Baghdad to have its first skatepark as online campaign grows

Baghdad to have its first skatepark as online campaign sweeps social media
3 min read
19 August, 2021
A campaign to build Baghdad's first skatepark is under way.
The group is raising funds to build the skatepark [Supplied]

As the spectre of the Iraq war throws shadows across the country, one organisation is determined to help young people come together by building Baghdad's first-ever skatepark.

Organised through the Islah Reparations project, a non-governmental organisation founded by Iraqi-American University lecturer Dr. Kali Rubaii, and Ross Caputi, an Iraq war veteran, the crowdfunding project aims to construct a concrete skatepark in the city centre.

"The crowdfunding [project] from many people around the world is happening with the acknowledgment that the US-led devastation in Iraq has caused irreparable damage and ongoing abandonment of infrastructure, civil society," Professor Rubaii tells The New Arab.

"While the skatepark is just a small play space, it is being funded with both a spirit of reparations and an understanding that such a project means very little in the full scope of what Iraqi people deserve."

Skateboarding isn't just about the tricks - it's about community, says Jon Chaconas, an engineer from California who will build the skatepark once funds have been raised.

He started skateboarding in California and, it seems, never stopped.

In 2014 Chaconas completed his first skatepark project in Jordan, and has since completed free concrete skateparks in Myanmar, Ethiopia, Nepal, Morocco, and the Kurdish region of Iraq.

All of these skateparks were funded by donations and built entirely by volunteers from across the world.

"In Baghdad, there is already a growing community of over 150 skateboarders," Chaconas tells The New Arab.

"Currently, they skate in the streets, which can not only be dangerous but also limiting to their progression as skateboarders. Skateboarding gives youth a positive outlet for physical activity, creativity, and building community."

He adds: "It teaches perseverance and resilience -  to learn a trick you will generally fall repeatedly trying to land it, but ultimately if you put your mind to it you can succeed. Skateparks act as community centres, not just for skateboarders, but for parents and spectators as well."

Skateboarding debuted at the Olympic Games in Tokyo last month with a flourish and made history after 13-year-old Sky Brown became Great Britain's youngest Olympic medal winner ever, claiming bronze at the Tokyo games.

It was a moment celebrated on social media and across the world in a frenzy of shared videos, social media conversations, and a whole new generation of young people eager to learn the sport. Unconventional and daring, many watched Sky Brown on television, in awe of the incredible skills displayed by the young Olympian.

The Skatepark construction may begin in six weeks [Getty]
The Skatepark construction may begin in six weeks [Getty]

It is in this spirit of daring and artistry that over in Baghdad, the dream of a concrete skatepark is being made a reality.

The sport brings people together in a very "intentional" way, British-based 29-year-old skater Yasemin tells The New Arab.

"As long as you have a skateboard, you have that collective belonging - providing these spaces for kids is providing them with a community for life."

In a country facing a pandemic, power cuts, and the remnants of the Islamic State group still active, establishing a skatepark in the capital seems a small feat of joy.

Small, but important.

"I anticipate there will be challenges - weather conditions, Covid, shifting political conditions, and cross-cultural interfaces, to name a few," Professor Rubaii says.

"Yet, I am also inspired by what these dilemmas reveal: ordinary people gathering across great distances and differences to make such a joyful space - a skatepark - possible."

All of the money raised will go toward the construction of the skatepark by a team of professional skatepark builders working as volunteers.

So far the group has raised over $15,400 (£11,243) of their $40,000 (£29,194) goal.

If you wish to donate, you can do so at baghdadskatepark.org

Follow the project’s progress on Instagram: @baghdadskatepark