How Girls in Afghanistan Are Skateboarding Their Way to Empowerment

How Girls in Afghanistan Are Skateboarding Their Way to Empowerment (ABC News)

Young girls in Afghanistan are empowering themselves through an unexpected sport: skateboarding.

Non-profit organization Skateistan is cruising through the country's streets, getting fascinated children to sign up for their skateboarding lessons followed up with educational time in classrooms -- and it's all for free.

The unconventional charity was founded by Australian Oliver Percovich who wanted to do something about the lack of proper role models for working street children, Skateistan's communications director Rhianon Bader told ABC News.

"We want the girls to see one another as role models instead of the war lords who would drive around town with a car load of men who are waving guns around," Percovich told the Daily Mail.

But why skateboarding?

Simply because it's one of few, if any, sports socially acceptable for Afghanistan girls to participate in.

"Traditional sports and activities like bike riding, [soccer] and kite flying are really popular in Afghanistan, but they're only appropriate for boys," Bader told ABC News. "Skateboarding didn't exist in the Afghan context at all, so there weren't any social constraints for girls to take part in skateboarding."

Skateistan serves both girls and boys, but the organization has gone to especially great lengths for its girls.

"We've done everything to make our program culturally appropriate to reach as many girls as possible," Bader told ABC News. "In Afghanistan, girls can only be around other girls, so we host all-girls classes taught only by female teachers. We have a separate safe facility for them and provide free, safe transportation for them."

Skateistan is currently helping over 800 children pursue their dreams in the war-torn country, the Daily Mail reported.

"We are reaching out to kids internally displaced in camps, poor working street children and even middle class kids," Bader told ABC News. "It's really important to have this mixing of different backgrounds to build up a civil society that has been devastated by decades of war.

Their new outdoor skate park is the first in the war-torn country that's seen more than 21,000 killed in past 11 years.

Skateistan's "Back to School" program attached with its skateboarding classes also helps their students get enrolled or re-enrolled in the country's public school system.

The non-profit also has a youth leadership program, where older students can transition into significant full-time roles as instructors, teachers and speakers.

One student in the program, Madina Saidy, 16, is now a teacher and recently represented Skateistan in Colombia at the U.N. Habitat's World Urban Forum, where she spoke in front of 25,000 participants on urban equity, Bader told ABC News.

This was Saidy's first trip outside of Afghanistan.

"It's amazing to see a girl from Afghanistan who has been working since eight years old to come this far," Bader said. "She basically taught herself English, and now she's an amazing role model and leader who has even flown internationally."