Imagine trying to get an organisation off the ground to help kids access education with armed conflict as a backdrop. This was just one of many challenges Oliver Percovich’s organisation ‘Skateistan’ had to overcome in its formative years. Oliver was the guest of this year’s Bachelor of Global Studies welcome lecture, giving students and parents a real eye-opener into hands-on leadership and how to affect real social change.
Skateistan is a multi-award winning non-profit international organisation combining skateboarding with education opportunities in Afghanistan, Cambodia and South Africa. Around 200 people from secondary schools and industry, as well as current Bachelor of Global Studies students, staff, and board members heard Oliver tell the story of how his love for skateboarding has lead him to his life’s work, and to Skatiestan.
“I grew up only about 40 minutes from here. When I was 6 years old I took a skateboard with me to PNG where I did my primary school education, and then 27 years later I took a skateboard with me to Afghanistan,” said Oliver.
Skateboarding on the streets of Kabul, Oliver noticed how children were fascinated by what he was doing, and together they created a makeshift skate park for them in an empty fountain and started to teach them what he knew about skateboarding. Finding these kids were often the breadwinners for their families and had no access to education, he became determined to do something for his new found skating protégés, and set about building an organisation to support them … and so ‘Skatiestan’ was born.
“Skateboarding had given me confidence, an outlet for creativity and access to a global community… I thought perhaps these things would be valuable for these new friends of mine.”
One of Oliver’s first obstacles was the ongoing suicide attacks in Kabul, with bombs going off not far from the fountain' skate park' he and the kids used. Realising that “first and foremost the kids needed a safe place to play,” Oliver and the rest of the Skateistan team set out to do just that, encountering quite a few challenges along the way, including finding funding, battling with an unreliable electricity supply, and building community and local government support.
Oliver also realised that girls and women needed special support to get involved in a physical activity such as skateboarding after years of repression under the Taliban.
“Between 1996 and 2001, the Taliban were in power. Women were forbidden from doing any type of sport and men were able to do certain sanctioned sports. Since 2001 women have been allowed to play sport, but there are still cultural barriers,” said Oliver.
Skateistan slowly began to tackle this barrier with specific programs and efforts for girls. Skateboarding started to be seen as a sport for girls in the community, because of the emphasis Skatiestan put on girls getting involved and winning competitions. Promoting female role models and teachers has now become a core concept of Skateistan worldwide and this was done in different, very localised ways, with programs that fit in with the culture.
“Sport is a powerful first step for girls’ participation in society. It gives you confidence and builds community.”
Skatiestan’s first skate school opened in 2009 and it was the largest sports facility for kids in the country at the time. Other facilities have since been opened in other parts of Afghanistan, and most recently, in Cambodia and South Africa.
Oliver Percovich is also a member of the Bachelor of Global Studies Industry Advisory Board, which allows program coordinators to work directly with industry partners. Professor Frances and Chair of the board, Michael Hann, explained how the Advisory Board has a special role in shaping the future direction of the degree with industry know-how contributing to the core units built around ‘Leadership for social change’.
“The kind of leadership that we foster is all about negotiation and constructive leadership. We have a big emphasis on dialogue and cultural literacy as part of that leadership for social change program.” – Professor Rae Frances
Professor Frances congratulated Oliver and encouraged current and future Bachelor of Global Students to be inspired by what can be achieved.
“Oliver has demonstrated qualities we would love to see in our students, the imagination, the flexibility, the cultural sensitivity, determination and practical understanding of what you need to make it happen, and the passion,” said Professor Frances.