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Voice of America | Sep 30
With only six months until presidential elections and 14 months until all international combat forces leave Afghanistan, a political settlement wit...
VOICEOVER: The city of Kabul is reeling from decades of warfare. Thousands of its children face a life with few prospects. But some are finding hope in an unlikely place.
WAIS [Skateboarder]: People keep looking at our shoes and boards in a weird way. They think that they are attached to the boards through some sort of magnetic field. One day without skateboarding is like a month without skateboarding for me. My family and I used to work at Mikroyan, my father and three brothers washed cars for a living. We made a living but the work was intense. Before, my life was hard, but it's better now because of Skateistan.
VOICEOVER: The Skateistan project is transforming the lives of hundreds of children like Wais through a unique sporting and education initiative.
SHARNA NOLAN [Skateistan Co-founder]: Skateistan is Afghanistan's first skateboarding school and was brought together by a bunch of expatriate aid workers living in Kabul that had the common love of skateboarding and wanted to share something with the Afghan children here.
VOICEOVER: Another one of Skateistan's pupils is Murza, a 17-year-old boy who has known nothing but a lifetime of war.
MURZA [Skateboarder]: We can't escape the violent situation. I am so used to it that it doesn't scare me anymore. It's been happening throughout my life and will continue into the future.
VOICEOVER: But Murza's involvement in Skateistan has renewed his hope.
MURZA: Life is hard in Kabul. It is solely because of the support of Skateistan that I am standing now.
SHARNA NOLAN: Skateistan builds on the positive interactions that kids experience through skateboarding and we also build in education. We expose our students to a whole range of new ideas and new subjects that are typically under-resourced in Afghan regular schooling. Kabul's a city that was designed for around two million people max and at the moment they estimate there's anywhere between 3.5 million to five million people living here. The roads aren't clean, there are no real waste disposal systems, and water and sanitation is an issue. The majority of people are doing quite poorly still and it's a real struggle day-to-day. We're able to bring working children that have not been to school or have limited educational opportunities into a classroom with more educated children. We're able to bring children that typically wouldn't mix in Afghan neighborhoods, so among our 240 students we have Hazaras, Uzbeks, Pashtuns, Tajiks, all playing together, all building relationships and all having fun through skateboarding and through the classroom activities that we do.
VOICEOVER: One of the most remarkable things about Skateistan is its inclusion of women in sport, something that only a few years ago would have been unthinkable.
FAZILLA [Skateboarder]: My name is Fazilla, I am 12 years old and I live in Qalai Zaman Khan.
SHAMS RAZI [Teacher, Skateistan]: Fazilla comes from a very poor family. They have a lot of problems in the family, so we are providing the money for her to go to the school.
SHARNA NOLAN: When I first met Fazilla, she was incredibly shy. Skateboarding has given her an outlet to express herself through sporting achievement but also to think ahead to her future.
VOICEOVER: While the Skateistan project has enjoyed support from the wider community, there has been opposition from some corners, especially towards girls skateboarding.
FAZILLA: I believe that people have negative thoughts; they disagree with girls wanting to pursue skateboarding as a hobby. My family is mostly on my side, however my father disagrees with this hobby. When I am skating on the streets, I can feel people questioning my right to skate. Their opinions are meaningless to me. I really like skating and I won't stop.
VOICEOVER: Fazilla is not the only one who has found people questioning her right to skate. Mariam was a top pupil at Skateistan until her brother forced her to stop, as he didn't believe girls should skateboard.
MARIAM [Skateboarder]: My family wants me to stay at home and do housework. I am often upset at home because I want to skate.
SOPHIE FRIEDL [Volunteer, Skateistan]: She used to be skating for two years now, I think, and since we got the skate park she's not allowed to come skateboarding anymore because her brothers don't want her to take part in any sports. That's sadly still the attitude of quite a few families here.
VOICEOVER: Old prejudices may not have completely disappeared, but the fact that girls are now involved in sport at all, is a sign of shifting moods in Kabul. In a country with few opportunities for young people, Skateistan represents a way for children to build their confidence and form new ways of seeing the world.
SHARNA NOLAN: We really believe that if these children are going to inherit the problems that they will, particularly in a country which has been through 30 years of war, it's important to show them new qualities of what it takes to be a leader.
MURZA: We the people of Afghanistan must unite to rebuild the country.
VOICEOVER: The problems Afghanistan faces are enormous. However, in classrooms of Skateistan, children are growing up learning the skills they need to help rebuild their devastated country.
MURZA: My hope is that someone who is able to bring peace leads my country.
VOICEOVER: Until there is peace, nothing can be certain. Hope is being kept alive in this school, with a difference.