Despite a distance of more than 6,000 kilometres between them, a group of Cambodian and Afghan children spent an afternoon last week talking about the similarities between their cultures, and the universal importance of women’s rights.
The session was the fifth in a six-part series of conversations organised via video link by the non-profit organisation Skateistan, with help from the Cambodian Women’s Development Agency (CWDA), which aims to promote self-reliance among women in the country.
Skateistan, which started in Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul, and opened a branch in Cambodia in 2011, combines skate-boarding with education for street children.
The organisation’s Kabul base made international headlines last September when four students were killed after a suicide bomb was detonated near to the area where the children sold trinkets, scarves and chewing gum.
Their latest project has connected students from Kabul with those involved in their project in Cambodia: female students aged between nine and 17 from Phnom Penh have held weekly conversations with their peers in Kabul via a Skype link for more than a month.
Conversation, organised with the help of a translator, has ranged from the differences in cuisine and dress to the place of women in society.
The program has been a rare opportunity for the students to discuss their culture with others from another country, according to Talia Kaufman, Skateistan’s communications officer for Cambodia.
“Through the exchange they have become more aware of their own culture,” she said, adding that it has strengthened their “sense of belonging”.
Through discussing women’s rights and the concept of equality in both cultures, the children were forced to think critically about the place of women in their own society, Kaufman said.
The Cambodian students were curious about the headscarves worn by the Afghan children.
“Children don’t always censor what they say,” she said.
It was left to the translator to make sure questions about the headscarves, worn by the Afghan students, were framed in a culturally sensitive way.
The Cambodian students were not aware of last September’s tragedy in Kabul, but Kaufman said that the organisation intends to help the students in all Skateistan projects make sense of the conflicts faced by themselves as well as peers in other countries.
Skateistan now intends to expand the program to other countries.
They hope to connect another group of students in Phnom Penh with a group of students in Africa, Kaufman said.
The Cambodian students wrote in their blog on the Skateistan website that they found the exchange exciting, and said that it gave them a better sense of cultural identity.
“We are happy to share about what exists in Cambodian culture including food, clothes, dancing, greeting, resorts, as well as the other things since the girls there could not see these things directly, but through pictures, they could understand and know what we have here.”
The Afghan students also said they learned a lot about the different culture through the exchange.
“We have studied about Cambodia in geography subject [sic] at school but through this class we got an opportunity to see them and know about their culture,” the Afghan students wrote in their blog on the Skateistan website.
Once the video exchange program has finished, the CWDA students will do an art exchange with the students in Kabul.
Skateistan offers a range of classes and programs ranging from art and the video link up, to martial arts, break dancing, and DJ-ing.
The classes are preceded by an hour-long skateboarding lesson.
For more information on Skateistan visit their website.
To contact the reporter on this story: Laura Walters at [email protected]