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Isle x SkatePal Launch

In September 2016, Isle Skateboards became the first ever professional skate team to tour the West Bank.

We had a great time showing the guys around and are to proud to collaborate with them on a limited edition Isle x SkatePal 'Curiosities' deck, available in all good skateshops now!

Head over to Free Skate Mag to read an interview with the team about their experience, and check out the film about their trip Pieces of Palestine by Jacob Harris below.

Casper Brooker, Impossible, Bethlehem. Photo: Sam Ashley.

Casper Brooker, Impossible, Bethlehem. Photo: Sam Ashley.

Isle x SkatePal - Curiosities Series - special edition.jpg

Interview:
Abdullah Milhem &
Majd Ramadan

We caught up with Abdullah Milhem and Majd Ramadan, two of the best skaters in Palestine - to ask them about how they got into skateboarding and the impact it has had on their lives.

Abdullah. Photo: Sam Ashley

Abdullah. Photo: Sam Ashley

Ok let's start from the beginning - how did you start skating? What was your first skateboard?

Abdullah: I started skating three years ago, I found a fake skateboard in a second-hand shop in Qalqilya, then I joined a local crew called the X-games team, which were a group of rappers, beatboxers, graffiti artists, free-runners and skateboarders. In 2013 an organisation called Tashkeel donated money for us to build the mini-ramp in Qalqilya. Kenny Reed came to help with the building and he gave me my first real board: a Real deck, Thunder trucks and Spitfire wheels. That year I also met Charlie when he came to visit our ramp in Qalqilya, just when he was starting SkatePal. He was really nice and told me about his projects.

Majd: The first time I saw someone skating in real life I think was in 2012. It was Charlie with his team skating at the plaza (in Ramallah). I was walking by, saw them skating and stopped for a bit to watch them. Charlie was doing a fakie 360 flip or something, but at the time I didn't know what the trick was - I just thought 'wow!'. So I talked to him and now we're friends. My first skateboard was from a toy shop in Ramallah, which now I know was a rubbish board, but at that time it was the best skateboard I could get!

Majd takes the unconventional route at the Plaza, Ramallah. Photo: Emil Agerskov

Majd takes the unconventional route at the Plaza, Ramallah. Photo: Emil Agerskov

You're both from different towns (Qalqilya & Ramallah), what's the difference between skating in these towns? What do your parents think?

Abdullah: I live in Qalqilya, which is one of the most conservative cities in the West Bank. People here (until recently) did not accept anything new, including skate boarding. They used to kick us out of every spot - they hated our guts just for being different. But as years went by they got used to us. Ramallah, however, is considered to be more liberal because of the interaction with the outside world, unlike Qalqilya which is completely surrounded by a wall. So skateboarding in Ramallah grew much faster because people were more welcoming to the sport. My family didn’t like it at first but they got used to it eventually.

Majd: Some people like it but most people think that it's just a toy for the kids. My family don't really like it, they always tell me I should grow up and stuff like that. 

Abdullah - Frontside 180 at the SkateQilya mini ramp, Qalqilya. Photo: Emil Agerskov

Abdullah - Frontside 180 at the SkateQilya mini ramp, Qalqilya. Photo: Emil Agerskov

How did you guys meet each other? Do you think you would have met each other if you didn't skateboard?

Majd: The first time I met Abdullah it was at the SOS skatepark in Bethlehem with SkatePal volunteer Maen Hammad. I don’t think that we would know each other if we weren’t skating! 

Abdullah: I don’t think I would've met Majd if one of us didn’t skate. After meeting at SOS, we had a session in the plaza in Ramallah. Majd had only just started skating by then, but I enjoyed watching him landing new tricks. He is always excited to skate, even though his father doesn’t like it. He is one hell of a skater and I'm glad that I’ve met him!

What impact has skateboarding had on your life?

Abdullah: Skateboarding changed my life. It gave me that sense of freedom that I was dying to have, it changed the way I saw my surroundings: everything turned into a playground. Even the wall around the city is just a sick spot for wall rides! SkatePal also made a huge change as they managed to create a skate scene that we were desperate for. They united all the skaters in Palestine, gave them boards and built skateparks, spreading the freedom and joy of skateboarding.

