It’s been a long and busy week for SkatePAL in Asira Al-Shamalyia, Palestine. We’ve been working hard to finish the skatepark for the opening in a few days. There are 15 of us working on it and everyone has become better and faster at all the different elements of the build. We’ve been working some very late nights, and sometimes finishing off the surface of ramps by the light of phone torches. Lilly has also been picking up some new skills driving the JCB.
Last week Lilly, Charlie and I went to meet the head teacher of one of the local girl’s schools, to ask about setting up some classes with them. We went into the school with our skateboards, spoke to the teachers and gave a short demonstration on the playground. The girls at the school were so excited to see us. All the children here are very curious about us and are really friendly. Their excitement is partly about seeing a group of Western visitors, and the children are insistent on finding out our names and where we are from. Also, ‘selfie’ culture is rife amongst the youth of Palestine; it feels strange having your picture taken so frequently, but it’s lovely to feel welcomed.
After visiting the school, around 30 of the girls, aged around 11 or 12, signed up for skateboarding classes. I wasn’t expecting so many to be keen to try it out. The morning of our first class, Lilly and me set up skateboards and put together helmets and pads for them to work in groups of 10 for each session. For the first session we taught them how to stand, and tried to get them used to the feel of the board. It’s much harder than I thought it would be to keep control of 10 very excited 11/12-year-olds; it felt at times like boards were flying all over the place.
I managed to use my fledgling Arabic skills to explain some basic movements on the board, which seemed to work well. Speaking the language definitely isn’t integral to teaching the physical aspects of skating, but it really helps if you have a few words in the bag for getting them organised into lines and pairs, and for some of the more fundamental things like where your feet need to be positioned on the board.
The girls struggled quite a bit with the skateboards during this first session, particularly because some of them were adopting stances that were quite rigid and upright, which didn’t allow them to move easily. Lilly came up with a good idea, which was to encourage them to crouch lower down on the board. This seemed to help demonstrate the need to physically change the shape and movement of your body to enable them to manipulate the board more easily. It meant that they could have a little more control of their balance because they were lower down. It also meant that when they fell over, it wasn’t too far to the ground! Within the group some of the girls were really picking up the movement well. It was brilliant to watch them all engaging with skateboarding for the first time.
We went to teach the girl’s second class today, and I was stoked to see how much they had remembered from the first class, and how quickly they were picking it up. Everyone in the class seemed to have much more control on their boards than the last time. They were really keen to show us how they had progressed and how well they were managing to balance and move on the boards.
We also had a day off last week and so we went to visit Zebabdeh and the skatepark SkatePAL built last summer. Zebabdeh is a town 30-minutes drive away from Asira Al-Shamalyia. The park at Zebabdeh is connected to a youth centre, and the guy that looks after it said that there are a few children in the community using it, but they need more guidance about how to approach skateboarding. It takes a lot of time to develop a new activity in a place that hasn’t any kind of history of skateboarding, so the plan is for SkatePAL volunteers to head out to Palestine from February to October 2016, and at other times in the future, to teach classes with children in the community and to show them how to work with the park there.
With the park in Asira, we were really keen to start the classes as early as possible with the girls, to get them interested in skateboarding and to give them some basic skills, so they can hit the ground running when the new park opens. Volunteers coming out to work with SkatePAL during 2016 will have a chance to visit both parks, and the ramp SkatePAL built in Ramallah, amongst other places.
We hope that these updates might inspire more girl skaters from the UK and beyond to visit Palestine and share their skills. If you are interested, get in touch with Charlie Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org