Like every organization in the world, Skateistan has been trying to adjust to the challenges presented by the current coronavirus situation. It’s an unprecedented time and no one has a blueprint of how to manage it, either at a personal or an organization-wide level.
In some ways, Skateistan might be more ready than some organizations. We have Skate Schools in Afghanistan, Cambodia and South Africa and our HQ in Berlin, so we’re used to remote meetings, patchy internet connections and the feeling of distance between colleagues. We’ve always tried to be as flexible as we can in terms of people’s working patterns - this is not the first time we’ve had a toddler on the screen in our video conference meetings!
The glaring difference however is for our students. In March we took the decision to temporarily close all our Skate Schools for the safety of our staff and students. After 11 years of continuously running programs in Kabul, it’s hard to think of the facility closed for now and the students at home. I was so proud of Skateistan being able to still operate through almost impossible situations, especially in Kabul, when many other international organisations were packing their bags and leaving when the going got tougher. We know this will only be temporary but it weighs heavy, knowing that for many students, one of the few places that they can have fun and feel safe is not available to them right now. They need Skateistan and we fight to provide our programs to them every day of the year.
Since the situation began, our programs team has been working constantly to find ways to reach our students. Once again it’s a reminder of the different ways that global events are experienced by varying groups of people. My friends here in Europe are flooded with online resources and ideas to keep kids happy (or at least entertained). For many of our students and their families, this is just not possible. Only around 10% of our students’ families in Afghanistan have access to the internet (25% in Cambodia and 60% in South Africa), so sending out resources from the Skate School to our students isn’t always an option. We’ve got a great team with plenty of energy and creativity, so we’ll find ways. But it’s an important reminder that ‘we’re all in this together’ doesn’t necessarily mean we’re experiencing the same thing.
Our early focus has been on keeping in touch with families. It’s really important that we help out in terms of passing on accurate information about virus prevention as rumours can spread very quickly and this can be dangerous. We’re also sharing tips on maintaining good mental health in challenging times. For many students, who can’t see their friends and educators, just knowing that someone is still thinking of them can be very powerful.
In South Africa, the team has added almost 100 parents to a whatsapp group so they can share ideas for keeping students entertained at home, share accurate information about the virus and its prevention, and even for parents to vent about the challenges of having kids at home in a small space. We’ve asked students in South Africa to work on a drawing of what they can see from their window. We’re hoping to involve other staff and students in this so we can all share in something common - a way of connecting when everything feels like it exists in a vacuum.
In Cambodia, our Community Educator has been calling parents to check in on students and make sure they are safe. In Afghanistan, staff have been organizing conference calls with parents to bring the community together, even in these challenging times. The team is also busily working on how resources can be distributed safely over the next few weeks.
In this time of distancing, what we’re learning more than ever is that kindness and connection are key. Reminding yourself to always ask how someone is, how their family is, and what the situation looks like for them before you jump in with a work question. Remembering that stress can manifest in unexpected ways. Considering that lockdown in one place is very different from another. Being open to learning more than you’re teaching.
We cannot wait until our Skate Schools are back open, and full of the noise of excited, happy kids. Until then, let’s hope we can all connect in a way that is kind, that lets people know that wherever they are in the world, they have not been forgotten.
I want to leave you with a story of kindness from Mazar-e-sharif in Afghanistan. Tamim, who is deaf and is a former student of Skateistan, has become a tailor. When he heard that masks were needed, he jumped into action, making over 200 face masks to distribute to people in the city who couldn’t afford them. In the photos that were provided by Noorzai (one of the original Mekroyan crew) you can see Tamim at the famous Blue Mosque in Mazar fitting the masks he made. Tamim embodies the spirit of a Citizen of Skateistan.
Skateistan needs support to keep rolling through the current coronavirus crisis. We know that many people's financial situation has been affected. If you're still able to, please consider making a donation to Skateistan today so we can continue to support our students through this challenging time.