girls skateboarding

Volunteer Interview:
Rachael Sherlock & Rae Smith

We caught up with Rachael and Rae, two skaters from London who volunteered with us in early 2016 to teach at our skatepark in Asira Al-Shamaliya.

What made you want to volunteer with SkatePAL? How did you find out about the charity and how long did you come for on this trip?

Rachael: I first saw a video and interview with (previous SkatePAL volunteers) Lilly and Danni on the Girl Skate UK page and remember doing loads of research into what SkatePAL was. Then a few months later I saw a post looking for more female shredders. I’d always wanted to volunteer abroad and because this was skate related it made sense that I’d be more useful doing this than your bog standard teach English abroad placement.

Rae: Skateboarding has changed my life completely and now I want to give this life changing gift to as many other people as possible. I found out about the opportunity through Rachael - she told me she was planning on going and told me about SkatePAL needing more female volunteers. I was pretty nervous to apply because I've only been skating less than a year, so I was stoked to get accepted! I went for one month and I think I could have stayed for longer as it was such a rewarding experience and there was so much to do every day - it was awesome to form friendships and see people make real progress with skateboarding. 

Basma prepares to drop-in

Basma prepares to drop-in

What were your preconceptions of Palestine before arriving? How much did you know about Israel / Palestine before arriving?

Rachael: I’d previously been to Jordan but this was very different. I thought poverty might be the main kind of problem, but this wasn’t the case.

Rae: I've been following the Israel/Palestine situation for years but always found it super confusing and complex. I'm a big believer in the idea that you can't really understand something until you've experienced it - and to be honest, even visiting the area isn't the same as living there, so I don't presume to have any real concept of what it's like for the people we met. 

What I can say is that I've always wanted to help in whatever way I could, but didn't really know how. I was on the fringes of some activist groups for a while but it never felt like the right direction for me. Through skateboarding, just by doing what I love, I've been able to offer something in some small way without even trying, which is the raddest thing of all! I hope to continue doing what I love and I'll just see where it takes me, hopefully towards more positive and rewarding experiences like this :)

What was it like being the only female volunteers on the trip?

Rachael: It was actually alright. The first couple of weeks I was really nervous and careful not to offend anyone by wearing the right kind of clothes and trying to cover up tattoos etc. but towards the end I was much more comfortable and we’d made lots of friends who didn’t seem to care that we were different.

Rae: At first I was pretty nervous about it. I'd been to places before where I hadn't fully understood the culture and had accidentally offended people by showing my shoulders, for example. So we were really cautious over the first few days about how we dressed and acted. But as we got more comfortable we realised that the people had a good understanding of our culture being different to theirs and they didn't expect us to behave in the same way as them.

I mean we didn't go around wearing anything inappropriate but we didn't have to stress about covering our arms and ankles. I guess the only frustrating thing for me was not being able to do anything without someone else by my side - it meant that anything I wanted to do or anywhere I wanted to go I had to find someone else who also wanted to do that or go there. The good thing about this was that it helped us build empathy for the way that many women have to live.

Check out the first of three vlogs from Rachael and Rae's time in Palestine

How was it teaching the girls in Asira? What were the difficulties and successes? 

Rachael: The main difficulty is that older girls are not allowed/ do not feel comfortable skating in the park with the boys. This poses the problem that for them to skate we need more female volunteers and more female only times. In the future I hope they can maybe set up a routine Girl’s Night like we have in London.

Rae: It was amazing. There were a lot of challenges - language barriers, lack of resources, clearing the park for girls only sessions, etc - but ultimately we overcame them all by just skating and having fun. The girls were strong, adventurous, confident and really hyped to be learning something fun and physical. I have a lot of hopes that skateboarding will be championed by the girls of Asira, that they will be inspired to fight for their right to skate as they grow older and that we'll see some awesome girl skaters coming our of their in the future - but for this to happen we really need more girls to go out there and encourage them :)

How did your ideas about Palestine change throughout the trip? What have you learnt?

Rachael: I’ve learnt a lot about the political history of Palestine, though I wouldn’t like to try and express these views to anyone as I tend to stay out of politics! I was also warned by so many people prior to the trip that Palestine is dangerous. But the people we met made us all feel very accepted and safe.

Rae: I guess I thought that poverty was going to be the biggest issue, but we had our eyes opened in some small way to many other issues that seemed be equal factors - like the isolation people experience when they aren't allowed to leave a place and how this prevents their culture from progressing with the times, the frustration it breeds and the lack of hope that begins to develop amongst the people. It's something we see in poor and deprived places in the UK too, when people are trapped and isolated by poverty. It felt strange to be able to relate that aspect of what we saw back to places in London in some way. 

