Before the semester ended, a fellow classmate at York University had informed our African Studies class of a new project concerning children and technology in Africa. Similar to the Bike program where a store donates a bicycle for each child in (particular country), laptops were being given to very young children. After an hour of debate and discussion, I left the class thinking that laptops were the last thing a kid needs for a chance at a normal life. Basic needs have to be met first.
So when I came across this article on the Toronto Star website, I was immediately interested. I am one of those people that hates to hear news about wars or violence anywhere, especially Muslim countries. So I have not been keeping up with developments of any kind concerning in Iraq or Afghanistan. The little that I do hear tends to be notions of decay and lack of progress. Although I wasn’t too keen about laptops in African children’s hands, I didn’t mind, and was actually pleased, to hear about the skateboarding program.
I believe Oliver Percovich, originally from Australia, is doing the right thing by introducing skateboarding as a sport to Afghani children. In the Skateistan School in Kabul he has established, kids do not only learn the art of skateboarding, but learn about general health and language and music. Kids are also hired as skateboarding instructors and paid to teach younger kids or lower levels basic moves, thus enhancing their self-esteem and allowing them to get off the streets.
“Look at Fazillah,” Percovich says to the reporter. “I remember the first day she came here in January. She was walking through the park with a pile of sticks on her back. Her family had her quit school and she was selling chewing gum in the streets for $2 (U.S.) a day. Now she’s far more confident, and we pay her the same as she made on the street to stay in school and come here afterwards and teach skateboarding to the younger children.”
Even when I look around Toronto or Chicago, families from every sort of ethnic background are putting their children in athletic camps and team sports. At the YMCA I belong to, kids have their own gym times, classes and playground so parents are more than happy to buy them memberships and bring them along. Many spend weekends there as a way of getting in quality family bonding time.
No doubt sports have countless benefits. Team sports encourage fitness, peer interaction, leadership qualities, and discipline that comes with practicing a certain skill and working with a Coach. Individuals who practice non-team sports often admit that they feel fresh and attentive and stress-free. Therefore, many students are encouraged to participate in various sports. However, in a country that is recovering from war and where schools are still being built and where many children must help out their families, kids often struggle to find other forms of recreation.
So far, the Canadian government has donated $15,000, “the German embassy has invested $140,000 and Denmark has contributed $125,000.” From the proceeds, a 1,750-square-metre indoor skate park with a steel-roofed building that costs $200,000 will be completed this August.
Along with spaces for language and music classes, there will be segregation along “the skate park’s concrete surface and ramps so girls can continue to skateboard after they hit puberty – when they begin to wear head-to-toe burqas.”
Unfortunately, many critics have raised concerns over Western cultural influence even though none of the students have adapted the Western skateboarding outfit of baggy jeans and none of the kids know Tony Hawk.
There have been reports that some girls have been beaten by their brothers and some of the student employees have been threatened. To be safe, Oliver and his family moved across town. He insists that his aim is not to bring Western culture to the kids. From time to time, he holds girls-only sessions to include younger children and females who may not get as much of a chance to practice their skills.
The kids just skateboard because of the physical enjoyment of the sport. “This is really fun,” says Fazillah, who has two brothers and six sisters and plans to be a doctor some day. “Why do I like coming out skateboarding?
“It’s just a great time passer.”
I look forward to hearing more about this project and I hope that all cultures will be open and accepting of new ideas before shunning them in fear.