Park life: How Skate-Aid helps kids in deprived areas

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Skate-Aid has had to pause programs around the world and recall its volunteers. (Supplied)
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Updated 28 August 2020

Park life: How Skate-Aid helps kids in deprived areas

  • The charity runs several projects in the Arab world, and recently opened a skate park in Damascus

LONDON: Skate-Aid is a charitable organization that develops skateboarding parks and initiatives around the world, founded on a vision of empowering children through active participation in the sport and with a particular focus on locations where kids face adverse living conditions.

“The parks provide a safe space where children don’t have to be tough guys like they do on the streets,” says Tobias Egelkamp, head of projects at Skate-Aid. “In our international projects we almost exclusively operate in areas of deprivation where children are exposed to child labor, drugs, gangs, bad or no education, and where they don’t see a future. With our educational work through skateboarding, we can give those children a sense of direction.”

Skate-Aid is based in Germany, but operates in countries across the world, including projects in Palestine, Syria and Afghanistan. Egelkamp, who became head of projects in 2018 (having worked as a volunteer in South Africa and in Skate-Aid’s head office for several years), was heavily involved in the Syria project — a skate park in Damascus — which began in 2018.




Skate-Aid is based in Germany, but operates in countries across the world, including projects in Palestine, Syria and Afghanistan. (Supplied)

“My role was connecting everyone who worked on the project — architects, project partners, donors, volunteers, those working on budgeting and so on,” Egelkamp tells Arab News. “We had a lot of people helping us on our mission, and it’s thanks to all of them that these projects are possible.”

Parks such as the one in Damascus can play a complex, vital role in children’s lives, Egelkamp says. “Kids use skate parks all over the world as urban-culture areas and playgrounds to skate and explore possibilities in their development.” At the Damascus park — and many of Skate-Aid’s facilities, however, “Those children have very different backgrounds, possibilities, education and so on. In many cases, the skate park and skateboarding itself symbolize freedom and possibilities they do not really have in their lives.”

Developing the project in a country ravaged by conflict had the potential to be dangerous, so Skate-Aid partnered with local organization SOS Children’s Villages Syria.




Developing the project in a country ravaged by conflict had the potential to be dangerous, so Skate-Aid partnered with local organization SOS Children’s Villages Syria. (Supplied)

“The area is close to Damascus, and pretty much safe, so our volunteers and partners could move freely there,” Egelkamp says. “Thanks to that local guidance, we never felt in danger. However there are certain restrictions on movement and you cannot travel around since the danger of kidnapping is high in other areas. From my point of view, our work there is a calculated risk.”

That risk, however, makes it possible to manifest the positive impact of the skateboarding initiatives - and offer children in Damascus an escape from Syria’s ongoing unrest.

“Each project has a slightly different approach,” says Egelkamp. “From working with street kids in South Africa or impaired kids in Namibia, to possibly traumatized kids in Syria and Palestine — the projects are adapted to those respective needs. Our partners ensure we keep cultural differences in mind, so each project is unique in its own way. What stays the same is the skateboarding, and the welcoming character of the people we meet in each country.”




The skate park project in Damascus began in 2018. (Supplied)

Ensuring each project is bespoke makes the job harder for Egelkamp and his teams, but the payoff, he believes, is worth it.

“I think skateboarding gives kids a sense of belonging and direction, which is even more important since — in the areas we operate in — this is often what’s missing.”   

The Syrian park has certainly struck a chord with the children of Damascus.




The Syrian park has certainly struck a chord with the children of Damascus. (Supplied)

“There were more kids attending the workshops than any (we’ve done) before,” explains Egelkamp. “Over 300 registered in the first week. Many of them helped during the construction phase, so it’s basically their skate park too.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Skate-Aid has had to pause programs around the world and recall its volunteers. Egelkamp says he plans to head back to Syria as soon as possible, and it’s clear he’s eager to make up for lost time with the charity. And that includes more projects in the Middle East.

“In 2021, we’ll focus on catching up,” he says. “This includes the extension of our project in Uganda, starting programs and building a small skate park in Nepal, and going to Kazakhstan. But for sure, Syria will not be the last project in the Arab world.”


Keke Palmer shows off Lebanese design in new music video

Updated 35 min 38 sec ago

Keke Palmer shows off Lebanese design in new music video

DUBAI: American singer and actress Keke Palmer released her latest single “Dreamcatcher,” turning to Lebanese couturier Georges Hobeika to design her eye-catching look.

The 27-year-old, who gave us hits such as “I Don’t Belong to You” and “Man in the Mirror,” wore a gold, asymmetric gown plucked from the Baskinta-born designer’s Spring 2020 couture collection. The dazzling creation boasted a high slit and iridescent sequins and beading throughout. A delicate knot detail further accentuated the hitmaker’s waist. 

Hobeika’s Spring 2020 couture collection, which was presented at The Théâtre National de Chaillot Couture in Paris during Haute Couture Week in January, drew inspiration from the idyllic shores of Sardinia, Italy. 

The look was put together by Palmer’s longtime stylist, Mikiel Benyamin, the US-Egyptian stylist whose celebrity client list includes Bella Thorne and Saweetie, among others. The Egypt-born creative, who got his fashion start with a number of styling internships, went on to make a name for himself after putting together the memorable looks for Cardi B’s hit “Bodak Yellow” video.

Hobeika, on the other hand, recently made headlines after US hip hop star Nicki Minaj announced her pregnancy with a series of images, one of which sees the star wearing a floor-length veil custom-made by the Lebanese designer. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Keke’s new single Dream Catcher.... SHE stuns in @georgeshobeika @jenniferfisherjewelry & @alevimilano

A post shared by MIKIEL BENYAMIN (@maikeeb_kills) on

Singer Hailee Steinfeld also recently turned to Hobeika to unveil her latest single via Zoom on the “Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” For the virtual performance, she opted for a black, strapless mini dress with an asymmetric hemline and a cascading tulle train.

Indeed, celebrities constantly turn to Hobeika to dress them in his creations for some of their most important events. Case in point: Singer-turned-actress Jennifer Lopez who chose an elegant off-the-shoulder black gown for the 2020 Screen Actors Guild Awards and before that, a cream-colored, backless gown encrusted with gems at the 2020 Critics’ Choice Awards.

Meanwhile, it’s not the first time that the “Scream Queens” star has donned a design by an Arab designer. The US actress rocked up to the 2019 MTV VMAs in Los Angeles wearing a sunny yellow column gown by Kuwaiti couturier Yousef Al-Jasmi. She accessorized the glamorous look with a rhinestone encrusted 1980s cell phone.