Welcome to Over the Gap and interviews with Founders of award-winning ASDP organizations: Oliver Percovich, Tarek Alsaleh and Tim Conibear

sep 2016 action sports, development, multi-sited
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

Ollie

1. How/when did the idea of your ASDP organization initially come about?

I moved to Kabul because my girlfriend at the time got a job there. I had brought three old skateboards with me because I wanted to have some sort of connection with the local kids. I didn’t go to Afghanistan with the idea of starting an ASDP. It came about after about 1 year because of all the success of the skate sessions, especially with girls, and the fact that so little was done to engage children in Afghanistan. Nearly 70 percent of the population is under 25 years old but almost all the efforts were targeting the over 25 year olds! I thought that I needed to act.
2. What were the social issues that most inspired you to use your sport (skateboarding, surfing, capoeira) to create chance?
Many children, especially girls, are not going to school. Also the fact that the education provided in Afghan public schools was such low quality. Most kids didn’t go to school and if they did go to school they just learnt to memorize things. Not exactly the recipe to transform a society.
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?
Skateboarding is fun and through skateboarding you can learn to persevere and overcome failures. You build confidence and become part of a positive community. School should also be fun and when it is, a passion for learning can be established.
4. From your initial vision, what are some of the biggest changes you've seen occur within your ASDP organization?
My initial vision was to have a few more skateboards sent to Kabul so that the kids that started skateboarding could continue with their newfound passion. This vision was expanded to include getting children back to school through skateboarding and then it was expanded again when we built our own Skate School in Kabul. Our vision continues to grow and is strongly influenced by the children that take part in our programs. It is really important to just try things out and not have a vision that is ever unrealistic. So many projects are designed perfectly from a development point of view and simply executed poorly with little community buy-in. Skateistan has evolved from a couple of people and a couple of old skateboards into a global organization because we simply tried to do everything with a measure of quality. We did everything as well as we could and we also tried hard to learn from whatever we did.
oliverandgirl
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?
A big challenge is finding the right people to help run the organization. Something that helped us a lot at the start was that everyone was a volunteer and that we had very little money. It meant that we attracted the right type of person to help grow an organization such as Skateistan. These volunteers were not interested in money and they invested a lot of energy into making things work and problem solving. These people are gold. Look after them! The wrong people can and will create untold problems. Avoid the bad apples.
The biggest challenge is dealing with deaths of staff and students from suicide bombings in Afghanistan. Also many children are abused in the countries where we work. Their stories are often incredibly tragic.  
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?
Continually question what you are doing so that you can answer any question any time about your organisation, choose the right people to help you run things, and look after yourself by keeping your personal energy up.
7. What are you most proud of when you look at your ASDP organization now?

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

 Tarek

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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   
  3. 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

tim conibear news

1. How/when did the idea of your ASDP organization initially come about?
I moved to Cape Town in 2008 for work and started a small surfing club for kids in the township of Masiphumelele. We'd surf weekends and it grew over time, with some of the local crew taking ownership once i'd trained them to coach surfing. As time wore on, i'd get more and more reports of kids opening up about issues of abuse and difficulty at home. We looked for assistance through social services and little was available. 
2. What were the social issues that most inspired you to use your sport (skateboarding, surfing, capoeira) to create chance?
As soon as it became clear kids attended our programmes for more than just sport, it became obvious we could plug a small gap in service delivery. Social services in South Africa are very stretched. By combining, a sport which is exceptionally rewarding, with lay counseling we found a way to promote young peoples sense of self and improve the way they cope with stress and trauma.
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?
Surfing is really difficult. In South Africa, a lot of kids also can't swim. This served two purposes. Firstly it attracted kids drawn to risk behaviour - often a demographic that is really hard to engage. Secondly, it helped with the therapeutic side of our interventions, that seek to improve the way youth see themselves. Succeeding at a hard task has been widely proved to improve several key brain functions. Succeeding in an environment that was otherwise deemed off-limits to many of the kids was transformational.
4. From your initial vision, what are some of the biggest changes you've seen occur within your ASDP organization?
We started as a surfing club and have evolved into a fully fledge mental health / wellbeing programme. All our inputs and activities are geared towards improving the wellbeing and health of traumatised young people. We've also partnered with several universities to run more in depth studies, including a RCT. 
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 came to South Africa initially to make wine and then began leading surf tours. I had some experience working in surfing programmes with at-risk youth in the UK but little background in Psychology. It took a lot of conversations, a lot of reading and many late nights to educate myself - vital when we had little funding for consultants!
wave for change
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?
Invest in research early! Be inquisitive into your impact, ask your team and establish the need you are filling. Once you know your impact it's much easier to refine the programme. 
7. What are you most proud of when you look at your ASDP organization now?
A lot of things! We've come along way from the initial surf club in Masi. From early weekend sessions with a handful of kids, we now employ over 25 community coaches and reach almost 500 kids, teachers and parents each month. I think we've put child mental health on the map in a local context which is great. Kids here experience so much trauma and it's amazing to see empathy growing in parents and teachers as they look to get more kids referred into W4C programmes. 
 
More than the growth, the way the programmes have embedded is amazing. Our first ever programme in Masi is now staffed by kids who were part of the first referral intake. The same is coming true for our other programmes in Cape Town. True local ownership!
 
We have some really exciting plans for 2017 with new sites opening. We're also be open sourcing all our tools for other surfing programmes to use as well, we're looking forward to sharing with the community.

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! 

 

A: responses

Administrator

#2

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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