“Where I live, it’s tradition that once a girl grows up, she doesn’t go outside. … Of course there is fear”, says one of the students at Skateistan,a non-profit skate-school started by Australian skateboarder and researcher Oliver Percovich in 2008 in Kabul, Afghanistan, that teaches girls from impoverished areas to skateboard. A short documentary film Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl) following the progress of a group of girls at Skateistan has been recently honoured with an Oscar in the Best Documentary Short Subject category at the 92nd annual Academy Awards. The film has also previously been awarded BAFTA for the best British Short Film (Documentary).
“This movie is my love letter to the brave girls of that country,” said director Carol Dysinger, as she accepted the award alongside producer Elena Andreicheva. Having worked in Afghanistan for quite a while, Dysinger wanted to capture the side of women where they were just themselves sans the male gaze or the repetitive questions about war.
The origins of Skateistan do not particularly lie in it being aimed at being an NGO that could radically change the life of the youth of Afghanistan. Instead, on coming to Afghanistan in 2007, when Percovich noticed that a few teenagers were interested in skateboarding for the ‘freedom it provided them’, he decided to teach them and that’s probably where its journey really began. A year later, with more skate buddies and some international sponsorship, project Skateistan came into being. Although most Afghan girls weren’t allowed to play sports due to social norms, the skateboard was seen more as a toy and provided a loophole for them to join in the fun. Fun further got linked with education and leadership opportunities as Skateistan launched leadership and school enrolling and re-enrolling programmes sometime in 2015. At present, all the students are provided one year of accelerated learning before they are enrolled in schools.
Dysinger and Andreicheva heavily applauded this initiative by pointing out that amongst a row of ‘NGOs’ that end up ‘falling in love with the solution’, thus never really doing much towards the real problem, Skateistan focuses on the basics and just aims at getting kids to the next step, and in just really having fun, it ends up solving some really big problems.
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