Tuk-tuk ramp takes outreach to a radical new level

A Skateistan volunteer demonstrates the tuk-tuk ramps at Wat Thmei pagoda
A Skateistan volunteer demonstrates the tuk-tuk ramps at Wat Thmei pagoda. SKATEISTAN

Tuk-tuk ramp takes outreach to a radical new level

Not content with opening the city’s first skate park, social outreach NGO Skateistan has built a skate ramp on wheels

The kids couldn’t come to the skatepark, so now the skatepark is coming to them. Skateistan, an NGO that uses skateboarding to empower young people, has built the “world’s first tuk-tuk skate ramp” to give access to Phnom Penh’s poorest children who can’t make it to the NGO’s centre near Trabek lake.

“It’s the poorest, most marginalised children we reach with the tuk-tuk,” said Skateistan operations manager Benjamin Pecqueur.

The vehicle, which was designed by NGO Building Trust International, features three folding ramps on the back of the carriage. About 1-metre in length and 20 degrees in angle, the ramps are designed with small, inexperienced users in mind.

“It’s a simple system we can set up in 10 minutes only,” said Pecqueur, adding that the Chinese-made, 200cc tuk-tuk cost about $1,300, while the ramps cost an additional $1,000.

The tuk-tuk was launched last month and travels around the city three times a week to give kids in far-flung neighbourhoods an opportunity to try out skateboarding.

Since last year, Skateistan has used pagodas across the city as training grounds, with Pecqueur and other volunteers teaching children basic manoeuvres, but Pecqueur said it had become clear that flat pagoda courtyards were not stimulating enough for the young skateboarders.

“Often, the floor is not very flat and the condition is not so good,” he said.

“It’s fun for a few weeks, but after, you need something to improve, to have more challenge.”

The skate ramp tuk-tuk ready to go
The skate ramp tuk-tuk ready to go. Bennett Murray

The tuk-tuk has proved popular thus far – on Wednesday, about two dozen children turned out at Wat Chas across the Japanese Bridge to have a go. None had ever skated before, said Percovich.

“They’ve heard about it from their friends, but this is their first time,” he said.

Skateistan was first founded in Afghanistan in 2007 by Australian Oliver Percovich as a different approach to community outreach for Kabul’s impoverished youth.

Using skateboarding lessons as its draw, the aim was to provide a safe space for Afghan children to develop other life skills. Its Cambodian chapter was launched in 2011, followed by a Johannesburg centre last year.

In November 2013, the NGO brought pro-skating legend Tony Hawk to Phnom Penh for a skating demonstration at its centre.

Pecqueur said there were plans to build more skate ramp tuk-tuks as Skateistan looks to expand to Sihanoukville.

“We are working with Building Trust and another partner to build a solar tuk-tuk – we think that would be a good opportunity to do something for the environment,” he said.

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