My name is Sulaiman and I’m 23 years old. I was born in Kabul, Afghanistan and I have lived there all my life. When I was 12, I heard about this international organization that was providing sports and education. I was interested and excited to know more but I didn’t know the name or address. I started searching and I found it - maybe I was a bit too keen as they were still finalizing the construction when I went there! They told me it would be ready in a month or two. I didn’t have much information but it sounded really interesting. I didn’t really know what skateboarding was - I knew about skiing and things and I wondered if it was similar.
The main motivation for me was the other programs apart from skating. I hadn’t heard of skateboarding so I didn’t know if that was for me. But I was keen to meet other children and to learn about other things that I wasn’t learning in school. The Skateistan staff at that time were foreigners and I was interested in their culture and I wanted to meet them. It was really the only place where we could socialise with other children and learn things like art.
I would say I had quite a normal life before I went to Skateistan. I went to school and I played soccer regularly at school. Other than school, I didn’t do anything. That’s quite normal for children in Afghanistan; there isn’t a network of extra activities for children to get involved in. You go to school and then you go home and spend time with family. That’s it.
I joined the Skate and Create program which gave me the chance to learn to skateboard as well as a whole range of creative education classes. As it turned out, I did really like skateboarding, but it was the creative activities that really sparked my interest. I loved learning about media, photography and editing.
After a while I joined the Youth Leadership program and we spent a lot of time learning about skills for the future. I was encouraged to join the Student Council at Skateistan and I represented my class. We got involved in the future direction of the organization - contributing to lesson plans and how the organization should be run. That was a totally new idea for us - children and young people in Afghanistan are just taught to be respectful of their elders. They’re not encouraged to take on leadership roles and speak their minds. It was the start of some really new ideas for me.
I told my friends at school about Skateistan because I was so excited about it. Lots of them started coming and I helped to spread the word. I was acting like a bridge between Skateistan and my community.
After that I became a volunteer instructor at Skateistan. I was only 14 and I was the youngest instructor on the team. I felt really young in the staff meetings and I couldn’t believe I’d been given this responsibility. I soon became the lead instructor for the Skate and Create program. I was only 17 years old. Looking back on it, I progressed really quickly and the Skateistan team responded by supporting me and putting trust in me.
In 2014 I started working for a bank in Kabul. I was 17 and I was feeling like I needed to get my career started. Things were not the same as Skateistan. It was not as interesting and I was not happy. I then found out that there was a vacancy at Skateistan in Kabul for a Programs Officer. I knew I had the right experience so I applied in 2016 and got it. I worked in that role for three years. It was a boost in my career and something that I’m really proud of. Working for Skateistan is a source of pride for me. I learned so many things there and they have given me so much to take forward in my life. The person that I am today has been shaped by all the experiences I had there and the very good people I met.
Today, I am pursuing my career with an international organization. Meanwhile, I am studying for a Masters in Business Administration at one of the top universities of Afghanistan.
I also co-founded another NGO based here in Afghanistan, called HELA (Hope for Education and Leadership in Afghanistan). This uses the Model UN base to coach young people in leadership skills. We work all over Afghanistan and hundreds of young people have benefited from these programs.
I would like to be a changemaker. I think that I have already made some significant changes in my community, and so have many of my friends. But I want to keep doing this - we need to make positive changes for our society and country and I want to play a role in this. I want to be a leader who inspires people in the future - maybe even running for president. But you have to start somewhere - you have to serve at different levels to achieve greatness and I am willing to put in the work. I want to bring positive change to the lives of my people and others around the world. I believe that we are born for a purpose. Living a purposeless life is not the legacy that we want. We must leave behind something that we can be remembered for.
If you believe in the long-term impact of Skateistan's programs, please consider making a donation today so we can help more children like Sulaiman. To put your support on a stable footing, why not join the Citizens of Skateistan today?