Skateistan has long been one of our favorite non-profit organizations around the world. We reached out recently, asking for more information regarding their mission and future plans. We were immediately greeted by Skateistan’s Communications Manager, Jessica Faulkner. Here’s what she had to say about their organization. 

Photos by Andy Buchanan for Skateistan.

How did Skateistan start?

Back in 2007, our Founder and Executive Director Oliver Percovich arrived in Kabul, Afghanistan and started to skate in the streets of the city. Street-working kids would follow him around and ask to try. Girls, who are often discouraged from taking part in sports in Afghanistan, were able to join as in skateboarding wasn’t seen as a sport then. Oliver saw a unique opportunity to combine skateboarding with education to empower children and young people in Afghanistan. Skateistan was officially formed in 2008 and in 2009 we opened the largest indoor sports facility in Afghanistan. This was the first Skateistan Skate School.   

Your programs focus on empowering girls and kids living with disabilities or in poor communities. Why did you specifically choose empower girls in third-world countries?

Our programs are for all children aged between 5 and 17 but we make special effort to reach out to children who are often excluded from recreational activities, such as girls, children with disabilities and those from low-income backgrounds. By ensuring these children are included, we give them a chance to explore their creativity, learn new skills and make friends from other communities and cultures. 

In the countries where we work, educational and recreational opportunities for girls are often severely limited. Even girls who are allowed to attend school or take part in physical activities are often made to believe that they cannot achieve what boys can. So it’s really important for us that we try to change this narrative by showing girls that they are just as capable as boys – both in the classroom and the skatepark. We’re really proud that half of our active students are girls.  


It’s really important for us that we try to change this narrative by showing girls that they are just as capable as boys – both in the classroom and the skatepark.

Your four core programs are the outreach, Skate and create, Back to school and youth leadership. Could you describe these four initiatives in more detail?

In Outreach, Educators and Youth Leaders head out with skateboards and sports equipment to engage with local children, providing an hour of recreational activity. It is often the first time they will try skateboarding or other sports, and is their first contact with Skateistan. We also develop partnerships with child protection agencies in order to connect youth and their families with important social services. 

Skate and Create is our biggest program and consists of an hour in the skatepark and an hour in the classroom. In the classroom, Skateistan Educators use creative arts to teach a variety of topics, including human rights, cultural studies, nutrition and the environment. Lessons give children the tools to express themselves, think critically and develop confidence. In the skatepark, students find a valuable platform for self-expression and personal development.

Back-to-School is a program to support youth in their pursuit of formal education. In Afghanistan, this is an accelerated learning program for children who are out of school. Students come to the Skate School five days a week to attend classes covering the national public curriculum. Upon completing the program, we enroll students into public school, usually in the 3rd or 4th grade. In South Africa and Cambodia, the program takes place outside of school hours, where students can drop-in and receive homework help and guidance with career and further education planning.

Older children at Skateistan can apply to join the Youth Leadership program, assisting the Educators in classes, mentoring younger students, building their skill sets and planning local events. The Youth Leadership program develops a sense of ownership at the Skate Schools and creates role models for the other students and wider community. The program aims to create leaders for Skateistan and for a better world.


You currently have programs in Kabul, Mazar-E-Sharif, Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville & Johannesburg. Do you have any plans to expand even more? If so, where?

At Skateistan, we’re always looking for ways that we can grow so we can have a positive impact on more children through skateboarding and education. Next year we are hoping to expand to a third location in Afghanistan and we’re also looking at locations in the Middle East where we can reach children who have been displaced by conflict. We also launched the Goodpush Alliance this year, which is a global network of social skate projects, where we can share knowledge and experience from our 10 years of operating. 

What sets skateboarding apart from other sports?
(As opposed to more international and historic sports such as football/soccer) 

It’s the creativity that makes skateboarding unique. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, and skaters are celebrated when they try new things. It’s non-competitive so we see our students helping and encouraging each other and cheering for their friends’ achievements when they land an awesome trick. Any skater can tell you how many times you have to fall before you land something and this teaches our students persistence, resilience and determination. Skateboarding is new in the countries where we work so there are no preconceived ideas of what a skateboarder looks like. It doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female or whether or not your family is rich. That makes it a very inclusive activity. 


What have been the most memorable experiences that you’ve had through Skateistan?

I’ve just been visiting the Skate School in Johannesburg and while I was there some students from a local school came in for the first time. The school is for deaf students and children living with cognitive disabilities and it was the first time on a skateboard for all of them. Our Skate Educators were helping them one by one, holding their hands and encouraging them to give it a go. The kids just seemed to have such an awesome time – they couldn’t believe this was something they could do. That’s an experience every child should have. 

What sets you apart from other non-profit organizations?

We believe that the best way to have long-lasting impact is to ensure the communities where we work feel ownership over what we do. Our Skate Schools are all run by local staff because they understand what their community needs and how best to deliver it. Children can start coming to Skateistan when they’re five years old and they can stay with us until they’re 17. This isn’t a one-off intervention where we help to solve one issue and then leave – we are really integrated with our communities and we help students to become future leaders, ensuring that the positive impact will keep going in the future. 

Where do you see Skateistan in five years?

Bigger and better! We hope to have two more Skate Schools and to be reaching even more students through those new locations. Through the Goodpush Alliance, we will have built a global network of social skate projects, which are sharing knowledge and working together to have a positive impact on thousands more children.  


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