skateboarding

Five Years of SkatePal: A Message from Founder Charlie Davis

Charlie_3.jpg

First and foremost, I would like to express my gratitude to everyone who has supported SkatePal over the past five years. There is not enough space here to mention everyone individually who has helped us along the way, but you all know who you are, and that we would not be here without you all!

Over the past five years, we have had over 200 volunteers from 25 countries who have travelled out to Palestine to get involved with our projects. None of this would have been possible without the time, money and effort that they have put in, not to mention the countless others who have fundraised for us and spread the word of what we do.

I did not imagine, five years ago, that I would be here writing this message, and it is an honour to have met and worked with such dedicated individuals who have inspired me to keep going. A special thank you goes to Theo Krish, who became the second Director in 2015 and has shared the responsibility of running the charity since then.

Charlie with some of the first skateboarders in Palestine, including Aram Sabbah, Adham Tamimi and Mai Alem.

Charlie with some of the first skateboarders in Palestine, including Aram Sabbah, Adham Tamimi and Mai Alem.

From figuring out how to build a 3ft wooden mini-ramp in 2013 with my brother and a couple of friends, to co-organising the first ever international skateboard conference - Pushing Boarders - in 2018, and planning our fourth concrete skatepark in Palestine, we have come a long way and have learnt a lot!

There have been a couple of stand-out moments in the past five years which have inspired me to keep going and reaffirmed my belief in what SkatePal is doing:

After completing our first concrete skatepark in Zebabdeh, I remember chatting to some of the parents who said it was the first time they had seen the Muslim and Christian children playing together. They attend different schools and had usually played separately but skateboarding managed to break through those barriers and bring them all together. 

Zebabdeh, 2014.

Zebabdeh, 2014.

Later on in 2016, during the first year of year-round classes at the Asira Al-Shamalyia skatepark, I was sitting watching skaters from around the country skating the park together, whilst I drank tea with local parents and others who had just come up to relax at the park. For the first time it struck me that these skateparks represented much more than just a place to play, but they had become community hang-out spots with such an inclusive atmosphere that you didn’t have to skate to enjoy yourself. 

Asira Al-Shamaliya Skatepark. Photo: Sam Ashley

Asira Al-Shamaliya Skatepark. Photo: Sam Ashley

It had also became a cultural melting pot where volunteers from all over the world came to meet the local residents and you could see first hand how much everyone benefited - not only the local children. The family vibe at these parks was also exemplified by the fact that girls and boys were skating together, and mixed sports sessions are very uncommon in the more conservative areas of Palestine. 

It has been inspiring to witness the growth of skateboard charities during the past few years - particularly those that have been established by past SkatePal volunteers. The Concrete Jungle Foundation working in Peru and Angola, Free Movement Skateboarding working with refugees in Athens, and Women Skate the World working internationally, were all set up by ex-SkatePal volunteers.

Aram Sabbah. Photo: Emil Agerskov

Aram Sabbah. Photo: Emil Agerskov

From the beginning, the ultimate goal of SkatePal in Palestine was to create a self-sustaining skateboard scene that would continue with local skaters at the helm. We are delighted to announce that Aram Sabbah, one of the first skaters in the country, who has been with us since day one, will be taking on the role of local manager in Palestine in 2019. 

It has been wonderful to see SkatePal grow into a close-knit, international family, with whom it is a privilege to work.

Charlie Davis,

Founder & Executive Director

Volunteer Interview:
Lorna Brown

If you've bought a copy of our new SkatePal magazine, then no doubt Lorna Brown's illustrations will have caught your eye. 

Lorna came to Palestine in 2016, volunteering as a skate instructor in Asira Al-Shamaliya. In between skating and teaching, she somehow managed to find time to work on loads of paintings. We absolutely love her work and were stoked when she agreed to contribute towards our magazine!

Have a read below to find out where Lorna gets her inspiration from, then go buy our magazine to see more of her work!

25157961_10159654187630463_2652329434536781129_n.jpg

Tell us about your background - how did you get into illustration?

I pretty much went into illustration straight from school. I studied Technical Illustration and then completed my degree in Scientific and Natural History Illustration. It wasn’t about being an artist for me. It was more about the challenge of representing information visually. I came out of University in 2001 and painted anything I could to make a living. Portraits, greetings cards, stuff for magazines, anything that people would pay me for, trying to make a decent living in an industry that was about to fall into recession.

