Volunteering for skate-aid in Windhoek, Namibia

What´s up boys and girls and everything in between. My name is Joshi, I´m 24 years old and from Göppingen, Germany. I had the pleasure of volunteering for 3 months in Windhoek, Namibia.  After riding scooter for 5 years (shame on me) I started skating at the age of 17. I immediately fell in love with it and have not stopped ever since. My favorite part about skateboarding is that everyone can express themselves through it without any rules or limits and everyone is welcome no matter their gender, heritage or what else. After I finished my studies I wasn´t completely sure what to do. I just knew I want to travel and keep skating. At that point I heard about skate-aid but didn´t really have a clue what exactly they are doing. After research on the internet, I decided to apply for a voluntary with skate-aid. For me, it sounded like the perfect combination of traveling, skating and practicing my skills as a freshly educated social worker. I also saw the chance to give the world something back with something I love and maybe even contribute to making the skate scene bigger. If this thought was naive, you will find out later in this report. After some contacts with Gabu who is the international project manager and some preparations, it was time to travel to Namibia. Luckily, the first week I was with Max, the volunteer who stayed 3 months in Windhoek before me. So big shoutouts and thanks to him for showing me the city and the skate project. He explained to me how things normally go at the skate park. Also, he introduced me to Smalls, who is a local skater and works for skate-aid. The skate park in Windhoek was built in 2018 and is in the area of schools for kids with special needs. Strictly speaking, there are three different schools: A school for hearing-impaired, visually-impaired and cognitive-impaired kids. A lot of kids also sleep at school and only go home on holidays. My accommodation was a hostel near the city center, which was a gift to me because you had the chance to meet a lot of different personalities from all over the world in it. My tasks at the skate park included offering the workshops and looking after the park overall. From Monday to Friday there were workshops in the afternoon for kids from the schools. We had a schedule so the kids would know on which days they could go skating. After the workshops, the skate park was still open for local kids and skaters. So I usually stayed at the skate park till the sunset. The work was really joyful and I learned a lot of things about life and myself. Although there were some challenges that I had to face in my time while working with the kids. A struggle that I had at the beginning was to communicate with the hearing-impaired kids. Hearing impaired means, you can´t hear or speak. The way of communication for them is Namibian sign language. Luckily the school offered me some sign language lessons to learn the basics and the Namibian sign language alphabet. After a few sessions with the kids, I slowly started to understand some words and the way of communicating. After about three weeks I really enjoyed communicating with the hearing-impaired kids. The way of communicating is of course very different and you communicate much more with your facials, for example. So, the beginning struggle turned out to be a blessing for me and I was able to communicate with the kids. Of course, we didn´t understand each other all the time but that was no problem for both sides. So, I taught the kids some skating and they taught me another way of communication which to me is more emotional and private. Another challenge or let´s just say a lesson I had to learn, was that you can´t help everybody all the time. The kids enjoy skating but also they enjoy the attention from a person outside of the school. That´s why they demand a lot of attention from you. Especially once I got to know the kids more and maybe heard some stories about their life. It touched my heart and you feel the urge to act/help. But since there are a lot of kids and a lot of stories you can forget yourself and your health fast. I figured out to myself that it is impossible to help everyone. Therefore, I did a lot of self-reflection and reflecting on happenings at the skate park every day to sort things in my head. Also, there were of course some days which I didn´t feel too good. Going to the skate park on those days can be difficult because you get the feeling you are not good enough for the kids. But after a few cruises around the park and some interaction with the kids, this feeling completely flew away. To be honest, the kids helped me a lot on those days because they show me that they care about me and increased my well-being. Another lesson I learned while working with the kids is that you have to be spontaneous and adapt to different situations. You have to look at what resources you have and work with them. For example, one day it started raining during a workshop. But instead of sending the kids home, I decided to make some rules for the skate park with them. So. we sat together in a classroom and collected some rules all together. The rules were simple things like no fighting and cursing in the skate park. It worked out well. All kids had some ideas about rules and we wrote them down. After we had all the rules the kids signed the paper so they acknowledged the rules. The kids felt like they are a part of the skate park and they have an impact on it. They are part of a big community and the following days after we made the rules you could see