Girls in War Zone Find Their Power On Skateboards; Documentary About Them Takes Home the Oscar (Watch)

skateistan-girls-skate-garden-kabul1-jessica-fulfurd-dobsonPhoto by Jessica Fulford-Dobson

In Afghanistan, it’s considered offensive and taboo for women to ride bicycles—but one nonprofit has given these girls a different kind of fun on wheels.

Skateistan is an organization that uses skateboarding to helps to empower marginalized youth and rescue them from the streets so they can be transitioned into a community that will teach them about leadership and independence.

Learning To Skateboard In A Warzone (If You’re a Girl)—a short film documentary about the organization’s mission in Afghanistan—recently brought Skateistan back into national headlines after it won the 2020 Academy Award for Best Short Film this week, although the nonprofit has been changing lives since 2007.

skate-board-skateistan-girlPhoto by Jessica Fulford-Dobson

According to the Skateistan website, over 60% of their students are low-income and do not have access to education—but the organization believes that once they hook the kids into the program, the possibilities are endless.

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Whether it’s instilling feelings of confidence and autonomy through skateboarding, or simply letting children know that someone cares, the program has encouraged kids to believe in themselves.

“When skateboarding came into Afghanistan,” Skate Girls of Kabul photographer Jessica Fulford-Dobson told BBC, “they didn’t even know what it was.”

Inspired by the young women’s joy, the photographer first approached Skateistan about documenting their life and community in 2012.

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One of her portraits of the skaters later ended up taking home the 2nd place prize in the 2014 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize.

aghani-skate-board-girlPhoto by Jessica Fulford-Dobson

“[The skater] first caught my eye because she was wearing such a beautiful color,” recalled Fulford-Dobson to the news outlet. “She’s just immaculate. From the way she has tied her headscarf so beautifully and so naturally, you see that she has an innate sense of grace. Her little hennaed hand rests gently—yet possessively—on the skateboard, and how small she seems beside it! I love her assurance: her firm, steady gaze. One feels a sense of depth in her eyes, even though she is just 7 years of age.”

After just one year of attending the Back to School Skate program, the girl in the prize-winning portrait (left) passed her first three educational grades, and enrolled in the national school system—all will continuing to skate in her free time.

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It may not be a conventional way of offering an education, but since Skateistan started in 2007, they have helped teach thousands of kids—44% of whom are girls—around the world to skate each week.

You can also donate to the organization on the Skateistan website or purchase Jessica Fulford Dobson’s book “Skate Girls of Kabul” here.

(WATCH the short film’s trailer below)

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In Just 20 Years, Over 220 Million Children Have Been Saved From Marriage, Labor, and Violence

As English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes famously stated in his treatise On Commonwealth, life without the commonwealth was “nasty, brutish, and short”.

In commemoration of its founding 100 years ago, Save the Children has released its third Global Childhood Report—and it contains figures that would make Hobbes blush.

In Hobbes’ day, the average male life expectancy was about 35 to 45 years at birth in England; now the chances for a child—even in rural Africa—of reaching adulthood unmarried, nourished, and educated education, are getting stronger and stronger.

Success by Numbers

“In the year 2000,” reads the report, “an estimated 970 million children were robbed of their childhoods due to … ill-health, malnutrition, exclusion from education, child labor, child marriage, and early pregnancy.

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Just two decades later, Save the Children reports that number has been reduced by one-third. 115 million more children are being sent to school, 11 million young girls have been saved from marriage, 3 million girls are saved from bearing children in their young age, there has been a decrease of 94 million child laborers, and 4.5 million children have been saved from violent deaths around the world.

Nations across all 5 major continents have worked hard, sometimes in the face of corruption and even war, to achieve these remarkable results, including Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Colombia, the Philippines, Mexico, and Ethiopia.

Across every major geographical zone on earth, Save the Children’s “End of Childhood Index Score” has increased, including west, central, east, and southern Africa.

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Sierra Leone, once a Mad Max-style country of blood diamonds and civil war, has cut their rates of infant mortality, child labor, and child marriages by half since 2000.

25 years after the genocide, Rwanda’s score is 744 out of 1000 after cutting infant mortality rates by 80% and teen pregnancy by 60%.

What Accounts for this Dramatic Improvement?

In the Global Childhood Report 2020, Save the Children lists some of the ways in which these outstanding goals have been achieved.

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One of the primary drivers for reductions in things like child marriage, child labor, teen pregnancy, and school absence has been a global drive for equality between the sexes worldwide—not just in western nations.

“As this report shows, rising education rates among women and girls have been critical to improvements in child health in Bangladesh and child protection in Afghanistan and India,” the report reads.

“Investing in education programs for girls and increasing the age at which they marry can return $5 for every dollar spent. Investing in programs improving incomes for women can return $7 dollars for every dollar spent.”

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The first 5 of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals which so many bilateral development projects attempt to adhere to include Gender Equality and Quality Education.

The MDG (Millennium Development Goals) put down in the year 2000, targeted the eradication of poverty in all its forms by the end of the century.

“A recent Brookings Institution study found as many as 19 million extra child lives – most of them in Africa—were saved because of MDG-accelerated action,” reads the report.

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Finally, the advances in technologies like smartphones, social media, medical instruments, vaccines and drugs, have changed the face of the world in ways that especially benefit the developing world. Nearly all (96%) of the humans on earth have access to the internet, up from nearly half (58%) in 2001.

Mobile phones are being used to register births, improve early diagnosis of HIV in infants, monitor malnutrition in children, and to educate individuals about family planning, adolescent health and prenatal care.

If this is what nations can achieve in 20 years, another 20 years of pursuing development goals could mean that another 300 million children worldwide could enjoy their childhoods in relative peace and security before entering adulthood as educated, nourished, and independent members of society—which is quite an encouraging thought to have as we enter this bright new decade.

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