Photos Of Little Afghan Girls Skateboarding Show Us They Are More Than Just Victims Of War

A photographer documents a fun and inspiring project called Skateistan in Afghanistan that helps young girls to build their confidence! There couldn't have been a better Feel Good Friday story!

Cover image via

In a country where they're not even allowed on bicycles, girls between the ages of five and 16 are skateboarding, one of the most exhilarating, and oftentimes dangerous, sports in the world!

This photograph, taken at a school in Kabul, Afghanistan, shows a little girl wearing an oversized red helmet on her head and bright pink knee-pads over her shalwar kameez, gazing directly at the camera. She stands atop a skateboard, ready to launch herself down a ramp at any second.

This is not just a child at play. The battered skateboard at her feet is symbolic of more than a toy. She is part of photographer Jessica Fulford-Dobson's attempt to document female defiance in her photo series called Skate Girls of Kabul.

Photographer Jessica travelled to Afghanistan to capture a project called 'Skateistan' set up in Kabul by Oliver Percovich, an Australian skateboarder, to give little Afghan girls the opportunity to skate!

Skateistan was set up in Kabul in 2007 by Oliver Percovich, an Australian skateboarder. The award-winning NGO began as a grassroots initiative to create educational and personal empowerment opportunities for Afghanistan’s expanding young population (50% of the country are under 16), with skateboarding as a hook. The project works with about 400 students a week – 40% of whom are girls.

After reading about 'Skateistan' in a tiny newspaper article back in 2012, Jessica was hooked. She became determined to document this story of female defiance in a country ridden with conflict.

"The article was so short that I nearly missed it. The very idea of Afghan girls on skateboards captured my imagination and I thought it was a shame that such a visually striking story was compressed into a small column of text. We only seem to hear bleak news from Afghanistan, so it was really refreshing to read something so different and uplifting. I knew immediately that the Skate Girls of Kabul would be the perfect subject for me as a photographer," she told HuffPost.

The photographer reached out to Skateistan's founder, Oliver Percovich, who agreed to grant her permission into the Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif schools. Fulford-Dobson chose to work simply, without artificial lighting, letting the young women's personalities and natural expressions shine through the images. Some skaters hug their boards adoringly, others strike a rugged pose, while many prefer to be captured in motion, soaring through the skate park with what looks like pure joy.
Image via Skateistan

Her project, titled "Skate Girls of Kabul," is now receiving a great deal of attention around the world. But it wasn't easy, she says.

Image via Skateistan

“The first thing that comes to mind is this unexpected juxtaposition of a very conservative country with girls skateboarding,” she said. “And suddenly in my head I could just see swirls of fabric and these amazing outfits on skateboards and I knew I had to go out and see it for myself.”

“It wasn’t easy,” she added. “They were very protective of letting anyone from outside into the project. But once they realised I was coming out more as an artist than a journalist, they took a chance on me.”

There are some 300 girls who attend the school three days a week, and gets to do skateboarding in the afternoon as a reward for studying. Jessica, who immersed herself in the school for a month for her photography project in 2013, had to return back in 2014 to complete the series after classes at the school were suspended the previous year because of an increase in bombings in the city.

Image via Skateistan

“You’d see the girls, so nervous and timid to begin with, and then they’d go down the ramp and they’d be filled with this pride. It has an amazing power I could never have anticipated,” Fulford-Dobson said.

“It was swirls and the movement that I wanted to capture. Rather than just static images, I wanted to get some poetry into these pictures. So, in some of these pictures, you get more of a sense of them floating.”

Speaking about the motivation in pursuing the project, Jessica says it was her desire to depict the women of Afghanistan as something other than victims of men, war and religious suppression

“What I am trying to do is bring back an image of Afghanistan that sheds some light on the human beings in that country. There is a defiance in showing Afghan girls feeling free and liberated, even if it is just in this closed environment. These girls remind us all of how even something as simple an hour of skating can be a highly liberating act,” she added. “It’s funny how a skateboard can become such an evocative symbol.”

In terms of Skateistan's vision, skateboarding is just the beginning

The organization hopes to provide their students, many of whom are streetworking children and youth with disabilities, with the skills in leadership, responsibility, creativity and strength to create social change. The students themselves decide what they want to learn -- Skateistan connects them with a safe space and opportunities for them to develop the skills that they consider important.

In the meantime, watching the girls skate is absolutely mesmerising. Whatever you do, don't stop the video before you get past minute 1:15. That's when things really start to get going!

"They hurl themselves forward with unstoppable courage, and if they take a tumble they bounce right up again, running back to the queue and cheering on their friends," the artist told Hyperallergic. "Life for these skate girls is undeniably different in so many ways to that of their Western counterparts, but it’s also touchingly, heartbreakingly and amusingly the same."

"I hope that the joy, freedom and excitement you can see in the pictures of these Afghan girls is contagious," Jessica concludes!


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