In Afghanistan, living with a disability means that it is more difficult to access basic services like education, health care and physical activity. To help change this, Skateistan partnered with the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan to provide access to education and opportunities to children with a disability in Mazar-e-Sharif.
As part of our focus on developing inclusive and accessible programs, we are excited to highlight the work we do with deaf and hard of hearing students. Across our locations in Afghanistan and Cambodia, as many as 100 deaf children have taken part in Skate & Create and Outreach programs. Last year, Skateistan worked with over 156 disabled children to offer access to opportunities for education, skateboarding, and physical activity. Many deaf and hard of hearing students participate in the Skate and Create program at the Skate School in Mazar-e-Sharif.
In May 2016, we started working with the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA) to develop ways to best serve communities of children living with disabilities. To reach these groups more effectively, we partner with organizations that have established relationships with these communities to have the greatest impact on their potential.
The SCA is a Swedish non-governmental organization committed to fighting for an Afghanistan free of violence, poverty and discrimination by advocating for access to health care, education, and community governance. Their Education program is implemented in 14 provinces around 81 districts in Afghanistan, aimed at providing access to quality educational opportunities. The SCA Education program provides access to education for almost 80,000 children, most of them learning in community based education classes. They work with children of all abilities to promote equal access to opportunities, and work to ensure that children living with a disability attend public school or access community based education classes. To further their potential, their students participate at Skateistan, providing alternative education opportunities and access to sport and physical activity, often for the first time in their lives.
Studies have shown that access to school and literacy in Afghanistan did not improve between 2005 and 2013 for children and youth with disabilities. In 2018, a record number of disabled Afghans sought assistance for the first time at physical rehabilitation centres run by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) across Afghanistan. The need is there - we just needed the right partner to help us respond to it.
The Skate and Create program at Skateistan helps students build life skills through a balance of social sports and structured learning. In the skatepark and in the classroom, Skateistan’s Educators guide activities to promote wellness, equality and creative expression. The program is accessible to all levels of literacy and ability, a perfect fit for the SCA students to develop relationships and skills that overcome deep social barriers.
Essential to all Skateistan programs, all staff and volunteers are trained with an up to date Child Protection Policy and First Aid training. Before working with the SCA students, the SCA provided inclusivity training for ten Skateistan staff members in Mazar-e-Sharif. This training included a learning session on different types of disabilities, a session on the rights of people living with disabilities, as well as learning sign language to communicate with non-verbal students. Now ten Skateistan staff in Mazar-e-Sharif are able to use basic sign language with deaf students, making a huge difference in their ability to build strong relationships and communicate with these children.
The SCA selected around 30 students from their program to participate once a week at the Skate School in Mazar-e-Sharif. Transportation to the Skate School is provided by Skateistan for all of the children and their teachers - an important component of being able to attend Skateistan programs. To best support the SCA students, one or two sign language teachers attend Skate and Create classes with their students. Now, students of all abilities in the Skate and Create program are able to try new things in a safe and supportive environment in the skate park and in the classroom, leading to positive development learning life skills.
To discuss the impact of our partnership with SCA, we featured a student named Fatima on our blog a while back. Fatima started joining Skateistan programs with SCA. When she started coming to the Skate School, she was very withdrawn and struggled with her physical movement. At first she felt like she had to rely on the instructor from SCA to communicate. Over time, as Skateistan staff became her friends and mentors, she was able to reach out to them for support. Then, when Fatima felt frustrated in the program, she was able to communicate her feelings with Skateistan instructors who could sign, and with their support she gradually built her confidence to take chances and learn to love skateboarding.
Working together with the SCA to provide inclusive and adaptive programming for people of all abilities breaks down barriers for children to have fun, build their skills and confidence and make new friends while they’re at it. The students really enjoy Skate and Create lessons that use role playing, as well as drawing in the classroom. When they’re asked what they’d rather do outside of the classroom - football or skateboarding, skating almost always wins!