Oliver Percovich: Motivation Makes the Difference

Motivation is key, especially at a time like this when we don’t know what the future holds and all our best plans are falling through our fingers. There were many times while I lived in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2014 when I felt sapped of all energy, bad news seemingly continuously surrounding me. I was astonished how resilient Afghans were in spite of everything going wrong around them, attempting to live their lives fully and very much in the moment. That was motivating and inspiring to me. That’s actually how I’d like to live all the time. 

One thing that’s really motivated me lately is seeing the enormous effort our unstoppable staff in Afghanistan, Cambodia and South Africa have put into creating and sharing resources and support systems for our students while they can’t come to our Skate Schools. 

When only a very small percentage of our students have access to the internet or even a telephone in places like Afghanistan this can be quite tricky. Where we would have visited a student’s house before to have a cup of tea and a chat with the parents, we now have to reach them in other ways, usually by phone. Skateistan Educators have been sharing accurate information about Covid-19 and how to prevent its spread and they have been checking in on families to ensure students’ physical and mental wellbeing is ok. That has been an unexpected surprise for many of the families. 

Sometimes things don’t work according to plan. We arranged for donations of fresh vegetables for our students and their families in Johannesburg, but word spread about the food handout and hundreds of people ended up outside our Skate School gates almost causing a riot last Friday. But our General Manager, Mbali, found a solution and the Skateistan students’ families got their food packages safely the following day. 

There has been student artwork on social distancing as well as loads of video meets, including the girls’ empowerment “This Girl Can” group in Joburg.  

Another way to get motivated is to share with others. This was something I also learned from my time living in Kabul. Bottling up is not a good coping strategy. Even if it’s sharing a struggle, or a bad day, it’s better to know you're not alone. Last week, the Goodpush Alliance hosted a COVID-19 Sharing Webinar with staff from 25+ other social skateboarding projects all around the world to discuss and share on how everyone is coping with the coronavirus crisis. It was great to get ideas and inspiration from others. Here’s some things we learned: 

  • The importance of staff looking after their own wellbeing before focusing on supporting their participants, like putting your own oxygen mask on first on an airplane. 
  • That many of these projects provide valuable social connection and role models for the young people they serve, even when skateboarding programs can’t happen.
  • While different contexts affect how we can adapt our programs (for example the level of internet access participants have) we also share many common challenges and solutions.
  • These unique circumstances have made many organizations more open and available for collaboration, since – for the first time – this is just as easy to do across distances as it is within our own cities, and we will be able to adapt our programs more quickly if we work together.
  • Sharing challenges and ideas with peers is super motivating – based on positive feedback we will run another Goodpush Sharing Webinar on 30 April.

It’s these connections and examples from others that keep me motivated. After more than 12 years of programs, I'm thrilled that Skateistan has just launched its Alumni Network, a way for all of our former students to connect, inspire and support each other. This is a time when we need compassionate leaders, with their communities as their first priority. That might look very different from what we think of when someone says ‘leader.’ 

Our alumni are all Citizens of Skateistan – members of our global community who share our vision of creating leaders for a better world. In our Skate Schools, we’re not just teaching kids to skate – we’re allowing them to come up with creative solutions to the world’s problems. A lesson like ‘Ideal Country’ or ‘Human Rights Island’ is designed to give children permission to imagine a different future. As the world around us changes and definitions of things alter in our minds, what does a good leader look like now? What does a good citizen do? How do those people behave in a new and challenging situation like the corona pandemic? 

I’m excited to find out what we’ll learn from the next generation of leaders as I’m sure they have better ideas than we have. That’s really motivating. 

Skateistan needs your support so we can reach our students in these uncertain times. If you're in a financial position to do so, please consider making a donation to Skateistan today. 

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