In 2007, Skateistan began working with children aged 5-17 in Kabul as a “sport through development” project. Skateboarding was the best option for the program because Afghanistan law prohibits girls from riding bicycles, but curiously enough, they are permitted to ride skateboards. Although the organization works with local boys and girls, they do put a special focus on providing opportunities for Afghan girls and working children. In fact, out of the 400 children that visit the complex on a weekly basis, almost 50 percent are girls. According to Skateistan, “The students themselves decide what they want to learn – we connect them with a safe space and opportunities for them to develop the skills that they consider important.”
Although this is the organization’s second project in Afghanistan, it is certainly their most ambitious community endeavor. Constructed in collaboration with a local company and a few sponsors, the 6,000 square meter sports and education complex, which has a capacity of up to 1,000 local children on a weekly basis, is a multifunctional facility with an enormous skate park, a multi-sport hall and a three-story educational center built out of locally-sourced shipping containers.
Although the educational center was built with a strong emphasis on the educational aspect of the program, with prayer rooms, workshops, social areas, dining halls and a library for the children, it is hard to ignore the star of the Skateistan program: the state-of-the art skatepark. The enormous building built in just five days was equipped with world class ramps designed and constructed by Andreas Schutzenberger, owner of Europe’s leading ramp building company, IOU Ramps.
The stark design makes the project particularly unique. What looks like a traditional military-style camp is actually an active community sports and education center. In Afghanistan and other places with high levels of poverty and social dislocation, ambitious projects like Skateistan Mazar-e-Sharif can reconfigure future educational programs for at-risk youth in addition to repurposing military style buildings for peaceful purposes that serve the local community.