a difference in their behavior. I learned that if you involve the kids in actions about the skate park you get the most results. If the kids feel part of this skateboard community and see the skate park as another home or family, they care about it a lot more. But the biggest challenge for me was to find the right mix of letting the kids skate on their own so they challenge themself and get creative and on the other side keeping a structure and system. Especially in the first weeks I sometimes was overwhelmed with all the energy, emotions and personalities of all the different kids. It´s harder than I thought to proceed with a structured workshop with all the motivated kids. Sometimes I also had the feeling that things worked out the best when there was no strict structure. The kids there are used to chaos but I first had to learn and accept it. After some weeks the kids and I worked out some rules and day by day I felt like things got some rhythm and it seemed less and less chaotic to me. Also, in my opinion skating is very individual so I didn´t want to make too many rules for the kids. So overall all challenges I faced turned out to be more like a learning process and I mostly have the good times at the skate park in my mind when I think back at my three months. For example, there is one picture in my head that I will never forget. It is when I was picking up the hearing-impaired kids from the school. As soon as they saw me, they ran to me with the biggest smiles on their face that you can imagine. Seeing those happy faces that just want to go skate was heartwarming every time and very formative. Also, it was just beautiful to see the faces and reactions of the kids when they learned new tricks. They are so hyped and proud of themself that it´s impossible to put it into words. Another thing I loved was just the vibe at the skate park. All the kids no matter their heritage tribe, disability or whatever were a big family and everyone cared about each other and is very supportive. Just to sit there and enjoy watching the different kids helping and interacting with each other was worth the trip. But the most impressive thing for me was watching blind kids skate. I had the honor to get to know three completely blind kids who absolutely shredded the park. To this day it´s unbelievable to me how good they can skate. Plus, because two of those three skaters are really good they also help the other kids with learning tricks. To see how a blind person is helping other kids was impressive. Especially when the other kid is also blind or hearing impaired. At first, I thought they can´t explain stuff to the other kids but I got proven wrong. It was great to see that they found their own way of explaining and showing things to the hearing-impaired kids. You would think it is not possible for them simply because the senses of the kids don´t match but it did. Practically it looked like the blind kid takes the hand of the hearing-impaired kid and shows them for example how to bend the knees or turn the shoulders. And it is impressive how well they can teach and the learners can adapt to it. In my three months of volunteering in Windhoek, I learned a lot about myself and the world. The trip was very mind broadening to me and many of my perspectives on things changed within my journey. I had the chance to experience new cultures and even fell more in love with skateboarding than before. I learned that the vibe at skate parks is nearly the same all over the world and everyone is welcome. I truly believe now that you can change lives and optimate yourself with skateboarding. I learned that we are all one big community/ family and you have a bigger impact on the whole community and other skaters, than you think. Skateboarding is for me now more than ever a supportive thing for everyone to help them develop confidence, individualism and love. Since most of the kids come from a poor background and because of their „disability” they have to fight for everything in their life. Also, they don´t have a lot of activities outside of school besides skating, that´s why they usually have a lot of energy and they don´t know where to put it which often leads to fighting and arguing. But with skateboarding, they have an activity where they can put their energy in meaningfully. On top of that, the kids learn to fall and stand up again. Come back stronger and get the trick. This lesson can help them with their lives. You can see how the kids are getting more confident and mature with the help of skateboarding. They learn to achieve new things with hard work, dedication and passion. Besides skating, I have to mention what a beautiful country Namibia is. Nature is very diverse and the people friendly. I felt very welcome and I´m happy about having friends in Windhoek today. Another important point for me is to mention the hostel Paradise Garden Backpacker where I stayed. skate-aid organized this accommodation for me and it was perfect. The hostel had a beautiful outside area and the most loving staff. After a few days, it felt like a family to me and it still feels like today. So, thanks a lot. I´m really glad and thankful that i got the opportunity to increase the skate scene in Namibia and had the chance to change some lives for a bit. At least that is what the kids told me on my last day, to answer the question from the beginning. Looking back, it was not naive at all to think that I can change/increase the skate scene. I now know, you do it every time you skate with other people if you are open, supportive and friendly.

Peace out. Joshi