Majd: To be honest, I wouldn't be skating without SkatePal, especially Charlie and Theo. We don’t have a skate shop here, so my shop is SkatePal haha! They always get me a board when mine breaks, so without them I wouldn't be able to skate! 

What impact do you think Asira skatepark has had on the skate-scene in Palestine? 

Abdullah: It had a huge impact. It created a chance for kids to have a place where they can have fun. It gave them something to do instead of wasting their time just hanging around in the streets doing nothing.

Majd: Yeah I agree. People in Asira love skateboarding so much now! 

Abdullah, you recently helped out teaching with the SkateQilya summer camp with Kenny Reed - how was that? 

Abdullah: It was an amazing experience, seeing Kenny back in Palestine shredding and teaching kids with him was really fun. We had 23 boys and girls skating at the camp every day, which was great. I used to be the only skater in the city, but now thanks to SkateQilya there are a lot of kids skating. It was like a dream come true as I saw girls starting to skate through the streets of a conservative city. We're hoping to create a better future for the kids who are trapped inside the walls of the Israeli occupation.

Photo: Emil Agerskov

Photo: Emil Agerskov

How has SkatePal evolved since you got involved?

Abdullah: It has been an amazing experience working with SkatePal. I've met so many people from around the world who came to teach kids here. It's been great introducing them to our culture, and telling them stories about the people of this country. I’ve made a lot of great friends, and I was able to see how skateboarding brings people together and brings joy to oppressed people.

You both came skating with the Isle team when they were in Palestine. What was it like skating with them? Would you like to see more pro teams visiting the West Bank?

Abdullah: It was mind blowing! I couldn’t believe it at first - watching them land one banger after the other. It was good for the skate scene because people were able to see that skating is not just a game but rather a way of life, something that adults do as well as kids. We hope to see more pro teams in the West Bank, because it would inspire and motivate us Palestinian skaters, knowing that we are not alone. Also when pro teams come it brings more attention to the skate scene in Palestine and the Palestinian issue in general.

Majd: It was awesome to have a pro team like the Isle crew in Palestine. It meant a lot to me, but to be honest I didn’t skate much during the sessions, I just sat down and watched them do crazy stuff that I’ve never seen before except in videos haha! I would like to see more teams like that in Palestine for sure!

Chiling with the Isle team in Ramallah. 

Chiling with the Isle team in Ramallah. 

Majd & Chris Jones

Majd & Chris Jones

Why do you think skateboarding is important for boys and girls in the West Bank?

Abdullah: It is important because it’s self-liberating and is a peaceful way of resistance. It sends a message to the world that no matter what happens, we will live our lives like normal people. We are human beings who deserve to live.

Majd: I think the most important thing is the feeling of freedom. Even if I was feeling sad, I just pick up my board and go skating and have fun. I don't know what else to say!

What are your hopes for the future of skateboarding in Palestine? 

Abdullah: I hope to see more people skating, more skate parks and maybe a skate shop. It might be hard but hard isn’t impossible.

Majd: I hope that skateboarding get much bigger and better in the future here in Palestine! 

What are you doing now / planning next? 

Abdullah: Next year I'm hoping to study Film in the US. I dream of travelling the world, sharing the stories of Palestine through film.

Majd: Right now I’m studying in Birzeit university.

What trick are you learning right now? 

Abdullah: Lazer flips and they are a pain in the ass!

Majd: I'm working on inward heel flips and nollie bigspins.

Almost done, how would you describe Charlie?

Abdullah: A great friend who dedicated himself to spreading the freedom of skateboarding.

Majd: I will describe Charlie later hahah. I love him.

Anything else you'd like to say?

Majd: I would say thanks for everyone that makes this happen. So much love from Palestine! 

A few quick ones with @majdramadan3 at the Plaza #ramallah #skatepal

A post shared by SkatePal (@skate_pal) on

It counts! More stunts from @majdramadan3 at the Plaza #ramallah #skatepal

A post shared by SkatePal (@skate_pal) on

Thanks guys! 

