Ahmad* is 12 years old and lives in Beirut, Lebanon with his family. He is a Syrian refugee born in Deer el Zour, the largest city in eastern Syria. As a young child back home, Ahmad lived what he called a regular life. He went to school, spent time with friends, he felt free and he had a lot of fun. He also helped his family’s small business, picking vegetables and fruits and selling them to people in the community, something he really enjoyed.
Ahmad’s life changed in 2011, when the Syrian war began and his family received multiple warnings to evacuate their town. This was a traumatic time for him and his family, as bombing and bombardments made them feel fearful for their lives. His family decided to move to Damascus, Syria’s capital, and then to Beirut, Lebanon to be safe from the war.
When he arrived in Lebanon Ahmad lived with his family in a small house in Chiyah, a city situated in the west region of the Lebanese capital of Beirut. The house always feels full, as many family members live in the same space. He was not enrolled in school, and he started to sell biscuits and collect plastic from the streets and sell it to merchants to help his family.
One day while street working in April 2022, he visited a park and watched as a group of children skateboarded with their friends. He felt passionate to join them and be a part of the group. Within days, Ahmad and his two little brothers were skateboarding in a skate session as part of Skateistan’s partnership program with Just Childhood. Since April 2022, we have been running Skateistan programs in Beirut together.
At Just Childhood, socially marginalized children in Lebanon are supported in their right to play and learn in safety. Paired with Skateistan’s skateboarding lessons that focus on girls’ inclusion, empowerment and integration between different communities, we can meet children where they’re at and help provide safe environments for them to grow, learn, and skate.
At first, things weren’t so easy for Ahmad. Since he had been out of school for so long, when he first joined the program he was not able to socialize with his peers, he struggled to make friends and would not listen to instruction from his teachers.
Noura and Alaa are two educators at Just Childhood who worked with Ahmad early on to help him connect with his peers and break down social barriers. Together Noura and Alaa lead a morning circle in the classroom where students have the chance to tell stories about themselves, their lives, what they like and what they don’t like and what they want to be when they grow up. The morning circles created a safe and positive space for Ahmad to open up, which led to a sense of belonging.
After four months in the program, he made connections with his classmates and developed a group of friends in the program. In the skatepark, Ahmad is responsible for ensuring that it stays clean and organized for all of the students, especially the younger ones. His skate coaches, Mike, Ahmad, and Vanessa, aim to give him a sense of safety and belonging, and witnessed a change in his behaviour when he felt more responsibility. They call him “skate warrior”.
When asked by an educator what he enjoys about programs, Ahmad said, “specifically the skate sessions and attending the school because I wasn’t able to get my education before. Later in my life I want to be in a position where I can help people.”
While speaking with Ahmad’s mom, she told his teachers that she could already see the difference that the program has made for Ahmad, she can see that his attitude has changed, he’s more of a positive person to be around, and she thinks she can see that he is healing from the consequences of war. The only wish for her is for Ahmad to complete his education, have a better future, and continue to live his life without any fear or anxiety from the bad memories and the painful days he was exposed to as a child in Syria.
Alternative models of education, such as those offered at Just Childhood, and Skateistan’s Back-to-School program ensure short and long term impact on the lives of children. After so many years of working in Afghanistan, South Africa and Cambodia, we know how to provide programs that can make a real difference in children’s lives. We're taking what we've learned to be able to deliver quality skateboarding and education programs to children all over the world.
Street working children experience a lack of access to education. One of the impacts of war, displacement, and migration, is that once children stop attending school, it’s more difficult for them to re-enter into the education cycle. We’ve seen that alternative models of education provide children with a sense of creativity and belonging. When they belong, they feel safe. We aim to create a feeling of safety in all of our programs.
*Ahmad's name has been changed in accordance with Skateistan's child protection policy.
In the Skate Beyond Borders campaign, our aim is to provide safe environments for students to grow up free from fear, violence and to develop their full potential to contribute to a better future for themselves and others.
By making a donation to the Skate Beyond Borders campaign, you can help provide safe spaces for children like Ahmad to build a better future in which they can thrive.