Between 2010 and 2012 I managed production on a book profiling the first five years of the Skateistan non-profit organization’s work, entitled “Skateistan – The Tale of Skateboarding in Afghanistan.” The project involved securing funding, coordinating a team of 20+ volunteers, collecting dozens of interviews, organizing photo shoots and archiving thousands of images, organizing translations, and arranging guest contributions. I was also the headwriter, proofread all text, and liaised regularly with the editor Jim Fitzpatrick and amazing design team in Berlin.
The result is a self-published, 320-page book highlighting the inspiring individuals behind the project, including staff, volunteers, and, of course, the kids. Showcasing hundreds of striking photos alongside profiles and interviews, the publication is a mix of coffee table book and magazine style features.
During the last five years working at Skateistan I was asked a couple times to write stories for external media, and even a column for the Huffington Post. Unfortunately between living in somewhat of a warzone and growing professional responsibilities I didn’t manage to fit this in. An exception however is the article below, which I wrote for Canada’s primary skateboard magazine, SBC. In 2011/2012 I also managed production on a 320 page book, from which I’ll post some excerpts from that here at a later date.
Selling Gum and Skateboarding in Kabul
Female shredders on the front lines for hope in Afghanistan
(Published July 2010)
The first time I met 12-year-old Fazila was when we pulled into a gas station one evening in Kabul. She was there begging for money, as she does almost every day in some part of the city or other. I had arrived in Afghanistan a week earlier to volunteer and teach at an NGO called Skateistan, and the last I’d heard of this girl Fazila was that her father had forced her to stop skateboarding (again) because she was supposed to be out begging.
Skateistan’s a school centered around the idea that skateboarding creates unique opportunities for building connections – even between youth traditionally segregated by ethnicity, language, socio-economic status and gender. Fazila got involved with Skateistan back in 2008, outshining almost everyone else during the frequent skate sessions at an empty fountain called Mekroyan. The NGO has since grown into a facility with an indoor skatepark and classrooms for students from all backgrounds to learn together.
In the Mekroyan days, though, there were a mere handful of skateboards to be shared among several dozen curious kids, many of them taking a break from selling gum or washing cars. Kabul has a war economy, and more precisely an international aid economy. Little kids can make $20 or more a day begging from ridiculously-paid aid workers and contractors in fancy SUVs, while a good monthly income for adults here is $100. Instead of attending school, kids here become breadwinners at six of seven years old.
Fazila’s family arrived in Kabul quite recently as refugees. During the Taliban regime many fled their home regions for Pakistan, and have since returned to the relatively secure, severely overpopulated city of Kabul, where haphazard mud huts dot the mountains that rise up on all sides. Fazila is endearing, softspoken, observant, and mentally tougher than you could ever imagine. She met her best friend and skate buddy, Wahila, working in the streets and the two could hardly be more different from each other. Wahila is dangerously mouthy, restless and never hesitates. What these girls have in common though is that they are fearless – in life and in skating.
While boys here face multiple barriers, it’s really the girls of Afghanistan, rich and poor, that need something like Skateistan. Females aren’t supposed to do any sports and are essentially treated as servants at home, so for a girl here to take up skateboarding is actually a little bit insane. Yet Afghanistan now has the most egalitarian male-female skateboarder ratio in the world!
That night I first met Fazila we convinced her to come by the skatepark to get a used board. We were so close to losing her. Now, only a few months later, she and Wahila are both helping regularly in the girls’ skateboard sessions. It’s never simple though. When Wahila slammed on her arm one day we had to take her for an X-ray against her will – she was nervous about not getting home in time for housework and about her father banning skateboarding if he found out she’d hurt herself. When I left for Afghanistan I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew that skateboarding had guided my own life to some unexpected, wonderful places and I didn’t see why it should be any different for a child growing up in Kabul.
The highlight of my week now is goofing around with these two girls, just seeing how stoked they are to be skating. And on the drive home afterwards, sometimes it’s really hard for me not to look at a young girl selling gum or tapping the window asking for “One dollar?” and picture Fazila or Wahila, who still spend their days in the street. Their futures are uncertain, but in a place with so few opportunities for the young, the poor and the female, I think there’s more hope for them through Skateistan than anyone could ever have imagined. www.skateistan.org
I’m currently putting together an application for a grad school program in Amsterdam on global environmental governance. It’s a really fascinating field that covers all kinds of issues, from climate change to pollution to genetically modified crops. I wrote a paper on the latter during my last year at UBC that was published in 2008 University of British Columbia Journal of Political Studies and I thought I’d put it up if anyone was interested. The paper focuses on Africa but the issue of genetically engineered crops is something that is increasingly affecting us all.
“Since the mid-1990s, numerous actors, including NGOs, states, regional bodies and international organizations, have recognized the need for regional if not continental consensus on biosafety regulations, especially due to the ability of GEOs to cross boundaries and borders. While acknowledging that it is important for sub-Saharan Africa to remain open to technological breakthroughs that can increase agricultural production and food security, there are a number of challenges that affect the region’s ability to explore this possibility in the precautionary and comprehensive manner that is required.”
I’ve been letting this slip because I’ve been busy, busy, busy.