Keep up to date with Abdullah and Majd on instagram:

www.instagram.com/majdramadan3

www.instagram.com/a_milhem40

Volunteer Interview:
Kristi Sanders &
Bella Warley

A few months back we chatted to SkatePal volunteers Kristi Sanders from California and Bella Warley from Leeds, to find out how they got on teaching the girls in Asira Al-Shamaliya during the month of Ramadan. 

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What made you want to volunteer with SkatePal? How did you find out about the charity?

Kristi: I discovered SkatePal though a friend who randomly tagged me on a SkatePal Instagram post. For maybe 20 seconds I stared at the image of a SkatePal volunteer holding the hands of a young Palestinian child learning to skate.

Something about that photo, the feeling I got when I looked at it would supersede any apprehension or anything else going on in my life. It was an intense reaction. Obviously I applied. Three reasons the trip appealed to me were; Palestine is a fascinating country, one month seemed like a reasonable amount of time, and there is no greater feeling than sharing the stoke. Plus it was written in the coffee grounds. 

Bella: I was at a gig which was raising money for SkatePal – I think Charlie’s brother is in the band which was playing so I found out more about the charity through him, emailed Charlie and got accepted as a volunteer!

Teamwork is the dreamwork! Bella & Kristi help Lydia on the quarterpipe. 

Teamwork is the dreamwork! Bella & Kristi help Lydia on the quarterpipe. 

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

Kristi: With the exception of a few Ilian Pappe books and Joe Sacco’s Palestine, I really didn’t have a grasp. 

Bella: A lot of people’s reactions were ‘ooh do be careful!’, so I was a little nervous to begin with since a lot of media only refers to or talks about Palestine in the context of conflict and war, thus forming many people’s opinions of the place for them.

I tried to do as much research as I could about the history of the two places before I went out, but it is hard to get a real grasp on the situation without experiencing it first hand, and more importantly talking to people whose lives are affected by present situation – so before I went out I truthfully had what turned out to be a tiny grasp on the state of the political climate, and what the wall means to both Palestinians and Israelis.

Kristi & Basma

Kristi & Basma

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

Kristi: It was my good fortune that Bella volunteered the same month as me. We definitely bonded. Even if a thousand females volunteered, Bella and I would have become fast friends. She’s just that kind of person. At the park however, more female volunteers would have been helpful. It could be a bit hectic with so many girls needing our help. It wasn’t that the boys (volunteers) weren’t assisting. They were! But the girls naturally gravitated to the female volunteers. 

Bella: It was absolutely incredible being the only girls on the trip. I was prepared for it to be different, as in what it means to be a young woman in the Middle East compared to in England. Kristi and I certainly had some new and interesting experiences while being shown how to act appropriately (as a woman) in public by our friend Batool.

However it was amazing to connect with the other girls out in Palestine, whether they were skateboarding or not, and finding common interests and similarities and differences in our respective cultures. It was pretty awesome as well since we also had some great male volunteers to hang out with in the evenings, since it was rare for women to go out unaccompanied by men to play pool at night time, so we fortunately had people we could go with. 

Bella & Batool

Bella & Batool

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

Kristi: Difficulties…I remember one day so many girls showed up that there were simply not enough boards to distribute. That was a bummer. The successes! There were so many, everything from encouraging the most timid of girls to step on the board, to witnessing the most surefooted and advanced skaters progressing at light speed. 

Bella: Well, since we were out there during Ramadan, we were prepared for fewer girls to be turning up to lessons, for obvious reasons. Although it was not overrun with girls, there were certainly a good amount of committed female shredders who were there almost every day without fail!

One of the most obvious struggles, which I’m sure, only applied during Ramadan, was that the girls (although doing very well to hide it) were thirsty and hungry and tired. Despite all this, their resilience was admirable, they never lost energy or interest and with regular sit downs they still progressed at lightening speed. 