Meenas on the mini-ramp

Meenas on the mini-ramp

Why do you think skateboarding is important for people in places like the West Bank? 

Rachael: Children in Palestine are very vulnerable, in the sense that nothing good can come of the occupation, therefore, these children need something positive to keep them motivated. I think a huge benefit is not just the skating but the fact that SkatePAL volunteers come from all different parts of the world. I think it’s good for the children to be motivated to skate and learn about how to mix with different cultures and religions in a way that we do naturally in London.

Rae: I think it's important for so many reasons - I guess ultimately it's a tool but unlike most tools it doesn't have one specific purpose. The good thing about skating is that it's both social and personal - it's something that can be shared but at the same time each person takes from it what they need. For some of the people there it's a new love. Something they'll cherish their whole lives. For some it's a physical activity, which can be really empowering, especially for the girls who don't have a lot of opportunity do things like this. For some it's a psychological activity, a way to zone out of all the problems and issues that are going on and focus on something else for a few hours - which can be really therapeutic. Some will use it to form friendships around the world, and for others it's just something to do for a bit, which is still important when there is really very little else for them to do apart from work.

What's awesome to think about though is that these people are approaching skateboarding with an entirely new perspective and are being introduced to it in a unique way - so they could literally do anything they want with it, take it in new directions - the potential is amazing. Many people also told us that the skatepark is like a beacon of modernity in the town. It's inspiring people and giving them new ideas and new hope. They've already built a brand new children's play area right next to it and have plans for the whole area to be transformed. They've been talking about building a cinema and we've already seen women start to try it out as a legitimate activity for them to do too, which is super important.

Do you have any plans to come back with SkatePAL in the future?

Rachael: I’d love to come back as I really feel attached to a lot of the kids and would love to see them grow up! I might go out for a long weekend in late October/November if I have any holiday left at work.

Rae: I would love to but unfortunately I have no idea when I'll be able to. I have many of the people we met on Facebook and talk to them every day, and I really want to see how people have progressed and keep in touch with all the families who were so kind to us. Their hospitality made the whole trip so rad and we're so grateful!

What are you up to now, what are your plans for 2016?

Rachael: Back working full time at ITV. Hoping to help run some lessons down at southbank this summer with Like a Girl co.

Rae: Right now I'm back in London doing freelance art work and I might be moving to Vietnam to teach art for a year in August - so I'm kind of waiting to see what happens. Also trying to learn axle stalls.

So you're both part of the Nefarious crew (all female skate crew in London), tell us about that...

Rachael: Nefarious is great. It’s not about being the best skater. It’s about being a team, drinking, eating pizza, watching skate films etc. I recently broke my arm and if it wasn’t for Nefarious I would have instantly stopped skating despite the fact it makes me happy. Sometimes the views of other people, like my parents, make me feel embarrassed that I skate, because they don’t understand what it’s like to skate and what it does for me (keeps my brain and body healthy!). Nefarious gives me the strength and support I need to do something that I love and not be ashamed about my gender or age.

Rae: As Rachael said, it's something that gives us all confidence to skate and connect with other girls who love skating. Without Nefarious I wouldn't be skating at all, and I wouldn't have ever even found out about SkatePAL. 

What would you say to other female skaters considering volunteering with SkatePAL? 

Rachael: DO IT. The girls are buzzing to be able to skate but they need female representatives in the park in order for most of them to be allowed to do it!

Rae: For me this is what skateboarding is all about. If you feel the same then definitely go as it will have a profound effect on your life and on theirs. 

Anything else you'd like to add?

Rachael: Many thanks to Charlie and SkatePAL for the opportunity, to all our fundraisers for making the trip possible and to my bosses at Good Morning Britain for organising my time off! x

Rae: I'd like to say to anyone who thinks they might not be a good enough skater to do this, that I think it's actually kind of awesome to go there and be a beginner. A lot of the kids and adults too responded really well to watching me fail at things and learn things with them - it gave them a sense that this was something they could learn and progress at and they were super hyped when they learnt something quicker than I did and they got to teach it to me! 

Also a huge thanks to everyone who supported our trip and took an interest in what we were doing :)

Thanks guys!

Find out more about the Nefarious crew over at their Facebook page.

Check out Rae's website over at

If you're interested in volunteering with us send an email to

Volunteer Interview:
Dani Abulhawa &
Lilly Hartmann

We caught up with UK-based SkatePAL volunteers Dani Abulhawa and Lilly Hartmann, to chat about their shared Palestinian heritage and their experience of teaching skateboarding in the West Bank!

