
Every year since 2009, the children of Skateistan showcase what they learn during an event they have created called “Go Skateboarding Day.”
Besides skateboarding, Skateistan aims to build community, education and leadership through their art-based curriculum, Tasmim said.
“We have very different students, but art is something everyone can do,” Tasmim said.
Skateistan believes that art is the best way for these children to express themselves and to bridge gaps between students of different education levels.
Skateistan also has a “back-to-school” program for street-working kids. This is a 12-month program that teaches kids three grades of school in one year so they can attend school with their age group.
One of Skateistan’s other extraordinary programs is the Children’s Shura, which is a mock council meeting where children are allowed to discuss and propose solutions to their daily problems.
Skateistan is not just skateboarding. Skateistan fosters positive growth for the youth of Afghanistan because the youth is the future of their country, Tasmim said.