Anas & Lydia prepare to drop-in

Anas & Lydia prepare to drop-in

One of the most incredible things was watching the slightly older girls, who could see that Kristi and I were struggling along in broken Arabic, would interpret our movements, and translate what we were trying to say to the younger girls – and from that they were more than happy to take the reigns and begin coaching and helping each other. It’s one of the best things to know that this is a sustainable project and does not wholly rely on the help of the volunteers to keep running!

Another obvious success in my eyes was seeing how skateboarding builds up the girl’s confidence, they command their own space in the skatepark and will let a boy know if he has cut in front of her! One of the nicest memories I have was watching Kristi and 11 year old Basma in the line-up and Basma having her turn amongst a crowd of young men, and finishing to a sea of cheers from them all. 

Bella & Jawad

Bella & Jawad

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

Kristi: Before my visit my ideas on Palestine were pretty vague, but when you invest mutual time and experiences in a community your perspective inevitably forms. As for the people of Palestine, I felt nothing but hospitality and love. Generosity is a cornerstone of life in Asira and I suspect all of Palestine. We were offered car rides everywhere we needed to go, hosted for Iftar meals (evening meal during Ramadan) by several families, provided left-overs of food. Bella and I were even gifted clothes, jewellery and cheese (thank you Batool, Abu and San, and Doha!). 

Bella: Before I came out I was talking to a friend of mine who had been to the village where we stayed and he had said what an amazing friendly and welcoming place it was, and in truth, he couldn’t have been praising enough. I have never visited a more peaceful, welcoming, inclusive place, with an amazing sense of community and an even more amazing attitude to strange foreigners dawning on them!

This of course is not always the case and geographically, there are cities, which are much more heavily affected by the wall like Qalqiliya – where there are more obvious indications of conflict. Even in those places though which we visited at weekends the general attitudes of most people were friendly and welcoming, and not to mention these young people had so much zest for life, something I think skateboarding fits so well with. People we met were so proud of their country, and for good reason. It is a beautiful, interesting, cultural and vibrant place. 

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

Kristi: The West Bank is an agitated area. Occupation has bred a feeling of powerlessness for Palestinians. Skateboarding offers an opportunity to redirect some of the frustration into a different energy, one that is creative and cathartic in nature. This is where skateboarding rules. 

Culture, language, land and resources can be taken away. The visceral feeling of skateboarding, of learning something new, of expressing your unique self CANNOT. Skateboarding nurtures a sense of belonging, binding people from different backgrounds together. It can be collaborative in spirit and typically thrives under this community synergy.

While there is nothing more glorious than sharing the stoke of skateboarding with others, skateboarding is not reliant on that community to survive. This is an important distinction because the happiness that derives from skateboarding is not dependent on others but within the individual skater. It is a powerful tool for both connection and self-empowerment. Ownership of one’s capabilities and potential, is something that no one can take away. 

Kristi lends a helping hand to Lydia's rock-fakie.

Kristi lends a helping hand to Lydia's rock-fakie.

Bella: Skateboarding is important for people in the West Bank, and people the world over because it is a feasible and practical hobby to acquire - requiring very little other than you and your board. It teaches young people to care for something, to develop a skill, and to spend time outside.

The kids in the West Bank are growing up in an oppressed environment, where their resources and opportunities are fettered and so what they need are ways to express themselves and show the world what they are capable of! Skateboarding also plays such a key part in developing kids confidence. In the month we were there, the ones that started out a little shy or nervous on the board became louder and more outgoing as the days went on, and I hope that translates into all other aspects of their lives!

Fundamentally, skateboarding is some of the best times I have ever had, and you can tell with the kids who eventually start to feel more comfortable on the boards, how much they love it when their huge grins are staring up at you. 

What stood out for you on the trip?

Kristi: The spirit of generosity was off-the-charts. Between the numerous car rides, Iftar dinners, and parting gifts, the people in Asira were so giving! There was one moment in particular. While I was helping this one girl, Meenas learn to rock-fakie, another less experienced girl was saying something to me in Arabic. I couldn’t understand what the girl was saying, but Meenas did. Tail on coping, ready to drop in Meenas withdrew her board and said to me. “She needs your help more.”

