Skateistan began as a Kabul-based NGO, and now operates projects in Afghanistan, Cambodia, and Pakistan, with a second facility opening in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan, in 2013. Skateistan focuses on reaching out to girls and working children, using skateboarding as a tool for developing leadership opportunities, and building friendship, trust, and social capital among its students. While skateboarding is the initial way to get students involved, Skateistan is then able to provide access to education and platforms for self-expression that help break the cycles of poverty and exclusion.
We are excited to announce that the students here at Skateistan have just created the first skateboards ever made in Afghanistan. They were designed, created, and painted by young Afghan skateboarders. The ten skateboards were the result of our recent cultural exchange program known as Connecting Dots. The Connecting Dots project linked the young Lakota (Native American) skateboarders from the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota with the Skateistan students in Kabul. Throughout the exchange, the groups—separated by continents and oceans—exchanged key aspects of their national heritage.
Every Saturday, five girls and seven boys participated in the cultural exchange to share new ideas. Students at Skateistan learned about the culture of the Lakota people, and the popular symbols and colors used to signify its importance. This enabled the students to learn about the similarities and differences between them, and it also led them to learn more about their own culture.
The creation of the first skateboards made in Afghanistan started with a set of pre-molded plywood supplied by Create-A-Skate. First, the Skateistan group worked on the geometry they desired for their skateboards. A series of initial sketches allowed for them to mark out the unique shapes on the rectangular pieces of plywood. "We got information about the measurement and cutting off the edges of skateboards. Then we measured and drew two skateboards” describes Nawid, a Skateistan volunteer. These initial sketches taught the students the basics of symmetry, weights, and information they they can apply to future creative projects.
Once the students had penned their creations, they learned how to use a jigsaw to cut out their design. At first a number of the students were too quick and eager, disregarding the pre-drawn lines and letting their excitement take hold. But through the resulting edges and their resemblance of waves on water, the students began to learn that patience and attention to detail were the keys to a clean and functional shape.
According to Hanifa, a female skateboard instructor, cutting and sanding the boards was a huge part of this process. She explains, "The students were divided into girls and boys groups. Each group drew and cut off the edges of boards and then sanded it. Everyone was very happy and excited about cutting and making the skateboards. So far we were using skateboards and didn’t know how a skateboard is made! But today we got information about cutting and making a skateboard and really enjoyed doing it.”
After the shapes were completed, the next exciting part of the process was to bring color to the boards. The students first drew an outline of what they wanted to include on the board, and then added a variety of colors to finish them up. The designs on the boards were inspired by images of important cultural icons in both the Afghan and Lakota cultures.
Skateistan students participated in classes that involved drawing and painting the Lakota cultural symbols. This includes the famous dream catchers, which have their origins in Lakota culture, animals found in South Dakota, and traditional dress. Symbols from Afghan culture include a mosque, the traditional dress of Afghan people, and even the beautiful Hindu Kush Mountains surrounding Kabul.
Since the completion of the first 10 skateboards designed, created and painted in Afghanistan, the Skateistan students’ work will be displayed around the U.S. Their skateboards depicting Lakota culture will initially go to the Pine Ridge reservation, and may even have a chance to be displayed inside the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.