Society

Skateboarding is helping young refugees in Athens

Skateboarding as a way of fostering a sense of community and self-reliance.

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Skateboarding is an action sport that has evolved from its early roots as a land surfing alternative on a wooden board with wheels to an art form of highly skilled riding and performance tricks that is popular with people of all ages.

“Skateboarding is for everyone. Girls, boys,young, old, Greek, syrian, Afghan, pros, groms [young kids]. We’re all skateboarders and we’re all focusing on improving ourselves and supporting each other,” according to Free Movement Skateboarding, an organization that helps the refugee population in Athens, Grece.

Athens is often the first port for refugees that are traveling to Europe from war-torn countries. The majority of the refugees are waiting for asylum in Greece or to go to other countries and the wait can take years. In May 2018 , there were more than 60,000 refugees in Greece according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

With other countries closing their borders, many of the refugees are stuck in refugee camps and there is a large financial strain on the resources and services in the camps. Many people are struggling with health and mental health conditions and children are the most vulnerable and they need recreation and healthy outlets. Skateboarding is a great way to channel pent-up frustration and anger.

That's where Free Movement Skateboarding comes in. The organization was founded in 2017 by two Skateboarding enthusiasts Will Ascott and Ruby Mateja who were volunteering with community centers. They suggested the idea of using skateboarding as a way of fostering a sense of community and self-reliance amongst the youth to the organization Help Refugees who agreed to fund the first year.

The duo also fundraised in the UK and were able to buy 50 second-hand skateboards and safety equipment to get the program up and running. Ascott, Mateja and one other full timer run the project along with volunteers and they have just started to pay some locals and refugees.

The program currently teaches 150 young people ages 6-14 (although they also teach older teens and people in their 20s) a week and have around 300 kids signed up to their programs. Mateja told Solo Skate Magazine that the program will grow as they can reach out to more camps. It will really take off if they raise enough funds to open a permanent indoor facility.

The skateboarding program gives young people a community, something they lack in the refugee camps and it allows the children who have lost so much a chance to just have fun and be kids for a while.

Even though skateboarding is frequently thought of as a male sport, Free Movement mission includes gender equality and inclusion. The organization runs a dedicated women's education program alongside their regular workshops to encourage girls to participate. Many of these girls and young women come from traditional societies which do not encourage participation in physical activities and sports.

Skateboarding can counter this because it is quite often unknown to these cultures, so by introducing it as an activity that anyone can do (no matter their age or gender) we can create real gender parity from the offset," Mateja told Solo Skate Magazine . "Watching these girls become more and more confident and daring on and off the board is truly incredible."

Free Movement recently launched a campaign to raise funds for an indoor skatepark that will be a safe space for youth to skate year-round and be a place for people to socialize, meet new people and it could provide jobs for refugees and local people. This would allow the program to expand and reach out to other cities in Greece that are also housing refugees and to eventually expand their unique brand of therapy to other countries too.

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