Without waiting for my response Meenas pulled her board away from the coping and said. “Could you please help her drop in.” It was subtle, but moving. Meenas forfeited her own desires for someone else! The crazy thing is that Meenas was not the only one to give way to someone who needed it more. On more than one occasion the kids offered up their “skate-time” for another skater. 

Bella: The thing that stood out for me was the kindness of everyone we met. It was so ingrained in their nature to share with us everything they had, food, drink, stories, experiences, plans for the future, their homes!

Their attitudes towards each other was amazing, friends, brothers and sisters at the skate park would all share boards, and stick together and encourage each other, teach each other and shout for each other wanting praise for landing a new trick. It is important to me to have someone to enjoy skateboarding with and that is something these kids will always have due to the nature of their community. 

Basma: rock-fakie

Basma: rock-fakie

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

Kristi: I would welcome a return visit!

Bella: I most definitely want to come out with SkatePal in the future, to see what the first generation of Palestinian female skateboarders grow up to be like! I’m still at University so still have the long summer holidays, so if I can find the money, the time shouldn’t be a problem. 

What’s your local skate-scene like? 

Kristi: Skateboarding is so prevalent in Southern California that you could randomly show up at a skate spot or park and it’s likely you’ll know someone there. I skate with an amazing crew that enjoys the more DIY-backyard style of round-wall, so in that sense the scene is a fraction smaller.

Skating is so interconnected I feel like my core crew has grown, extending from Southern California to Northern California …from California to Portland to Colorado, from the United States to Canada to Spain and now… Palestine. Connection is a key component to skateboarding. It’s part of the beauty of skateboarding. 

Bella: Even though it is still heavily male dominated, the scene in Leeds is so prominent - the park is always rammed and you can always hear a skateboard around the streets of the city. There are regular girls only nights too at our local indoor park where the scene is insane, so many young girls come along and absolutely kill it. 

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

Kristi: DO IT!!! 

Chilling with Fahmi and Abu Ali. 

Chilling with Fahmi and Abu Ali. 

Anything else you'd like to add?

Kristi: Many thanks to the people and families that hosted our dinners; The Jawabreh family, the Sawalmeh family, Jarara’a, family, Abu Khalid (the Mayor), Mohammed Sawalha, Mohammad Othman, Maad Abu-Ghazaleh.

Thanks to all the friends and family that supported the funding. Jacks Garage for sponsoring a large portion of my campaign and gifting the children with goodies. Thanks to the incredible group of SkatePal volunteers that kept it haram. I love every single one of you! And SkatePal, for offering this amazing opportunity. 

Bella: Don’t hesitate for a second!! Try and find the time because it was one of the best things I’ve ever done - working with kids is always going to be a wicked experience but getting to do it and skate at the same time is something special. Seeing the young girls skating is amazing and knowing that your work is helping globalise the sport and also break down gender barriers in the Middle East is pretty cool.

Finally, Palestine is somewhere worth visiting either way, just err on the side of caution as you would in all foreign countries and you’ll be fine! 

Thanks Kristi & Bella! 

If you're interested in volunteering with SkatePal in 2017, drop us an email at info@skatepal.co.uk or head to our volunteer page for more info.

Volunteer Placements 2017

We're currently accepting applications for male and female volunteers to teach skateboarding in Palestine between March and October 2017.

Volunteer placements are for either one or two months. For more information and to receive your volunteer application form, please email: info@skatepal.co.uk.

Isle Skateboards visit Palestine

This month we welcomed the Isle Skateboards team to Palestine for a week long tour of the sites, sounds and skate-spots of the West Bank! 

The guys skated with the kids at our skatepark in Asira Al-Shamaliya, as well as visiting spots in Ramallah, Nablus and Bethlehem. Special thanks to Chris Jones for making the trip happen (and congratulations on turning pro!). 

Check out some behind-the-scenes pictures from the trip, and look out for an article and video about their experience dropping in Free Skate Mag soon!

West Bank Shred Wagon

We're very lucky to have a lot of creative people involved with SkatePAL.

Recent volunteer Tom Bird came up with a very creative way to raise money for his trip to Palestine - he spent a day delivering Palestinian mezze around Amsterdam on his skateboard!

