Here at BACKPACKER, we're all for instilling kids and teens with optimism, especially through the outdoors. Participants in our Summit for Someone benefit climb series raise money for urban teens to navigate the wilderness through Big City Mountaineers.
That's why Skateistan caught our eye: This skateboard school for kids in Kabul, Afghanistan is the brainchild of 34-year-old Oliver Percovich, an Australian skater who followed a girlfriend to Kabul. Percovich has high hopes that Skateistan can break down barriers created by social class, ethnicity, and gender, and can serve as a distraction for Afghan kids from the constant threats of suicide car bombers and rampant kidnappings.
Eventually, Percovich plans to wrap English and computer classes into Skateistan's curriculum. So far, $150,000 in donations from the Canadian and Norwegian foreign embassies have put these goals in sight for the near future.
Ollies for equality might seem like a far-fetched concept, but as our Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Dorn found out when embarking on his trip with Big City Mountaineers, optimism is a very powerful thing for struggling youth. He hiked the Sierra with Tim, a teen from inner-city Los Angeles, and had this to say:
"[Tim] was coming from a foster home--with a restraining order against his dad and a pessimistic view of his own prospects in a world that had only shown him violence and disappointment. A week of mentoring by BCM volunteers didn't "cure" him, but it did change him, just a bit... Tim--for all of his anger and doubt--told me that he dreamed of studying theater at UCLA. That's the reason to support an outfit like Big City Mountaineers: It's during the worst times that teens like Tim need the most help--and reason to hope."
Mirwais, a 16-year-old Afghan boy, was washing cars for $4 a day when he discovered Percovich and his skateboarding school. Working as a skateboard repairman and instructor with Skateistan, Mirwais now makes twice that much to support his family.
The kids meet at a Kabul fountain several times a week to skateboard until a formal skate park can be built across town. Although Skateistan empowers middle-class girls like 9-year-old Mara to play outside with street children, it still has a long way to go: Girls often face beatings and threats of violence from disapproving adults.
"Afghan kids are the same as kids all over the world," Percovich said in an interview with the New York Times. "They just haven't been given the same opportunities. They need a positive environment to do positive things for Afghanistan and for themselves."