I’m always amazed when I hear stories of people who visit a foreign country, stumble across a problem and are spurred to action to create positive change with unique, innovative methods.
That’s the story of the founders of the world-famous Invisible Children organization when they learned of the civil war devastating Northern Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army who were abducting children to turn them into child soldiers; it’s also similar to what happened to Oliver Percovich and Sharna Nolan who created the NGO, Skateistan, after visiting Kabul, Afghanistan in 2007.
According to the organization’s website, “Skateistan is Afghanistan’s—and the world’s—first co-educational skateboarding school.”
The two Australian skateboarders brought the opportunity to skate to children in Afghanistan and opened up a small skate school that soon spread the love for the sport among boys and girls. Percovich and Nolan brought boards to Kabul and build facilities for Afghan youth to be able to do something so natural and seemingly inconsequential to children in other parts of the world.
They now have a documentary coming out called Skateistan-The Movie that “strives to tell a positive story about Afghan youth, using global media platforms to send a message of hope, unity and peace… detailing the construction of the school, the achievements of its students, and what it’s like to grow up in 21st century Afghanistan.”
It’s truly incredible how something like sports and exercise can provide a beneficial outlet to create unity among disenfranchised youth from various socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, especially of both genders, considering the fact that women are in many ways unable to have full participation in Afghan society. But Skateistan says that Afghans have embraced and accepted skateboarding for girls and young women; half of the school’s students are female.
Beyond skateboarding, the tuition-free, supervised school provides arts and multimedia education, journalism classes, environmental health and more. Skateistan is open to volunteers who want to get involved by teaching skateboarding skills, journalism, art, working in human resources, construction building and more.
If you’re interested in more efforts to use sports to help foster positive change like peace, unity, empowerment and development, here are some other organizations to check out:
- Hoops for Africa builds relationships with professional athletes to help educate Africans about HIV/AIDS prevention and nutrition. Their motto is “Play safe, stay alive.”
- The Tegla Loroupe Peace Race Foundation, a registered charity in Kenya, aims to “improve peace building, livelihoods and resilience of poor people affected by and vulnerable to conflicts and civil strife in the world”. Its namesake is a world-class athlete and activist.
- Sports4HOPE , co-founded by Paul and Stephen Reynard, “seeks to prevent and reconcile conflicts by inspiring hope, improving the quality of life, and empowering youth in conflict-affected areas through sport and peace education.” Upcoming projects focus on the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
- The Homeless World Cup wants to inspire people to “beat homelessness through football” through a World Cup-like tournament uniting homeless people of all countries to play together and trigger life changes for the better. Paris will host the 2011 Homeless World Cup in Paris; Mexico will host in 2012.