Through food sales and donations, Tom raised a total of €1354.00, which his employer WE ARE Pi then kindly offered to double - making a grand total of €2708.00!

Great work Tom! Come back to Palestine soon!

Watch the West Bank Shred Wagon video (above) and check out some of Tom's photos from his trip to Palestine - http://abirdseyeview.tumblr.com/

Esinat, Asira-Al Shamaliya 2016. Photo: Tom Bird

Esinat, Asira-Al Shamaliya 2016. Photo: Tom Bird

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 info@skatepal.co.uk

SkatePAL Interview:
Aram Sabbah & Adham Tamimi

Aram Sabbah and Adham Tamimi from Ramallah were two of the first people to start skateboarding in the whole of Palestine. In this interview, we find out how they met SkatePAL founder Charlie Davis and began skating together - the journey it has led them on and what they're up to at the moment.

Ok let's start from the beginning - how did you both start skating? 

Aram: A friend of mine gave me one for my seventh birthday or something, he brought it back from the UK when he was on holiday. But at the time I didn't really care that I had one.

Adham: I started skating properly 'cause of this American dude that was skating around at the place where I had dabkeh (traditional Arabic dance) training. So this dude comes up to me while I’m watching him and he’s like 'Do you want to try?'. I had a go on his board and fell hard on my ass straight away! Aram hadn't started skating at this point yet, so after I met the American dude I asked to buy Aram's board off him, which he sold me for 150 NIS (£30) or something. 

Aram: At first I thought skating was a childish thing, but after I watched Adham skate then I wanted my board back haha! So we ended up sharing that board for a while and skating together. It became the only thing to do in Palestine beside hanging out with friends and going to school. I was around 15 years old when I started skating with Adham.

Were there any other skaters in the country at the time?

Aram: We were the only people skating in Ramallah, there were two or three skaters in Qalqilya I think but that was about it.

Do you remember what your first board was?

Adham: The board we shared was a Darkstar board. My second board was a Philly board (Jordanian board company), I remember learning kick flips on that one.

Who was the American guy, did you ever meet him again?

Adham: I really don't know the dude, all I know he's from New York. 

How did you meet Charlie? What did you think when you first saw he was building a mini ramp in Ramallah? What did you think about his idea for SkatePAL?

Adham: Some guy told us about some Scottish dude that wanted to build a ramp, so we head out to the spot (in Ramallah) and start to skate the uncompleted ramp.

Aram: At that time we didn't know how to drop in - we just had the concept from watching 1,000 videos on YouTube. So we're skating, then two blonde guys shouted from the window "Heyy! Nice one mate!" it was Charlie and his brother Jack. Charlie told us about his idea and what he was aiming for, we were excited as fuck to hear that someone really wants to do something with skateboarding in Palestine! 

Adham: We talked about everything and we were thrilled with the idea, and from that point, stuff started happening! It was really exciting.

Aram & Adham at the first SkatePAL ramp in Ramallah, 2014.

Aram & Adham at the first SkatePAL ramp in Ramallah, 2014.

Aram & Charlie teach the basics during skate classes in Ramallah, 2014.

Aram & Charlie teach the basics during skate classes in Ramallah, 2014.

What were your preconceptions of working with a UK charity?

Adham: At that point, we didn’t assume anything, we were just like 'yeah let's just do this' so we could skate some stuff. Like thinking about it now, it all happened fast, yet, a lot of work was put in - one day I’m skating in the street, the next I’m in Zebabadeh skating the first concrete skatepark in Palestine.

Aram: Uhmmm I thought it was cool that I'm going to work with a UK charity that aims to help the Palestinian youth. 

Aram, you had a bit of set-back in your skating a few years ago, what happened?

Yeah, I was shot during a protest at Qalandia checkpoint in 2014. At first I didn't realise that I'd been shot, but as soon as I got in the ambulance I was just thinking - 'Shit! I can't skate anymore.' I was really frustrated that I got shot in my leg, I thought that if I got shot in the arm then maybe I could still skate.

