For women in Afghanistan, riding a bicycle is a big no-no.
On the spectrum of cultural taboos, it ranks between driving a car and keeping company with a man who is not a relative.
But no one ever said anything about riding a skateboard. Frankly, so few people owned them in the country’s capital, that it was never an issue.
Now, thanks to non-profit Skateistan, girls from marginalized and displaced families can learn to ride for free at the largest indoor sports arena in Afghanistan. And they become all the more badass for it.
Photographer Jessica Fulford-Dobson visited Skateistan’s Kabul location, one of the largest indoor sports sports facilities in the country, in 2012 and captured these portraits of the participants.
Skating in Afghanistan?
In 2007, Australian skateboarder Oliver Percovich relocated to Kabul when his former girlfriend took a job there. He began cruising on his skateboard to pass the time, and noticed crowds of children marvel as he passed. They would follow him around, asking for rides and lessons.
Shortly after, Percovich dedicated himself to the creation of a small non-profit skate school, the country’s first. Using the three boards he brought with him from Australia, he began teaching a handful of young adults on the streets of Kabul. Fired up by their rapid progress, Percovich, who the kids call “Ollie,” set out to build an indoor skatepark and education facility.
Using land donated by the Afghan National Olympic Committee, his dreams came to fruition in October 2009. Today, the organisation operates schools in Afghanistan, Cambodia, and South Africa, and reaches 1,200 youth each week.
Blazing a new trail
The opportunity is especially meaningful for the school’s female students, who make up 40% of the class. For them, the skatepark serves as a platform for personal development.
As recently as 10 years ago, almost all women were excluded from education systems and institutions in Afghanistan. Skateistan seeks to overcome those deep social barriers by bundling academics and skateboarding in one school.
Students enrolled in lessons may also participate in an arts-based curriculum, which focuses on developing the tools young people need to express themselves, think critically, and solve problems abroad in their own backyard. In addition, Skateistan offers an accelerated learning program and a leadership initiative.
The little girl shown below was just seven years old at the time the photo was taken. She’s since passed three educational grades and enrolled in the national school system — an incredible accomplishment. Photographer Fulford-Dobson credits her success in part to skateboarding.
“I met so many impressive woman and girls in Afghanistan,” Fulford-Dobson wrote in a press release, “[who were] passionate about being seen as strong and willing to fight for themselves, rather than as victims of circumstance.”
She met teachers “as tough and determined as any man,” and children who lit up with the unadulterated fun that can only come from sports.
To learn more about the skater girls, you can check out Jessica Fulford-Dobson’s website and her upcoming book, “Skate Girls of Kabul.” A photography exhibition of the same name is now underway at Saatchi Gallery in London.
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