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Thursday, October 4, 2012
Skatepark opens in Cambodia

By Keith Hamm

The opening of Skateistan's new skate facility in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
The opening of Skateistan's new skate facility in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

The four-wheeled outreached of Skateistan has taken hold of young skateboarders in Cambodia with the recent grand opening of a covered skatepark in Phnom Penh, the nation's capital and largest city.

More than a year in the making, the roughly 4,300-square-foot skatepark is part of a three-story facility that offers year-round skate lessons, creative arts and other learning resources to Khmer girls and boys, aged 5-17.

About 150 parents and kids from the surrounding neighborhood showed up for the ribbon-cutting party on Sept. 28.

As staff and students broke in the skatepark's five quarterpipes and assorted banks, flat bars and ledges, the Turning Tables DJ camp provided a live soundtrack for the afternoon event.

"The young people who live in the area are all curious about what we're doing here and excited to start learning," communications officer Talia Kaufman told via email. "I think having a free, safe, recreational facility nearby will make a positive impact on the whole community. Our students who are already enrolled in programming love the challenge of skateboarding. As they learn new skills it increases their confidence, which transfers to other areas of their lives. It's a huge creative outlet and a healthy way to spend free time, in a supervised setting."

Founded in 2007 in Kabul, Afghanistan, the international NGO Skateistan program seeks to empower young girls and boys through the challenges and fun of skateboarding, among other educational programs. Released earlier this year, the 320-page book "Skateistan: The Tale of Skateboarding in Afghanistan" details the program's beginnings and its expansion into Pakistan and Cambodia.

Skateistan Cambodia opened in March 2011 with a modest, mobile skatepark setup that teamed up with nonprofits Friends International, Pour un Sourire D'Enfant, and Tiny Toones to provide neighborhood skate sessions among Phnom Penh's population of 1.5 million.

The permanent facility in Cambodia is a much-welcomed chapter of good news for the Skateistan program, its staff and students still grieving the deaths of four skaters from the Afghanistan facility. On Sept. 8 in Kabul, a suicide bomber attacked the International Security Assistance Force headquarters, where many of the city's street-working children -- including those from the skatepark -- sell trinkets, scarves and chewing gum to help support their families.