I’m currently doing a one-year contract with local non-profit The Community Access Program (CAP). It gives funding for public computers/internet access to other non-profits around the Lower Mainland, such as centres for women, seniors and youth, and well as libraries and education centres. I’ve created the CAPYI Magazine Online for their Youth Internship program and have been documenting the people and places involved with CAP, many of which are located in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Also, I did an essay-style article for Canadian Biker, this time on the Canadian Army Veterans motorcycle unit for the Oct/Nov issue. The article is called “Blood, Sweat and Tires” and you can still find the issue on news stands but eventually I will post it here.
My most recent article for Color Magazine, entitled “We Are Not Style Icons,” is featured on the cover of the newest issue. The cover photo is a portrait of Jason Dill (taken by Mike Piscitelli), who was one of a handful interviewed for the article. There’s loads of other interesting stuff within those pages too. The issue is hitting news stands on September 25th.
I studied in the south of France for a semester in 2006. While there I took any chance I got to travel around with my skateboard, camera and some friends. The editor at Color Magazine mentioned that he’d heard rumours that Barcelona as the skateboard mecca was “over” and wondered if I felt this was true. I got to thinking about how traveling – whether it involves a two hour drive or a voyage around the world – has been so important to skateboarders. There something quite amazing about the flexibility of the act of skateboarding and its ongoing interaction with architecture and cities. The innumerable ways in which this interaction can play out with a given place, time, and individual is the really fascinating bit. Here’s a short piece that I wrote and co-photographed for Color while I was overseas.
EUROPE OR BUST
Out of the Bloom (Color 4.1 – Winter/Spring 2006)
by rhianon bader
What is it that makes us constantly search for the untouched, for the treasure chest that holds everything we could’ve ever imagined? The thing with skateboarding is that, like any passion, it cannot provide us with the same feelings of excitement, reward and adrenalin, always and forever. Skateboarding can continue to be the cause of some of the most enjoyable moments in our lives, but the longer we skate and the older we get the harder it is to thoroughly feel the same attachment that we felt in the beginning. I read in a National Geographic about how the ecstatic feelings we get from “being in love” with someone must end after a certain number of months simply because the chemicals our brain releases to give us that feeling will eventually diminish, basically for the sake of maintaining our sanity. The brain would be overloaded if it felt that good all the time. In the same way, the passions we have in life cannot keep the same hold on us as they did in the beginning. But if we are truly dedicated we find ways to make it work, to create “special moments” that reacquaint us with those initial butterflies… perhaps by simply reserving Sunday afternoons for beer/bowl sessions, using long-weekends to take short roadtrips to somewhere new, or skating around downtown solo late at night while the common folk of the world are sleeping. By circumstance and choice, some of us go further, less like lovers trying to keep the magic and more like an addict trying to relive that first high.
Selector Magazine is a brand new large-format, Vancouver-based, and internationally-focused publication to be put out periodically (once or twice a year) by some of the people involved with the Lifetime Collective. The first issue came out in early 2009 and has work from John Copeland, Radio Silence, Michael Jager, Vincent Skoglund, Jody Rogac, Taro Hirano and more. I was asked to interview Main St. (Vancouver) artist Paul Wong, who has created visual works in the video medium for over three decades. See interview below.
PAUL WONG: VIDEO & YOUTH
(Selector Magazine Issue 1 – Spring/Summer 2009)
by rhianon bader
RB: You got into video at a pretty young age, when you were still in high school. What was it about that medium that drew you to it?
PW: Two things: video and youth. One, video was the new young medium, this new generation of technology that had become available and it was really through the need to embrace this as a young person… It made it really spontaneous, with sound and picture, you could record and have instant playback… Really DIY, figure it out yourself, and the medium allows that. Also the fact that had nothing whatsoever to do with any of the other arts, television, or film – it was kind of out there on its own, so I was left to my own devices, free of all those conventions, traditions and rules. There were no rules.
And I’m sure it was much more affordable and accessible than working with film.
Well, yeah. I was never interested in film, I’m not even that interested in film now. I found that whole filmmaking milieu boring as shit, I find most of those people odious, conventional, career-orientated… I was the bastard child, the weirdo, I was the outsider, but I’m still here.
For the last several years I’ve worked at Color Magazine as a copy editor and regular contributor to this skateboard culture publication out of Vancouver. The issues are concept-oriented and include fashion, music and art along with all the skateboarding stuff. There isn’t really any other predominantly skateboard-oriented magazine out there that has such an original design and breadth in content. I just finished an article on pro skateboarders-turned-designers for our upcoming fashion issue (Fall 2009), but here’s an older article I did on Flip skateboards and it’s ability to scout out young talent.
LIKE KIDS IN THE CANDY STORE
Flip ams get ballistic (Color 6.3 – Spring 2008)
words by rhianon bader
Quito, Ecuador, is far, far away from the epicentre of the skateboarding industry. The downtown streets are always packed with assorted vendors, bumpin’ salsa music, heinously decorated buses and gringo tourists like myself. There are not many skateboarders, and the street spots are fun in a run-down, security-guards-with-machine-guns sort of a way. There is, however, a pretty fun skatepark called Parque Carolina… This is where I first saw Flip’s newest pro, 18-year-old David Gonzales, skate a few years back. He was probably 12 or 13 at the time, visiting Ecuador from neighbouring Colombia on a skate trip with some older compatriots. A crew of us went skating around the city, and it was quickly obvious that Gonzales was oozing ridiculous talent that you could spot a mile (or a continent?) away. I wasn’t really that surprised to learn he was getting stuff from Flip, but I remember thinking “how the hell did they find this kid?”