This year's Eric Stricker Memorial Award deservedly goes to the incredible people at Skateistan, who have spent the past eight years using skateboarding as a tool of empowerment for youths in Afghanistan, South Africa, and Cambodia. Founded by Oliver Percovich in 2007, and with their first facility opened in '09 in Kabul, the non-profit, non-governmental organization works with children from a range of socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds in some of the most war-torn and impoverished countries on the planet to build trust, offer educational opportunities, and bring hope to youths whose lives and living conditions might otherwise seem exceedingly difficult from our perspective of first-world comforts.
Literally saving lives through skateboarding, Skateistan is a shining example of the actual real-world benefits of the physical and social activity we all take for granted. The organization proves once and for all that while our pastime can be equally about "having fun," it can also be a bona fide rallying point for giving back—providing the perfect vehicle to build a charity around for those with far less and facing indescribable hardship.Skateistan's formula is simple: Once kids latch onto skateboarding, they also open up to everything else—education, community leadership roles, and untold other roles and activities that might benefit them.
With 40 percent of their participants being girls, the organization also offers rare opportunities for education and a chance to compete in sports in countries like Afghanistan where local law forbids women from even riding a bicycle. Tony Hawk, a Skateistan ambassador himself, describes his experience: "Skateistan is the epitome of what skating is all about. I honestly share in the excitement those kids feel."
Skateistan Kabul recently celebrated its fifth anniversary. As a testament to the program's success, 550 students, staff, alumni, family members, officials, and supporters joined together in festivities entirely organized by the empowered youths the facility was originally built for. Thank you, skateboarding—and thank you, Skateistan.—Mackenzie Eisenhour
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