Asira Al-Shamaliya girls school, 2015. Photo: Christian Nilsen.

Asira Al-Shamaliya girls school, 2015. Photo: Christian Nilsen.

What made you want to volunteer with SkatePAL? How did you find out about the charity and how long did you come for on this trip?

D: I found out about SkatePAL during the summer of 2014. I saw a video of Chris Jones skating in Ramallah, which isn’t a typical image you see coming out of the West Bank. I’m half Palestinian, so I have a family connection with the country and I was keen to know more and to do something to support the organisation. I ended up going out to Palestine for one month in September 2015 to help out with the skatepark build in Asira, and to teach skateboarding to the children there.

L: I found out about the charity through friends. For me it was the chance to visit such an interesting and amazing place, meet new people, experience a new culture, design, build and skate one of the first skateparks in Palestine! 

Asira Al-Shamaliya, 2015. 

Asira Al-Shamaliya, 2015. 

Photos: Emil Agerskov

Photos: Emil Agerskov

What were your preconceptions of Palestine before arriving? How much did you know about the area?

D: I’ve visited Palestine/Israel before, on family trips to see my relatives, so I knew about the situation there. I was really nervous about going out for the SkatePAL trip, not just in terms of the dangers associated with the occupation, but I was also really nervous about spending time and skating with a group of people I didn’t know. But, it was the most wonderful experience I’ve ever had. 

L: I tried not to have preconceptions and to go with an open mind, but I was passed on fear by talking to people who had - the average picture of Palestine is bombs, bullets, fire and chaos and filled with unfriendly people. I had been following the Palestinian/Israeli conflict for about a year before deciding to go and I spent some time reading Gaza: A History as well as a few journals and papers. 

I spoke to relatives who had left, however they couldn't really prepare me for the journey. I just had to go and find out for myself. Palestine is filled with beauty: the people are wonderful and quite possibly the friendliest people I have met, everyone would invite us in for coffee, tea, food and want to give everything. I left with an armful of friendship bracelets from the new skater girls who were just unbelievably sweet and I was adopted by a family who lived in the village who were incredibly supportive and welcoming.

Asira Al-Shamaliya girls school, 2015. Photo: Christian Nilsen

Asira Al-Shamaliya girls school, 2015. Photo: Christian Nilsen

What was it like being the only two female volunteers on the trip?

D: The other volunteers on the trip and the local people of Asira were really kind and friendly, and I always felt welcomed. But our presence as skateboarders, and particularly on the building site grafting away alongside the men on the trip, was definitely considered unusual. We were located in a very different cultural setting in which there are more explicit forms of segregation between women and men, and well-defined roles for women and men to take, so we were always negotiating the gender politics of the situation. Of course, much of that is the similar in the UK anyway! 

L: It was challenging at some points but more often than not it wasn't really an issue! The team was friendly and the town too was supportive. I tried not to think about it too much and just get on with it. Girl company is super important to me, I like even mixes because I find it more relaxed. I would love to get a larger group of like-minded girls out next time!!

Asira Al-Shamaliya . 2015. Photo: Christian Nilsen

Asira Al-Shamaliya. 2015. Photo: Christian Nilsen

How was it teaching the girls in Asira? What were the difficulties and successes?

D: It was wonderful to teach the girls to skate. So many of them were interested in trying it out. It was difficult not having much in the way of Arabic language skills, but they were really fast learners and listened very carefully, so they made quick progress. Without there being other women to teach them on a regular basis and to help create a space for the girls to use the park it’s going to be tricky for them to develop a consistent practice and to improve their skills. I really hope other female skaters from around the globe will be inspired to go out to Palestine and teach in the coming years. 

L: The girls were super hyped all of the time. They were real gems and I Whatsapp some of them daily! They listened, practiced and picked up all that they could in the time they had but it's not enough if they really want to skate. Difficulties included culture clashes to do with ideals of appropriate female behaviour. Successes - well, teaching 30 girls the first steps of skateboarding! I would probably say the best success is the fact that the girls are CRAZY about skating!

Asira Al-Shamaliya girls school,   2015.  Photo: Christian Nilsen

Asira Al-Shamaliya girls school, 2015. Photo: Christian Nilsen

So you're both half-Palestinian, had you been to Palestine before? How did your family react when you decided to volunteer?

D: My family were really supportive of me going out there to connect with my roots and to help build the park and teach skating. I have a lot of relatives who live in East Jerusalem, and they were really interested in what I was doing, and pleased to see me! 

L: I had never been. The entire Arab side of my family was mostly horrified. However, a few relatives were incredibly supportive and they even put money to the fundraising! Yes!! :D

How did people in Palestine react when you told them your family was originally from there?

