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Refugees, inner city youth connected through skateboarding

Youths build a skateboard from scratch at the 7Hills skateboarding park in downtown Amman. (Photo: handout from 7Hills)
Youths build a skateboard from scratch at the 7Hills skateboarding park in downtown Amman. (Photo: handout from 7Hills)
AMMAN — Many wonder whether skateboarding is a sport. The answer varies based on who you ask. Many will say that it is, given the physical exertion you put into it. Others will say it is not, due to the fact it is not as mainstream as football, basketball, baseball, and rugby.اضافة اعلان

Similar to all sports, skateboarding teaches numerous physical and social skills. 7Hills Skatepark, an NGO that is the first of its kind, makes sure its young beneficiaries learn how to skate and develop useful skillsets.

In 2014, 7Hills, located at Samir Rifai Park in downtown Amman, was co-founded by Mohammad Zakaria and Kasper Wauters. The name '7Hills' is derived from the seven well-known hills in Amman. The skatepark’s targeted demographics are the refugee and host communities based around it, consisting of Syrian, Palestinian, Sudanese, Somali, Iraqi, and Yemeni youths.

“One thing I loved when I started coming to the park a year ago was that the people were humble and did not you feel like an outsider, but rather that you are around family,” Clara Dabaghi, a 17-year-old youth leader told Jordan News.

Abeer Kafe, a 17-year-old from Sudan, echoed Dabaghi’s sentiment. “I loved that we had skateboarding and the friends; those people are like a family,” she said.

7Hills’ youth leaders’ program was established in 2016 with a goal to empower the youth and become a space for experimentation, discovery, and self-actualization through activities in diverse, working-class areas.

“It empowers young people to take responsibility, be active role models in the community, and be rewarded for their active engagement,” said Jude Swearky of the Sustainability and Development Office at 7Hills skatepark.

“We offer a free-of-charge open program and constant infrastructural development to create a hospitable public space. We work through the hands-on sport of skateboarding to foster social cohesion, open dialogue between diverse users of the space, harmony within diverse communities, female empowerment, and a sense of involvement and belonging for refugees within their host communities (and especially in public space),” Swearky told Jordan News.

Every week, more than 150 youths are seen at the park, with 70% refugee participation and 45% female participation.
“After coming to the park, I started to develop confidence and became less awkward around different people and genders,” Kafe told Jordan News.

“I used to live in Africa before I came to Jordan, but when I arrived I saw segregation between the boys and the girls here. When I came to 7Hills, there was no segregation. We are a family and are treated equally no matter the age, gender, height, and nationality,” Dabaghi told Jordan News.

Amman alone hosts one third of the almost 750,000 registered refugees living in Jordan. The majority of refugees living in this urban setting are under 18. Meanwhile, 55% of the total population in Amman is younger than 25. The youth demographic causes enormous challenges at a governmental level, placing a strain on the local community.

Swearky told Jordan News that they “use the youth leader program to develop leader-skills, a higher sense of responsibility for when they become employed in the future.” 

“I love seeing the smiles on the faces of everybody when we are in out skateboarding sessions,” said Dabaghi.