I took a hiatus from illustration that coincided with taking up Roller Derby which sapped all my creative energy for 8 years. I travelled the world coaching Roller Derby and playing at the highest level that I could before retiring in 2014 following my fourth sport related concussion! I supplemented that with working as a photographic retoucher - using my painter’s eye to make images for billboards and magazines look ‘better’. That was when illustration and skateboarding came back into my life and the break away helped me to work out exactly what I wanted and needed from both of those things. 

Vegetable shop in Asira Al-Shamaliya.

Vegetable shop in Asira Al-Shamaliya.

How would you describe your work? 

My work now is weirdly specific. I paint buildings and places in watercolour that I feel have stories to tell. I’m drawn (haha) to the character of spaces, to the rough edges, the lived-in bits. It has now become a bit of an obsession. I can’t go anywhere without spotting things that speak to me, that want to be painted. I can walk past a thousand shiny glass skyscrapers and not bat an eyelid, but give me a crumbling corner shop with a dustbin next to it and I have to capture it.

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

I had this vague notion that I would like my paintings to be more than just ‘stuff I see around London’. I wanted to tell a bigger story. Illustrator-journalist style. That idea really took hold of my imagination. I have a journalist friend that I was going to travel to Beirut to see and base a project on there but that fell through. She then sent me SkatePal’s call out through Huck Magazine saying they were looking for female skateboarders to volunteer and something about the timing just felt right. The combination of skateboarding, coaching kids, adventure and the ability to tell a story through my paintings was the perfect mix. In the end I came out to Palestine for five weeks from the end of August to the beginning of October 2016.

Skating & Painting: Video by Ben Grubb

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

I must admit that I didn’t know very much. I had this idea that there was a wall and everyone on the Palestinian side were left to their own devices. Then, before coming out I contacted a charity that does peace work in Palestine and talked to the Director about the kinds of places I should visit on my trip to tell the story of the place through the buildings. We talked for a long time because it turns out that there is a huge amount to say, so by the end of the call I had a big list of places that I wanted to visit on my trip.

However, at the same time, I didn’t want to read blogs or watch videos on the place before I went out. I wanted to have that magic of seeing somewhere for the first time with my own eyes, to be inspired by that. To not let preconceptions colour my experiences. There was also a little bit of burying my head in the sand for a couple of months beforehand because I was nervous about the whole trip and found myself ignoring it on the horizon.  

Mount of Temptation, Jericho

Mount of Temptation, Jericho

You were extremely productive during your time in Asira, I feel like you were painting pretty much every moment outside of skating. How did Asira and the West Bank in general inspire your work?

I’d given up a lot of work to come on this trip so I made a deal with myself before I came out that it wasn’t a five week holiday, that I needed to work hard whilst I was there to make up for the time away. However, once I got started it turned out that the environment was so inspiring that it was a pleasure to sit down every day to paint. It almost became a meditation and a way to help me process the things that I was seeing and the emotions that were being stirred by the place. 

The dichotomy of the everyday village life in Asira with the military occupation became an important part of the work I produced. I’d heard so little about what life is like in Palestine that I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like. It was the same with the friends and family that I told about my trip. The preconception that it is a dangerous place - everyone I spoke to was basing their mental image on an idea from some news reports in the 90s.

I felt like perhaps my paintings could add some more colour to those mental images, and maybe some humanity. I aimed to be either skating, collecting references, or painting the whole time when I wasn’t at the skatepark with the kids. By the end of the five weeks I’d managed to visit every city on my list so I was really pleased with that, as travelling within Palestine was something that had been concerning me before I arrived.

The separation wall, Qalqilya

The separation wall, Qalqilya

The majority of your work is themed around buildings and architecture. What do you look for in a illustration subject? 

Like the deep lines in an old person’s face, I love to see some sort of history etched on a building. I love the idea we have that buildings are so permanent but actually when you pay attention they are changing all the time. I like small businesses that represent the vision that someone once had. Living in London, buildings are my landscape. Perhaps if I lived in forest I would paint the trees.

One of my favourite quotes is by Winston Churchill “We shape buildings, thereafter, our buildings shape us.” You really get a sense of that when standing next to the Separation Wall in Qalqilya. This huge grey structure, casting a shadow across the land, it’s a symbol. Then when you go and look at the same wall in Bethlehem and it is covered in brightly coloured graffiti you can feel the resistance of the people. 

What's your process for working on a piece?

My paintings take too long to complete outdoors so I start by taking reference photos. I get as many angles as I can of the subject, because I like to be free to construct my composition. I then sketch the proportions and different angles in my sketchbook to work out which kind of perspective will suit the subject best. The most time consuming element is the construction process. This involves a ruler, set square, calculator and my technical illustration knowledge.

