Welcome to Over the Gap and interviews with Founders of award-winning ASDP organizations: Oliver Percovich, Tarek Alsaleh and Tim Conibear
The 'Over the Gap' page is intended to be a space for dialogue with those working in the ASDP field in various roles and capacities from founders, to international and local staff, and volunteers. All readers of this site are encouraged to post their constructive comments and questions! You are part of this knowledge sharing community!
So, welcome to our first ever 'Over the Gap' feature. In this issue we will be asking a series of questions of some founders of leading ASDP organizations. Please feel free to post your comments and questions for the founders and others to respond to.
Dropping in first is Oliver Percovich, Founder and Executive Director of the multi-award winning NGO using skateboarding and education for youth empowerment with programmes running in two sites in Afghanistan, Cambodia and South Africa, followed by Tarek Alsaleh, Founder and Programmes Director for Capoeira4Refugees, an award-winning charity ‘born’ in Syria and present throughout the Middle East since 2007, and then Tim Conibear, Founder of Waves for Change, the super-star surfing NGO in South Africa.
Firstly, over to you Ollie...
OLIVER PERCOVICH: FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF SKATEISTAN
1. How/when did the idea of your ASDP organization initially come about?
That the largest concentration of female skateboarders in the world is in Mazar-e-Sharif, northern Afghanistan.
Thanks so much Ollie, we really appreciate you taking the time to share you valuable insights with us. Now, we will invite Tarek to the mic to share his gems of knowledge...
TAREK ALSALEH: FOUNDER AND PROGRAMMES DIRECTOR OF CAPOEIRA4REFUGEES
1. How/when did the idea of your ASDP organization initially come about?
I guess a number of factors piled on top of each other to push me towards finding a new chapter of life. In 2007, I started teaching capoeira in Syria; encouraging participation from all sectors of Syrian society, aiming especially at youth, as well Palestinian/Iraqi refugees. The attention and involvement in capoeira really grew after we worked in the Palestinian refugee camp, Al Tanf - between the Iraqi/Syrian border. See (3:45) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rcufC52pFng
The impact on the people there was amazing; it lifted the spirits of the whole camp. The psychologists at the camp encouraged people to join our training. Children with serious psychological problems started playing with us and began to express themselves. They began to see a beautiful side of life. Their social confidence grew in the classes and the roda. Many kids are almost unrecognisable from before, they are so light and happy. For me it was always an obligation to help!!
2. What were the social issues that most inspired you to use your sport (skateboarding, surfing, capoeira) to create chance?
Capoeira has always been an art-form of the oppressed, for the broken. Its life music resonates with a history of loss, yes, but also a deep sense of the pride of the group, the community, that we are yet alive, yet strong, and our future can be more. There are no winners and there are no looser, when I hit you it’s my fault. With Capoeira comes lots of values and it’s a healthy way to release aggressions in a safe way. Also Capoeira practised is in more than 150 – there are more social Capoeira projects than social football projects. The community is massive and it gives refugees, immigrants and local’s a safe place to play and socialise. If you are practising Capoeira you are part of the community and will always find a welcoming smile and often place to stay…
3. Based on your experiences, what is it about your sport that has been so useful in helping to address this social issue in this particular context?
The situation in in the Middle East is devastating. The continued, and daily atrocities of the killing, the injuries, and the brutality of the entire situation is impossible to ignore, difficult to comprehend. Our Organisation exists to service the fault lines created where there is war, where there is conflict, where there is a loss of the threads of community, hope and friendship that bind us together. Capoeira is also a philosophy and an outlook on life, one that is based on respect for others, peacefulness and self-empowerment through discipline and awareness of the self and others. It roots in oppression make it unique in tackling the problems of similar communities today.
When asked “Why Capoeira” one of our young trainers said:
“In my opinion, I have never seen anything more perfect for the kids. Capoeira gives them a new way of expressing themselves through their bodies – without violence. It allows a new dialogue between two people, a new way to communicate. No matter what you feel about the other person, in the end you reach a mutual decision to share each other’s energy. It brings everyone together”.
4. From your initial vision, what are some of the biggest changes you've seen occur within your ASDP organization?
Well, the Charity was ‘born’ in Syria and has been present throughout the Middle East since 2007, that environment has its own unique challenges. We started around a campfire and we have now an exceptional team which is able to inspire people from all walks of life.
Now, our Charity has three legs:
- Delivering capoeira classes is C4R’s main activity, to support young people impacted by conflict, to strengthen these communities by supporting local talented youth to become Capoeira Community Changemakers
- We have launch a competitive fellowship award targeting potential capoeira changemakers in the field of sport and development. There is a lot of room for scale
- And we are also developing a global capoeira platform and share our experience with the Capoeira communities – which are in 150 countries
5. What have been some of the biggest challenges facing you personally as the founder/leader, or your ASDP organization more generally, over the past few years?
I have to find ways of balancing my time between work and a personal life; however, I prioritise my work because I like what I am doing and I see it as an obligation.
I have some serious doubts that the development sector is efficient to address needs – it feels more reactive than proactive to me. Also, the NGO sector is highly competitive and unregulated – small organisations are called ‘partners’ but there are ‘just’ service providers and a lot of passionate good people leaving the grassroots organisation and move to the highest bidder – mostly UN or large INGO’s and thereby local organisations are suffering.
There are ongoing debates on reforming the UN (my wife is writing a book about United Nonsense) but If you ask me most of the larger INGO’s need to make a fresh start. It’s very sad to see that the Aid sector is in a lot of cases maintaining the status quo. Of course there is always hope.. otherwise I couldn’t carry on.
6. Any tips/advice for other ASDP organizations that you might be willing to share based on your experiences of establishing, managing, leading a successful ASDP organization?
I think the most important thing is to really listen to the people you're trying to help, less talking and more doing. The fact that you cannot afford to pay professional staff and have to depend on goodwill to a large extent and cannot be too pushy to get things done will be always a balancing act. Better be an exceptional multitasker.
7. What are you most proud of when you look at your ASDP organization now?
I believe the biggest achievement is that we have left a footprint in some of the most desperate places on this planet. If C4R closes tomorrow there will always be Capoeira teachers and independent groups carrying on, in the middle of war.
The more I witness about struggles, the more I am are sure capoeira can still have a role empowering people looking for freedom.
Thanks so much Tarek! Keep up the amazing work you and your team are doing.
TIM CONIBEAR: FOUNDING DIRECTOR OF WAVES FOR CHANGE AND ASHOKA FELLOW
Thanks so much Tim. All the best for your plans for 2017, and hopefully we will have you (or some of your team) back to discuss your new tools at some point in the near future. I'm sure the ASDP community will be excited to learn from your work!
So, to kick the conversation off: Any comments or questions from our readers to Ollie, Tarek or Tim? Or perhaps some comments/questions about what makes a good leader in the field of ASDP? Are particular personalities/life-experiences/work or educational backgrounds more/less conducive to people leading such initiatives? From all the ASDP Founders that I have met, they all seem to be uniquely charismatic, passionate and with a quiet sort of courage and confidence. Any one else have similar/different observations?
Also, just to note, we hope to have some interviews with female ASDP founders coming in the near future!
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