Emma Shoesmith speaks to Ollie, CEO of Skateistan about their new collaboration with Impossible Project
Ollie, you have teamed up with Impossible to create a one-off Skateistan signature pack. Where did the original branding details and artwork come from?
The artwork is inspired by traditional Afghan patterns, but the expression also draws on European traditions like Swiss design. It is rich and detailed but in a very organised and neat way. The pattern elements were originally created for Skateistan’s visual identity and were then handed to the designers at Impossible to have in their palette when creating the artwork for the film.
How can a skateboarding environment nurture and foster creativity?
Skateistan leverages the community spirit that comes from skateboarding—a naturally creative sport with no direct competition—to create a safe and welcoming learning environment. The social support systems we’ve made have become building blocks that support children to take on creative challenges in the classroom at school. They become enthusiastic and confident learners throughout life.
When you created Skateistan what doubts did you have and how did you overcome them?
It wasn’t easy to introduce a new sport to Afghanistan. Lot’s of people were cynical and told me straight up that Skateistan was a stupid idea. But it didn’t make sense to give up. There’s a huge lack of educational and work opportunities for females in Afghanistan. Most Afghan girls don’t go to school. Very few have jobs, and often don’t get the opportunity to participate in sports. When I saw that it was possible for young girls to skateboard in the streets, it came to light how skateboarding could be used to connect more Afghan children with education.
Now Skateistan has 1,500 students weekly in four locations. We have around 1,200 students in Afghanistan, 150 students in Cambodia and 150 weekly students in South Africa. Security can also be a pretty big challenge in Afghanistan but we manage this by communicating regularly with all of our local stakeholders, such as the Afghan Olympic committee, local officials and our Student Support Officer meets regularly with our students’ families.
There’s also the challenge of cultural differences working in Afghanistan. We make enormous efforts to ensure that our programming is safe and also culturally appropriate. For girls this is especially important, so our boys and girls classes happen on different days of the week, with all-female teachers for the girls and safe transport to and from Skateistan. We have a dedicated support officer who meets regularly with students’ families and maintains good relationships with them. We also invite families to regular community events at the skate school.
Do you think ‘the Skateistan education model’ could work in more privileged countries?
For sure. There are disadvantaged communities in all countries. Although many people consider playful learning to be a luxury, Skateistan knows that play is an essential part of learning, and that it is integral to limiting stress and promoting childhood development.
How has media presence impacted or aided the development and profile of Skateistan?
The media plays an important role in raising awareness for the organisation, and Skateistan continues to attract global attention for its achievements. Our work has been featured in over 1,000 media articles; Skateistan was included in the Top 100 NGOs list for 2013 by the Global Journal and has won numerous awards since. In July 2014, a photograph of one of Skateistan’s female students in Kabul was shortlisted for the National Portrait Gallery’s annual portrait award, taken by professional photographer Jessica Fulford-Dobson. I believe that her widely-shared images and other photos of our students express the essence of Skateistan. They are synonymous with female empowerment and Skateistan’s values of equality and empowerment, showing us that beneath it all, we are very much the same.
Two of Skateistan’s core values are trust and community, which in turn provides a safe space for students to learn. How is Skateistan helping its graduates to maintain this environment out of school?
Skateistan creates an environment that reflects the equality we would like to see in society at large. Skateistan’s programming is for everyone. Youth make friends from all socio-economic backgrounds. They learn compassion and acceptance of differences, and they carry those skills with them all the time.
You have been successful in creating a unique community through a shared passion. What qualities have the students developed through their love of skateboarding?
Trust, acceptance of people coming from different backgrounds, self-esteem, creativity, perseverance and a passion for learning new things.
Polaroid cameras are well known for their ease of use and capturing humanity at its best. Why do you think it’s important to have courses like photojournalism at Skateistan?
Using fine arts and multimedia is important for expanding students’ personal worlds. Our lessons focus on giving youth tools to express themselves, think critically and solve problems in their local and global communities.
Why do you think it’s crucial to have more women in media making positions especially in countries like Afghanistan?
Empowering women and giving them equal opportunities will in turn empower communities and the country.
How is Skateistan changing the perception of not only skateboarding but the way aid work is conducted?
Skateistan is the first international development initiative to combine skateboarding and education. Skateboarding has proven itself as successful tool for positively changing children’s lives in countries like Afghanistan, Cambodia and South Africa.
Will we be seeing Skateistan exchange programs in the future?
We have been doing multiple student exchanges including an online Model UN for our Youth Leaders in Afghanistan, Global Citizens of Action projects and pen pal exchanges between our students in South Africa and internationally based schools! There will be more and more opportunities for more student exchange programs in the future as we develop our education program.
And finally, what are three life skills that we can all gain from rolling on a skateboard?
Perseverance, setting goals and overcoming fears. Self-discipline and adaptability.
Images © Emma Shoesmith of Board of Media. Exclusively using Impossible Instant film Skateistan Edition.