Here at Skateistan we always strive to get better at what we do. We don’t have all the answers, but when challenging situations arise, we try to be proactive, turn problems into solutions and learn from our experiences. What Skateistan learned about…is a mini series here on our blog, which shares what we’re learning and how it helps us improve. In this edition, we examine the way that engaging with the communities around our Skate Schools has helped us to run more effective programs.
When we tell people for the first time that we aim to empower children through skateboarding and education, sometimes people look a bit blank. It’s not the most obvious mechanism for developing future leaders and for people who don’t know much about skateboarding, it can seem like a strange idea. Skateboarding was relatively unknown in Afghanistan and Cambodia when we first started out, so we’ve had to work hard to engage the communities where we work, and to help people to see the potential and benefit of what we do in our Skate Schools.
Our interactions with local communities are one of the keys to our success and we are fortunate that the communities around our Skate Schools have always supported us in what we’re trying to do. However, this relationship didn’t develop overnight. It’s all thanks to the hard work of our Community Educators. With one in each of our Skate Schools, their job is to help the community around our Skate Schools understand what we do, and inform them of how their kids would benefit from Skateistan programs. Here’s a few examples of how our community engagement has evolved over the years.
When parents first hear about skateboarding, it’s common for them to be worried about their kids getting hurt. In the early days of programming in Cambodia, some parents requested that their children participate in our creative education classes but not to take part in the skateboarding side of our programs.
To tackle this, our team in Cambodia holds events for parents and the wider community so they can see exactly what we do at Skateistan and how we keep our students safe. All of our students are provided with shoes, helmets, knee and elbow pads and wrist guards before they skate and they all take part in safety lessons in the skatepark, learn of the importance of taking turns and listening to their educator’s instructions. By doing this, we don’t remove risk entirely, but we help our students to navigate it by assessing a situation, deciding on whether they’re ready to attempt something new and by understanding what steps they can take to keep themselves safe. When parents witness all of this, they often feel reassured about their children taking part in Skateistan programs.
Many of our students’ parents work in the evenings and are sometimes away from home for long periods for work. This means they don’t always feel connected to their kids’ activities. For students, this can feel like their parents are disengaged in what they’re doing which can be challenging if they’ve been inspired by something they want to show off, like learning a new trick or something really cool in a creative education lesson. In Johannesburg, our Community Educator has worked hard to bring parents into the school so they can observe the benefits of our programs. The first stage of this process is often home visits (Skateistan staff conducted over 1,000 home visits in 2018) but also includes events, positive parenting workshops and even a recent ‘Daddy’s day’ for fathers to come and get a flavor of what’s going on at Skateistan.
Tackling cultural barriers
In Afghanistan, girls are often discouraged from participating in sports or physical activity, especially in public. Skateistan is often their first and only opportunity to get involved with sports, but this sometimes comes with apprehension for their families and their wider community.
An example of this is a student named Atefa* in Mazar-e-Sharif, who originally came to Skateistan with her friends around four years ago. Shortly after she started attending, her family told her she had to stop coming as they were concerned that it wasn’t appropriate for a girl to skateboard. Our Community Educator went to visit her family and invited them to come and see Skateistan for themselves. She explained that girls have female educators and separate classes from boys. She showed them around the classrooms and the skatepark and explained what Atefa could learn by continuing to come to Skateistan. Their visit reassured them that the Skateistan programs would be good for her, and Atefa was allowed to return to her classes.
Four years later, and Atefa is still coming to Skateistan. She’s now a Youth Leader and she was the first girl in Afghanistan to land a kickflip. Recently, she even had the opportunity to travel to China with another student and our Programs Officer Noozai, to take part in a skateboarding training camp set up by the Olympic Committee. Without our focus on community engagement, Atefa would be missing out on so much.
By meeting people where they are, listening to their concerns and helping them to understand our vision, we can bring the community with us, respond to their needs and continue to create something special.
*Atefa’s name has been changed in accordance with our Child Protection Policy.
If you’d like to support the work we do to create future leaders for safer, more peaceful communities, you can make a donation today. Or you can put your support for Skateistan on a more stable footing, by joining the Citizens of Skateistan today.