Once I'd settled down in the hospital my next thought was - 'Where's my phone? I have to text Charlie to tell him I can't skate tomorrow because I got shot'. I was meant to have a class all day teaching with the kids. I was scared of Charlie's reaction.

[text message conversation between Aram and Charlie] 

Photos: Sam Dearden, 2014.

Photos: Sam Dearden, 2014.

The pair   chill out whilst waiting for Aram's leg to heal. 2014

The pair chill out whilst waiting for Aram's leg to heal. 2014

Well thankfully you made a full and speedy recovery! How do you think skateboarding and SkatePAL has impacted your lives?

Adham: Skateboarding changed my perspective on the world. Like I used to see a set of stairs, just normal stairs, with two options: go up or go down. Now all I see is hammers going down at the spot, you know! Things only a skater would understand hahah. SkatePAL got me to meet a lot of cool people and Charlie hooked me up with a trip to skate in France, so it pretty much changed a whole lot in my life!

Aram: Wooo thats a good question!! It's difficult to describe the impact, but it's huge! Skateboarding has made feel like I'm free - that there's nothing in the world that can stop me from doing what I love to do! SkatePAL made that feeling grow bigger and made me feel like I'm really doing what I love. 

It also showed me that teaching other people to skate is the best feeling. When you give a kid a skateboard and watch them skate non-stop for hours and see them smile because they're riding a skateboard, that makes you feel really special.

SkatePAL also taught us to make the best of your situation. You can skate whatever you have: old deck, new deck, nice ground, awful ground. Take your skateboard, go anywhere. Skate it. 

Adham 5.0's on a trip to France.

Adham 5.0's on a trip to France.

Aram and Adham meet Kenny Reed at the Tashkeel ramp in Qalqilya.

Aram and Adham meet Kenny Reed at the Tashkeel ramp in Qalqilya.

How has the charity evolved since you got involved?

Adham: Ha, you gotta ask Charlie that! But honestly I can’t tell you because he does what he does good, and doesn’t look back.

Aram: It's really grown a lot recently. It's getting stuff done faster than before now because it has become a well known charity, and it all happened in two or three years, so for me that's a big success.

So you're both in different countries studying right now. Can you tell us what and where you're studying and why you chose to go there? 

Adham: I’m in Cyprus, I’m trying to get my Bachelors degree in Economics. I chose it because I got a 50% scholarship, so why not right haha!

Aram: I got a scholarship to study Acting and Theatre in Tunisia. I've been in love with acting since I was a little kid, I used to act in TV commercials and stuff when I was little. I didn't choose Tunisia because I like it, it's just because I got a scholarship to study there - and as you know free stuff is good stuff! 

Adham Tamimi, 2014. Photos: Sam Dearden.

Adham Tamimi, 2014. Photos: Sam Dearden.

Adham pulls a blunt-to-rock fakie at the Tashkeel ramp in Qalqilya.

Adham pulls a blunt-to-rock fakie at the Tashkeel ramp in Qalqilya.

How's the skate scene where you are? 

Adham: In Cyprus it's pretty much worse than the Palestine skate scene - they have a couple of metal ramps which someone could get killed using because of how rusty they are. I reckon there's like ten or twenty skaters where I am.

Aram: The skate scene in Tunisia is not that strong. When I skate down the streets people will be looking at me like 'what the fuck is that guy doing?' It's the same as in Palestine two years ago, but there's a couple of skate parks around and some pretty good spots to be honest.

How do people respond when you tell them you're from Palestine? 

Adham: In Cyprus it's cool, because there are a lot of Arabs here. But where I used to live six months ago (Washington D.C) - man! Let me tell you living in D.C I met a lot of people. Some of them, instantly start giving us love, many are shocked that we could even speak English, and others hate us and instantly think we’re killers. 

Aram: In Tunisia, people's faces turn from normal to excited or happy - they love Palestine, I mean who doesn't!? I always get the phrase 'God be with you, you soldier of freedom' and that makes me feel powerful and fearless!