I draw it all up in pencil on watercolour paper using perspective lines and it takes hours. I guess that’s where all the decision making is happening but I often get frustrated with how it can take 6 hours to put a few hundred lines on a piece of paper. I then ink all the linework on top without using rulers to keep the natural feel. Painting is my favourite part and the most meditative. Aside from having references open on my laptop, I try not to touch a computer in the whole process. 

Tyre shop, Asira Al-Shamaliya

Tyre shop, Asira Al-Shamaliya

Skating the tyre shop. Photo: Paula Viidu

Skating the tyre shop. Photo: Paula Viidu

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

In all honesty, before going I wasn’t sure how ’skate lessons’ would work. Having been self taught and used to skating on my own most of the time in London, I didn’t really know what teaching skateboarding would look like. The realities of it were much more organic and natural. The kids were great at asking for help when they needed it, and we quickly tuned in to spotting new comers that might be too nervous to get started. The language barrier was definitely the most difficult aspect, I’d spent some time learning Arabic before heading over but it was just basic conversation rather than the intricacies of where your weight should be to do an ollie. Yet we got by. We relied on body language, demonstrations and more often than not, a helping hand and a smile of encouragement.

The thing that extends beyond language though, is seeing someone actively overcome their fear. I never got bored of being a witness to that. It felt like the greatest privilege to be the hand that reached out and helped someone drop-in for the first time. To believe in someone else’s ability more than they believe in themselves and then witness them achieve it. Even to see the frustration when the kids were practicing a new trick, it was all so familiar. These commonalities taught me so much. Despite the places we were from being so different, our past and our future, our cultures and habits, within the skatepark everything felt exactly the same the world over.

Hitching a lift in a tractor with local skater Abdullah

Hitching a lift in a tractor with local skater Abdullah

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

The hospitality and warmth of the people we encountered changed me as a person. Coming from a place with so much privilege yet simultaneously so much dissatisfaction, to a place with so little and the people were generous and loving, I couldn’t help but be changed by that. I just kept thinking about stupid things that make people angry or despair back at home and how silly they seemed. I guess it put a few things in perspective.

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

I know that skateboarding isn’t the answer for everyone, but for a few people it can change their whole world. For the kids in Asira, it seemed to give a lot of them a place to just be kids. I suppose anything creative has the capacity to help people to feel free. Whether it be music, art, dance or skateboarding. I think that feeling of freedom can help you cope with the other aspects of your life that smother your heart. Skateboarding teaches you control and discipline but can also become a form of expression and hope. In my opinion, people without hope are dangerous to those around them. When all you have in your life is the feeling of being trapped, with nothing under your control it can lead to dark places.

Yet this kind of volunteer-run skatepark is as much about the growth of the volunteers as it is about the kids. It gives the volunteers the chance to hear the stories that don’t normally get heard and to feel the warmth of the people. We really felt like part of the community and grew so attached to the people we met. That’s something we will carry with us through our lives as well.

Vegetable shop in Asira Al-Shamaliya, as seen in the new SkatePal magazine. Photo: Christian Nilsen

Vegetable shop in Asira Al-Shamaliya, as seen in the new SkatePal magazine. Photo: Christian Nilsen

Does design work pay the bills? How do you balance between work, life and skating? 

Between retouching and illustrating my bills get paid. Coming back to skateboarding after having competed on a team sport at international level however means that I have zero desire to let skateboarding take over in the same way, and being older means that skating a couple of times a week is about all my body can handle. At the same time, I can definitely feel that itch of withdrawal rising if I don’t get to skate for a few days in a row. Maybe it’s just taking over slowly so that I only notice when it’s too late.

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

I hope to for sure. Whether it is for a full month or just a visit to see all the great people I met we’ll have to see what happens. Plus I don’t think that Basma will forgive me if I don’t come back! We became such good friends.

What are you up to at the moment?

I’ve just finished making a book of my paintings following Street Art in eleven cities around the world and how the work on the walls reflects something of the unique sociological environment of each place. The idea was inspired by my time in Bethlehem .

Right now I'm working in New Zealand but I have a base in Malmö that I’ll return to in the Spring because the skate culture there is so welcoming. I really love Malmö, after so much travelling in 2017 it was the perfect place to hole up for a few months at the end of the year, paint and write by day and then skate in the evenings.

The book, ‘Painted Cities’ will be out in May 2018 printed by Head of Zeus.

