Amid the fighting and poverty in Afghanistan, within a country torn apart by war and spilling over with uncertainty, a small but growing number of young people ride skateboards.
They share a common passion. They skate as a means of building relationships and to forget about -- if only for brief periods -- the bombings and other harsh realities that are part of so many young Afghan lives.
Two of these skateboarders -- Murza and Fazila -- are subjects of a documentary produced earlier this year and recently released online (posted below), entitled "Skateistan: To Live and Skate in Kabul." The film, directed by Orlando Von Einsiedel, provides a glimpse of a hard life in a hard place, through the eyes of the skateboarders.
Skateistan is a co-ed school with a current enrollment of 320 students. It was established 13 months ago with the purpose of engaging and empowering urban and displaced youths through classroom instruction and skateboarding.
The idea was born after Australians Oliver Percovich and Sharna Nolan visited Kabul with skateboards in 2007, set the boards down became surrounded by dozens of curious kids.
They co-founded Skateistan in October of 2009 and today dedicated teachers and volunteers provide schooling and skateboarding lessons on property donated by the Afghan National Olympic Committee.
Skateistan, which is funded largely through private donations and operates on a shoestring budget, strives to share positive stories about Afghan youth though various media platforms. "Skateistan: To Live and Skate in Kabul," is one example.
In the documentary Murza, 17, talks about having grown numb to a lifetime of violence and about his former job washing cars, often in freezing temperatures, to make ends meet.
That was before he attended Skateistan. He now works there, helping to maintain the wooden ramps and teaching new students how to skate.
"Skating has become a habit and I'm addicted to it," he says in the film. "If I don't skate, I become ill. Life is hard in Kabul. It is solely because of the support of Skateistan that I am standing now."
Surprisingly, given Kabul's recent hard-line governance by the Taliban, more girls are becoming part of the Skateistan program.
Fazila, 12, works on the street selling chewing gum, but is also a student. "Life is hard for me personally because my family is poor and sometimes we can't afford enough to eat," she says. "[But] at Skateistan I don't feel that my surroundings are ruined, I feel as though I'm in a nice place."
Her father does not support her new hobby. Neither do many adults throughout Kabul look favorably upon kids -- especially girls -- rolling around the streets on skateboards.
But as other societies have long-since learned, it's not easy to dissuade separate passionate skaters from their boards. "Their opinions are meaningless to me," Fazila says. "I really like skating and I won't stop."
Murza closes the documentary by expressing, pensively, his thoughts about the future during the post-Taliban era, and of the need to rebuild Afghanistan and find peace.
"I don't want war anymore," he says, as he and his friends skate off and into the distance, down ruble-strewn streets.
-- Pete Thomas
-- Images show Skateistan students Murza (top) and Sabrina riding the ramps at the school facility. Both are courtesy of Skateistan
Editor's note: This post also apears on the GrindTv.com skate blog