D: They thought it was great that I was taking part in the project and visiting Palestine. They were interested in where my Dad was born and where my family live. Mostly they were shocked at how little Arabic I could speak, given that my Dad is a native speaker! Ha ha. 

L: They couldn't believe it, it definitely brought us closer.

Asira Al-Shamaliya,   2015.  Photo: Emil Agerskov

Asira Al-Shamaliya, 2015. Photo: Emil Agerskov

How did your ideas about Palestine change throughout the trip? What have you learnt?

D: I was already somewhat aware of how things are for people living in this very conflicted geographic region, but being there really makes you aware of the complexity of the situation. The problem with getting news through mainstream media outlets is that the situation gets simplified and the details become lost. There is fighting, devastation and injustices, but there is also beauty and kindness, and people who want to be defined by something other than occupation and war. It was wonderful to spend time with people in Asira, to be part of that community and to make those specific connections with people. 

L: Palestine is an amazing and colourful place. The people are really friendly, but it's obviously a very difficult place to live. It made me really appreciate having grown up in the UK, with the freedom to travel and leave our country whenever we like.

Lilly frontside 5.0's during the opening day of Asira skatepark, Oct 2015. Photo: Emil Agerskov

Lilly frontside 5.0's during the opening day of Asira skatepark, Oct 2015. Photo: Emil Agerskov

Why do you think skateboarding is important for people in places like the West Bank? 

D: It’s important in so far as its a form of play, and playing makes you feel connected with your environment and other people, and with yourself. I can only speak from my own perspective, but there’s something about that smooth flowing movement, and having small achievements with tricks that’s good for wellbeing. Personally, it makes me feel very present in the moment and helps me to feel balanced, focused and calm. 

L: Skateboarding brings freedom and that is the thing that Palestinians crave more than anything. Children and young people need hobbies and to be active in a productive way, just imagine if a few decades from now that there could be a sponsored skater from Palestine - that would mean global recognition for a country that is striving for statehood. Skating could help the youth of Palestine look towards the future in a constructive way.

Asira Al-Shamaliya girls school,   2015.  Photo: Christian Nilsen

Asira Al-Shamaliya girls school, 2015. Photo: Christian Nilsen

What stood out for you on the trip?

D: I loved the fact that not one day was the same. Every day was surprising and interesting. 

L: Meeting the children and the local community. They were just great. Being driven by Sami or by other neighbours to and from site everyday in their cool old trucks, passing through acres of olive trees and rocky hills in blazing sunshine listening to music and taking photos. Getting crazy on the D'floor with the team and having a laugh at Snowbar in Ramallah.

Do you have any plans to come back with SkatePAL in the future?

D: Yes, I am planning on going back to work with SkatePAL in 2016 and hopefully in future years too. 

L: I do - I promised everyone that I would!!! I have to go back.

What are you up to now, what are your plans for 2016?

D: I work as an academic at Sheffield Hallam University, so I’m busy with the second semester of teaching, as well as continuing my professional practice making performances, and trying to publish my research. Oh, and I’ll also be keeping up with skating in Manchester as much as I can! 

L: I am up to my eyeballs in work - architecture is no mean feat. But hopefully I'll be back in Palestine soon!

Asira Al-Shamaliya girls school,   2015. 

Asira Al-Shamaliya girls school, 2015. 

Photos: Emil Agerskov

Photos: Emil Agerskov

What would you say to people who are considering volunteering with SkatePAL?

D: You should do it! It will confound your expectations. Be open and say yes to things. You don’t need to be an amazing skateboarder - believe me, I’m a huge under-achiever as far as skateboarding goes! You just need to be confident and have some basic skills. You will love it.

L: It is a must - it will change your life. I am so much more grateful for everything that I have. When you're there, just appreciate being in the moment and go with your gut. You'll be so happy you did! 'People are more likely to help you than hurt you'. Don't let fear stop you, get some reading done and research the area from non-biased sources. You might be surprised by what you find. Ramallah is a great place and is slowly becoming more accustomed to tourists. 

Anything else you'd like to add?

D: I’m not going to say it was an easy trip, because it was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life. Particularly in terms of witnessing the occupation, being a woman in this environment, and having to deal with the everyday difficulties of not speaking the language and trying to get around. But it was worth it for the personal growth I experienced, and the friendships I’ve made. 

L: Go for it!

Thanks Dani and Lilly!

We're currently recruiting volunteers to teach at our skateparks in the West Bank throughout 2016.

For more information and to receive your application form, drop us an email to!

Dani and Lilly also documented their time in Palestine with an article for Girl Skate UK - check it out!