Language is an essential component of public relations — representing brands, quelling crises, and being able to communicate important thoughts, ideas, and messages to audiences. In a field that is concerned primarily with communication in all of its forms, it’s essential for PR practitioners to recognize the power not just of verbal communication, but nonverbal, as well.
Just as words can carry an idea from one individual to the next, so too can images and visual cues work alone to make powerful statements.
This is precisely the idea behind Skate Girls of Kabul, the latest series by photographer Jessica Fulford-Dobson. The collection of photographs looks to capture the work and impact of Skateistan, a NGO that seeks to empower girls and at-risk youth in Afghanistan in a unique but unusual way: through skateboarding.
Started in 2007 by Australian skateboarder Oliver Percovich following a trip to Kabul, Skateistan grew out of Percovich’s desire to expand opportunities for children like those he encountered on his trip — particularly young girls and working children. These young people lacked the resources, outlets, and inspiration necessary for growth and success. Percovich’s belief was that skateboarding could serve as a fun but strong tool in stimulating these children both physically and mentally while helping foster a sense of community among them, all of which could in turn contribute to brighter futures.
About eight years later, Skateistan has expanded beyond Afghanistan, into countries like Cambodia and South Africa, and works with around 1,200 students per week. Through the programs it has implemented, kids’ lives are infused with skateboarding in the hopes of changing how they see themselves and how society sees them in return.
Through this work, Skateistan has proven capable of not only empowering girls and at-risk youth by helping them build stronger bodies and minds, but also capable of breaking the stereotypes that are largely responsible for holding the children back in the first place. It has given them the confidence to recognize and reshape the often times confining ideas that the world has come to have about them, and that they have come to have about themselves; ideas informed by cultural, societal, and global influences and limitations.
In Skate Girls of Kabul, Fulford-Dobson has accomplished the remarkable feat of telling Skateistan’s story solely through imagery. She beautifully captured how skateboarding has transformed the lives of children in cities like Kabul by allowing them to push the boundaries of what is expected of them.
Skate Girls of Kabul is all at once a simple celebration of the beautiful spirit and energy of each of the series’ subjects. The photo series speaks volumes about the power that innovative approaches to empowerment can have in communities that need it the most. It also shows how such efforts have the ability to challenge cultural misconceptions and battle stereotypes on a global level.
Skate Girls of Kabul will be on display at London’s Saatchi Gallery now through April 28.
What are some organizations you can think of that take a unique but effective approach to youth empowerment around the world? Share your thoughts below or tweet me @tamarahoumi