Flashback: An experience report by volunteer Max

Hello, I'm Max and I spent a few months as a volunteer with the skate-aid project in Windhoek, Namibia

To give you some context:
- I have never been to Africa
- I do not know anyone in Africa
- I have skated since I was 11 and never got tired of it

As I headed to Windhoek with more luggage than I can carry I had many things to think about and some of them made me a little nervous. To put it bluntly I was going to be working at the skate-aid and Global Experience project in Windhoek as a volunteer. If all would go well I would convey something about skateboarding that has helped me through most of my own life. The project in Windhoek is special. It is located in the National Institute of Special Education which consists of schools and hostels for kids that are mentally, hearing or visually impaired. Approaching this journey the thought of being responsible for a group of kids where some can’t hear when I would speak while others can’t see when I would gesture intimidated me. Regardless I was excited for a challenge. As I was trying to prepare myself mentally, I was thinking back how I perceived skateboarding when I first came in contact with it. I picked it up as a kid because compared to other things it seemed to have something magical. The first time you see someone doing a kickflip it probably looks more like a magic trick than anything else. How do you explain a kickflip to someone who can’t see? How do you explain the needed approach to someone who can’t hear? What’s life like in Africa? What’s life like in Africa as a skateboarder? Not long after I landed, I was already at the skate-park to drop off the new gear and donations that I had brought with me. I didn’t know sign language, no Afrikaans, no Khoekhoegowab, no Oshiwambo and would have probably not even found the way back to the hostel where I stayed. At the park I met Mikey, the local, who had been running the skate-aid project and knew seemingly all of the above languages and also all of the kids personally. It was great to have him there as it was less strange for the kids to meet a new volunteer and definitely also helped me in my way to communicate. I soon realized my previous nervousness had been unnecessary. Some of the kids were excited to meet me but that was quickly forgotten about. There was new skate gear, shoes, shirts and skate park right there. I would’ve gravitated towards that myself so now we were all focusing on the same thing. Whose feet fit the shoes, which board looks the coolest and how does skating with all of this feel like? As all this was happening the language barriers seemed to disappear. Later that day I remembered things they “told” me but could not remember anymore how they did so without speaking. While all this was going on I got my sign name, “Max with the big nose”. At that point I wasn’t sure if I was made fun of but as soon as you get a name, that’s it. I realized that these names have something very honest about them and there is no point in trying to change it. I also realized that this day was an early Christmas Day for the kids and would have a big effect on the months to come. You can try to picture your next 3 months yourself. In one version you have shoes and a skateboard. In the other version you don’t have either. A used board would spark no one’s interest at home. The same board brings as much joy to a young girl/boy here as anything could do. A few weeks later, going to the skate park every day, I had gotten a clearer idea of the group. Lesley and Tangeni, who gave me my charming name, are along with many other kids in the skate park every day. They would skate together and feed off of each other. Every day they are progressing, challenging themselves and each other. It’s easy to tell that they wanted to get better. They already had a drive to skate that is untied from anything that comes from the outside. They want to get better. For now it’s skateboarding. In some time it might be something else. Another passion, a job or even a relationship. But they are learning to get better at something. In their own way, manner and speed. Without anyone laying out a path for them. Something they’ll hopefully be able to take away from these sessions at the park. The Global Experience, the partner who built the park with skate-aid, came to visit Windhoek with a group of kids from the German partner school. They were eager to do something for the skate park again and they gave the obstacles a fresh coat of paint which made it look like a new park altogether. All of this brought a lot of kids into the park and they were very excited to meet some more foreigners on their home turf. One of the days at the park I saw one of the kids and he asked me if his friend was coming to skate too. Typically he would’ve known this himself as they lived at the school hostel together. After some more efforts with sign language I learned that he got in trouble at school and kicked out of the school's hostel. He seemed really upset about it and didn’t want to talk about it further. He came to skate and be with his friends. Many others have called skateboarding their escape from real life and it’s not different here. Whenever something goes wrong you can always go skate, reset your mind, forget about troubles and focus on something positive. Going to the skate park every day, had become my regular routine. As I had gotten used to the new rhythm things were to change again. Mikey, who had been with me at the park every day, was going to leave to go to Germany for the first time. Smallz (Tangeni Hamukoshi) fellow skater and friend took over his responsibilities for the project and had already met the kids a couple of times before. Joshi the new volunteer arrived just one week after Smallz’ first official day at the project. With Mikey gone and already in Germany suddenly it was me showing everyone around. All over again there was the group of kids excited to meet a new volunteer and a new volunteer got thrown into the deep end. Skateboarding at its essence teaches anyone that really gets into it some truths that in the same way apply to other aspects of life. If you understand how you can get yourself to learn a new trick on your skateboard you can probably also approach other things positively:
- It will probably not work on the first go. 
- You will go through phases of frustration.
- You can’t rush or shortcut your way to the end result. 
- You’re not working against anyone else. You’re working for you and you can accept help if needed. 
I’ve had so many things in mind that I wanted to make sure to explain and transmit to the kids at the park. In the end I feel like I’ve learned more from the kids than I was able to share. 

Thank you so much to skate-aid, everyone at NISE, Mikey, Gabu, Tobi, all the kids, Adrian, Summer, Lorenzo and everyone else.