The defiant skate kids of Afghanistan

September 17, 2012

Last week four children from an Afghani skateboarding charity were killed in a Taleban bomb

Back in July, during the heady build-up to the Olympics, you may have read an article in Times2 about Skateistan, an innovative, exciting charity that is encouraging children to take up skateboarding in Afghanistan. Skateistan’s founder, Oliver Percovich, came to London to pick up an award at the Beyond Sport summit on behalf of the 400 Afghan teenagers learning nollies and kickflips along with their lessons.

Last week four of them were killed in a Taleban bomb attack in Kabul’s embassy district, where they worked on the street selling scarves and bracelets. The suicide bomber who killed them was also a teenager, carrying his lethal load in his backpack.

“She was always telling us to be brave like the boys, then no one would dare to touch us,” said a girl who skateboarded with 14-year-old Khorshid, who was killed along with her youngest sister, Parwana, 8. Khorshid’s name meant “the Sun”, but she was steely, said another.

In a country where women are allowed to do very little, nearly half of those taking part in Skateistan are girls. The project has grown from humble origins: Percovich started to teach a ragtag group of kids around Kabul’s dusty Masood fountain, but even in the early days, “I gave twice as much time to the girls as the boys,” he says.

Soon, so many kids wanted to start skateboarding that Skateistan expanded to take in 400 kids, and opened the city’s first skate park. Part of the programme is that they must spend as many hours in the classroom getting an education as they do on the board.

Another of the victims of the bomb, 17-year-old Nawab, was one of Skateistan’s first instructors; he met Percovich at early sessions by the fountain in 2009. Nawab went on to be a star student, winning this year’s Go Skateboarding competition and eagerly claiming the crown of “best skateboarder in Afghanistan”.

Outside the skate park, Khorshid, Nawab, 13-year-old Mohammed Eeza and Parwana were part of a tightknit group of street children, spending their days earning a living for families struggling with disability, poverty and drug addiction.

Now they are also part of a grim statistic: five children are killed or seriously wounded in Afghanistan every day. Worse, according to Unicef, 11 children were used to carry out bomb attacks last year, with a further five recorded up to June 2012. “It’s an appalling thing,” says Peter Crowley, Unicef’s representative in Afghanistan.

Back at Skateistan, a rare space where children can be children, Khorshid’s friends remember her for the way that she fearlessly flicked back her pink headscarf and “always wanted us to go down the big ramp”, cheering them on not to be afraid.

Skateistan has an emergency fund to help families of the children killed in the September 8 attack: crowdrise. com/emergencyfund-skateistan

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