Sofa drop, Asira Al-Shamaliya. Photo: Noah Hella

Sofa drop, Asira Al-Shamaliya. Photo: Noah Hella

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

It wasn’t nearly as scary as I had built up in my head. There are so many friendly ex-volunteers happy to chat about the practicalities of getting around that it actually makes it easier to see this part of the world than if you were doing a just a regular tour. Being settled in one place for a long time, one of the things I found most surprising was spending time with female groups within the town. We went to a couple of wedding parties and a dinner where we (the female volunteers) were welcomed into a world that men don’t get to see. In fact that was a really special part of the trip and something I had not seen spoken about much before. 

Anything else you'd like to add?

I think I’ve probably said enough….

Thanks Lorna! 

Follow Lorna on Instagram - www.instagram.com/lornastration

Buy the new SkatePal Magazine here.

 

 

 

Jayyous Skatepark - Week 2

Week 2 down!

Our volunteers have been working late into the night, pouring concrete (and their hearts) into Jayyous Skatepark. We've hit our fundraising target with partners SkateQilya, but you can still donate towards the sustainability of this project:

www.jayyouspark.com

Jayyous Skatepark

We're very excited to announce that our next skatepark will be built in the village of Jayyous in collaboration with our friends at SkateQilya!

This September we will be working with a team of international volunteers and professional skatepark builders to construct a 600m2, free access community skatepark in the picturesque Palestinian village of Jayyous. 

Working together with the local community and partner organisations, we will provide the fast-growing group of skateboarders in Jayyous a safe space to engage with each other and call their own! 

For more information and to donate head to: www.jayyouspark.com

Follow the story @jayyouspark on Facebook and Instagram.

Contact us at jayyouspark@gmail.com

SkatePal Summer Jam 2017

Roll up, roll up! Join us for the third annual SkatePal Summer Jam in London. All proceeds from this event go directly towards building a new skatepark in Palestine this September!

Sunday 13th August // 11am - 7pm // Gillett Square, Dalston N16 8JN.

What to expect:

- Suma Sound and Pig & Rig DJs soundtracking your day with a mix of psychedelic beats from around the globe.

- Authentic Palestinian food from our friends at Hiba Express.

- Delicious cider courtesy of Kentish Pip.

- Game of S.K.A.T.E - £2 entry with prizes for winners.

- Raffle - win prizes from: Isle Skateboards, Rock Solid Distribution, Long Live Southbank, Theobalds Cap Co. Ninja Tune, NTS Radio and more! 

- Free beginners skate lessons!

- Merch & information stalls

**This is a free event, but don't forget - all the money we raise is going directly to help build a new skatepark for young children in Palestine** 

-------------

Schedule

11am - 12pm: Beginners skate lessons

12pm: Skate jam opens

1pm - 3pm: Game of S.K.A.T.E

3pm - 7pm: Skate Jam continues.  

-------------

Many thanks to Hackney Council and Gillett Square for supporting this event.

Facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/events/134723553791290

In memory of
Ignacio Echeverria

Last Sunday skateboarders from all over London gathered to celebrate the life of Ignacio Echeverria, the Spanish skateboarder who was killed whilst trying to defend a woman with his skateboard during the London Bridge attack.

The skate session was an immensely powerful and positive event, and a real reminder of how amazing the skateboarding community is. We skated together in solidarity, travelling the route that Ignacio took around the London Bridge area that day, turning a painful memory into a positive one.

We are extremely humbled and honoured that Ignacio’s friends and family have decided to donate money in his memory to SkatePal, as he had previously told them that he was inspired by our work in the West Bank.

Our event at Southbank this weekend is dedicated to his memory.

Ignacio 5.jpg

SkatePal Southbank Jam

Join us for our first SkatePal fundraiser of the summer supported by Long Live Southbank

Get yourself down to Southbank to raise money for skateboarders in the West Bank! All proceeds go towards building a new skatepark in Palestine this September.

Saturday 17th June // 10am - 7pm // Southbank (The Undercroft)

Schedule:

10am - 12noon: Skate Lessons hosted by LLSB

12noon - 2pm: Jam begins

2pm - 3pm: Best trick contest

3pm-7pm: Jam on!

Prizes from: Isle Skateboards, Brixtons Baddest Skate Shop, Slam City Skates, Rock Sold DistributionTheobalds Cap Co. and more!

Facebook event - https://www.facebook.com/events/436986503333748

**This is a free event, but don't forget - all the money we raise is going directly to help build a new skatepark for young people in Palestine**

If you can't make it to the event, fear not! You can make a donation at www.skatepal.co.uk/donate

In memory of Ignacio Echeverria

 

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. 

image_00023.jpg

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.