Skateboarding Amid the Ruins of War

Skateistan - Babyshark's Minority Report - Alejandro BocanegraSkateistan is an unconventional school in an unconventional place. What began in 2007 as informal skateboarding lessons by Australian Oliver Percovich in an empty fountain in Kabul is now, thanks to international donors and skateboard industry partners, an international non-profit which offers skateboarding and more traditional education to children in Afghanistan, Cambodia and Pakistan.

The staff is international and they work mostly with children aged 5-18, over 50% of them streetworking kids. Skateboarding is what gets them hooked into the program. Then, once in, they learn many other things. Apart from skating, the teachers also focus on leadership skills, civic responsibility, multimedia, creative arts and they also explore culture, traditions, natural resources and peace. The students decide what they want to learn.

Skateistan 5 - Babyshark's Minority Report - Alejandro Bocanegra

This skateboarding school, which now has more than 400 students and a 5,400m2 skatepark and educational facility,  is open to all ethnicities, religions and social classes. Streetworking children share classroom with sons of government ministers. The school has Pashtun, Hazara, Uzbek or Tajik children who, united by their love of skateboarding, create bonds here that trascend social barriers and learn that they are not that different from one another. Many of these kids come from extremely poor backgrounds, and this program provides these marginalized youths with opportunities, not only to meet other children from other cultures, but also empowers them to overcome adversity, teaching them self confidence. In a country devastated by several wars, having this common bond also brightens up their lives, gives them hope of a better future and gives them a voice. Here, kids can be kids.

Skateistan 2 - Babyshark's Minority Report - Alejandro Bocanegra

The school operates six days a week and provides all the skateboards and the safety equipment.  Most of its operating costs have been funded by the embassies of Denmark and Norway which also funded the construction of the Kabul facility, together with the embassies of Germany and Canada.  The German Federal Foreign Office constructed a second facility in Mazar-e-Sharif. Skateistan has numerous sponsors and partners from the skateboarding industry. They also receive donations and support from a network of international groups and volunteers.

Nancy Dupree, the director of the Afghanistan Center at Kabul University, explains that children who have grown up in war, surrounded by negative attitudes towards compatriots of different ethnic and secular groups can now meet children from other backgrounds, compete and learn to play with one another, respectfully, “setting patterns for future harmonious interactions through life”.

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But this is a country still very much still grappling with violence. On September 8th, a suicide attack in Kabul resulted in the deaths of several children, four of which were students of the academy. The bomb was detonated outside the International Security Assistance Force headquarters, where many of the streetworking children of Kabul sell trinkets, scarves and chewing gum

Skateistan 4 - Babyshark's Minority Report - Alejandro BocanegraOne of the most remarkable aspects of Skateistan is that 40% of students are girls, many of them having to go against the wishes of members of their families, who don’t approve this kind of activity for girls. The school promotes gender equality in one of the most gender-biased societies in the world. But amid the ruins of war…they skate on.

This is a short documentary on Skateistan:

To donate to Skateistan to their website.

 

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Christine Lagarde

When French president Nicolas Sarkozy asked Christine Lagarde to join his cabinet in 2007, as Minister for Economy, Industry and Employment, she was already the first ever female Chairman of Chicago-based global law firm Baker & McKenzie. She is a respected antitrust and labour lawyer and today, as first female Managing Director of the Intenational Monetary Fund, she’s considered the 9th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes magazine (2011) and part of a very exclusive club of women that include Dilma Rousseff or Angela Merkel. She certainly looks the part, poised and elegant, calm and reassuring, reflexive and charming, her skin looking permanently tanned in contrast with her silver hair.

After Dominique Strauss-Kahn‘s very public downfall and resignation, as a result of a sex scandal  -to the deep embarrassment of France; Christine Lagarde was immediately mentioned as a possible successor, and she received the support of Britain, India, the US, Russia, China and Germany. The Telegraph once described her as “the woman with no enemies”. From her first day on the job she had very complicated issues on the table, and her no-nonsense style was evident from the start and some statements she made angered many, especially in Greece. It was in an interview with British newspaper The Guardian, where she basically described Greeks as rampant tax dodgers and ruled out any breathing space from the austerity measures the country faced.

She is a hard-working woman, with a strong and elegant presence, firm in her convictions and obviously someone who speaks her mind. She is an outsider to politics in France, because she did not attend the prestigious École Nationale d’Administration, where most high-ranking French officials and politicians are groomed. She also never distinguished in math, being a Managing Director of the IMF who is more a lawyer than an economist. Being an outsider gives her a better perspective of things probably.

She was born Christine Madeleine Odette Lallouette, and her parents were both teachers. She studied in a girls’ school in Maryland, US; she got a degree in Law in Paris and a Master’s Degree in political science. She also worked as an intern at the United States Capitol, as congressional assistant to William Cohen. She has divorced twice, but no one really knows much about her two ex-husbands. They are not even mentioned in her official biography, which shows how fiercely she controls her public image. She has two sons, is a vegetarian and never drinks, although she did have a glass of champagne in an airport when she found out that had been appointed IMF boss.

Being French, there’s the issue of the elegance too. Unlike Hillary Clinton, who laughed at a similar question once, asking the interviewer if she’d ever ask that question to a man; Christine Lagarde has no problem talking about her wardrobe. In an interview with Vogue, she confessed that gets her clothes from three places mostly: Chanel, Ventilo and Austin Reed.

One of my favorite phrases by Christine Lagarde is that men, when left to themselves, make mess of things. Which is, well, as we all know, completely true. She is a strong believer in gender equality and has said that women are better than men when it comes to managing tasks and common sense. This is why she wants to hire many more women than men while she’s MD of the IMF.

She was always an overachiever. Many don’t know that as a teenager, Christine was a member of the French national synchronized swimming team, for example, or that she sang backing vocals in a ska band called “Les Messages Mixe” before getting married.

As Managing Director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde faces incredible challenges, like world economies on the brink of collapse, especially in Europe. She still has four years to go, but it will not be an easy ride for sure. Saving the Euro will be no easy task. The journey will be full of dangers and crises. And we need strong leaders in times of uncertainty.

Will Miss Lagarde be one of those leaders we so desperately need? Will this elegant and competent French woman be able to help fix the mess that we men created?