Aram boardslides at the Plaza in Ramallah, 2015. Photo: Emil Agerskov

Aram boardslides at the Plaza in Ramallah, 2015. Photo: Emil Agerskov

What are you planning to do after university? Will you move back to Palestine or keep travelling?

Adham: Im going to try and open up some type of way to earn money without having anyone boss me about, or get a Masters - and Wall Street here I come! Maybe after I've finished Uni I'll go to Palestine but not for more than a year or so. But eventually it’ll be my home that I'll always come back to. 

Aram: I'm aiming to get all the knowledge and degrees that I can get! Knowledge is the best thing that a man can have and when I reach that I'll go back to Palestine and help my homeland in every way possible. But yeah I wouldn't mind traveling around the world too. I love to travel and keep moving here and there - get to know the world that I'm living in and see things I've never seen before. But in the end there's no place like home.

Aram during the opening ceremony at Rosa Park, Asira Al-Shamaliya, 2015. Photo: Emil Agerskov

Aram during the opening ceremony at Rosa Park, Asira Al-Shamaliya, 2015. Photo: Emil Agerskov

Why do you think skateboarding is important for boys and girls in the West Bank?

Adham: I think it helps you to understand other aspects of life and see stuff in a different way, it's very eye-opening. For Palestinians especially it helps to release all that tension that builds up inside us from what happens around us everyday. It also helps people to be more focused and independent. Skateboarding is all about dedication and having fun while doing it.

Aram: Skateboarding is good for the mind, body and soul. Palestinian kids are always getting stressed out from the life they are living and skateboarding helps to takes that stress away and not think about the Israeli occupation itself. When you're skating, there's nothing to think about apart from focusing how to balance yourself on the board.

Aram tests out the mini-ramp at Rosa Park with a boneless, Asira Al-Shamaliya, 2015. Photo: Emil Agerskov

Aram tests out the mini-ramp at Rosa Park with a boneless, Asira Al-Shamaliya, 2015. Photo: Emil Agerskov

What are your hopes for the future of skateboarding in Palestine? 

Adham: Hopefully it grows so big, that when a skater outside of Palestine hears the name, they think of the skateboarding scene first, instead of war and stuff like that.

Aram: I hope it keeps growing, until it reaches a point where it's normal to see a skateboarder skating down the streets or grinding the blue rail (in Ramallah). I want to feel that I'm not one of the few skateboarders in the country. I want the skateboarding community in Palestine to be like in the US or Europe: to see more than the same ten skaters everyday and I think SkatePAL is going to help us reach that.

Aram Sabbah. Ollie in Ramallah, 2015. 

Aram Sabbah. Ollie in Ramallah, 2015. 

Photos: Emil Agerskov

Photos: Emil Agerskov

What do your family and friends think of you skating?

Aram: They think that I'm doing something good. They're proud and happy for me because they know how much I love it!

Adham: They think it's pretty cool. Like at first everyone thought of us as outsiders, which we technically are - but then the whole thing went mainstream with rappers and celebrities skating and stuff, so now they think it's cool.

Are you coming back to Palestine this year?

Adham: Yeah in the summer holidays, June to October.

Aram: Yeah!! We're gonna shred the skatepark in Asira!

Aram addresses the crowd during the opening of Rosa Park, 2015. 

Aram addresses the crowd during the opening of Rosa Park, 2015. 

Aram & Charlie, selfie at the Rosa Park opening day, 2015.

Aram & Charlie, selfie at the Rosa Park opening day, 2015.

Almost done, how would you describe Charlie?

Adham: Without him there wouldn't be anything to skate in Palestine!

Aram: He's the boss. I mean he's a great guy, with a great looking butt (haha!). I mean he's the one who did all this, if it wasn't for him there wouldn't be this new skatepark in Asira.

Anything else you'd like to add?

Adham: Yeah. Thanks for the interview and thanks to everyone who ever helped the skate scene in Palestine and those who are still helping it. So shout out to them and thank you skateboarding!

Thanks guys! 

Find out more about Aram and Adham's story by watching Epicly Palestine'd: The Birth of Skateboarding in the West Bank.

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 info@skatepal.co.uk!

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