"War is the greatest threat to public health." - Gino Strada, Italian war surgeon and founder of the UN-recognized Italian NGO Emergency

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Three Cups of Tea (And a Skateboard)


Many of you have heard of Greg Mortenson, the climber who took a wrong (or perhaps right) turn while descending from a failed attempt at the infamous K2 in Northern Pakistan in 1993. The people of the small, remote village into which he wandered nursed him back to health. After observing the village children sitting outdoors writing their lessons in the dirt with sticks, Greg vowed to come back and build a school for them.

Greg did return (and not without great difficulties) to build that school, and since completing it he has established a total of 78 schools in the farthest reaches of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The book, Three Cups of Tea, tells that remarkable story of determination and how one person with a dream can do more to promote peace in these countries than the United States has done through years of military action and so called diplomacy.

And now there is this crazy Australian in Kabul, Afghanistan trying to open the country's first skateboarding school. Oliver Percovich, who came to Kabul "impulsively" in 2007 because his girlfriend got a job in Kabul, brought his skateboards along. It didn't take long for the children - "Afghanistan has the highest proportion of school-age children in the world" (Seattle Times article) - to discover Oliver and his skateboards. The Times article states that for the roughly "seven million youngsters, sports are virtually nonexistent."

Early on, Percovich turned a "decrepit Soviet-style fountain" into a makeshift skate park, and since then has made plans for a much larger skateboard park and has acquired a ton (literally) of secondhand skate equipment.

Of course, there is always the issue of girls participating past puberty, as well as other religious issues. But maybe, just maybe, skateboarding could provide many Afghan children with a positive outlet for their energy and frustrations. It might even (as Percovich said) "help mend the nations' deep social and ethnic divisions.

Both Mortenson and Percovich are examples of people who think (and draw) outside the lines, and when it comes to doing something good for others, they definitely ignore those who say it can't be done. Mortenson's idea is bearing fruit, and hopefully that will bear out for Percovich. At a time when the only ideas the United States can come up with in this part of the world are of the military variety, we need people who think out-of-the-box and are willing to go out-on-a-limb.

Let us hope to hear of more big-hearted, big-thinking, determined individuals like Mortenson and Percovich for the sake of the children of countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan. Because after all, it IS about the children.

Assalaam Alaikum (Peace Be With You),


Notes: The photo of Afghan youth skateboarding is by Tyler Hicks, New York Times. You can read the article about Oliver Percovich and "Skateistan" at http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2008670707_skateboard26.html.

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