Ethiopia’s First Skatepark Builds Community and Breaks Down Economic Barriers
By: Tess Murphy
On any given day, you can find dozens of young kids, from all neighborhoods and socio-economic backgrounds, skating up and down the ramps of Ethiopia’s first skatepark. The large skatepark stretches to about 625 square meters, and offers a public and free-of-charge communal space for local and visiting skateboarders that was previously lacking in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.
“Everyone comes together here,” says Sean Stromsoe, co-founder of Ethiopia Skate, the organization that oversees the park. “so a lot of friendships are created that otherwise wouldn’t have happened.” The kids at the park are not only discovering a new sense of community, but a passion, and talent, for skating.
“They are so fearless,” says Sean, “They found a different purpose in skateboarding, and as an organization, we’re trying to help guide that. And these kids are just diving right into it, it’s really cool.” The staff provide incentive opportunities to help the kids eventually own their own gear, by working around the park and training other skaters.
And while the park enjoys notoriety around Ethiopia, and parts of Africa, funding it and building it took some trial, error and collaboration across many years. What started as a bunch of kids skating around a vacant parking lot, grew to become a local community of hundreds of young skaters that come together through their passion of skateboarding.
The skatepark was born from the grassroots initiatives and collaboration of two groups passionate about community and skating: Ethiopia Skate and Make Life Skate Life.
To make it happen, Ethiopia Skate, under an enthusiastic group of volunteers, kicked off an ambitious Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to get the money for the costly construction. With a goal of $60,000, they only raised $14,900. “The mistake we made is, we did the flex funding,” Sean says. “We didn’t raise enough to build a skate park at all. We left with some money — so we ended up building some ramps and smaller scale stuff.”
Taking one step closer to their dream park, the team decided to focus on building community momentum and awareness. They made ties with local community organizers and began to build their social following. Through these efforts, their project appeared on Anthony Bourdain’s show, CNN and Vice.
Then, an international non-profit organization called Make Life Skate Life reached out to them. Make Life Skate Life works with local skateboarding communities around the world to construct community-built concrete skateparks. Their projects have been successful through local community involvement from start to finish, providing local skateboarders with the tools, materials, knowledge, and inspiration to create their own projects.
Make Life Skate Life put the power of its resources and connections behind Ethiopia Skate’s idea. “Make Life Skate Life projects become outdoor spaces for creative community use, broadening their impact beyond the daily skate scene found there, housing concerts and events that bring entire communities together.” says Jon Chaconas, Director of Make Life Skate Life.
“Youth involved in creating their own skatepark take ownership and pride in building an environment that supports healthy activities while breaking down social and economic barriers.”
Within two years of the first campaign, Ethiopia Skate and Make Life Skate Life launched a new Indiegogo campaign for Addis Skatepark that reached 120 percent of its goal. Sean says it wouldn’t have happened without the first, less-than-stellar campaign. “It was necessary and helpful,” Sean says, “and we wouldn’t have been successful the second time if we didn’t have those initial funds to get where we were.” Their community efforts really paid off after the second campaign and their backers started to support them in more ways than just funding.
Upon reaching their campaign goal, Make Life Skate Life organized a team of 20 professional skatepark builders to lead construction, and an additional 40 volunteers showed up in Addis to lend a hand. “The local skaters, community and community members built the park,” Sean says. “Sixty volunteers from over 20 countries came to help build it, a lot of them were backers from the campaign.”
They were able to use their funds highly effectively, thanks to the enthusiasm of the skate park’s community, both locally and globally. For starters, the volunteers paid for their own airfare and accommodations. “The building team worked around the clock to pour over 120 cubic meters of concrete and create a world class skatepark in just 3 weeks” according to Jon. “Local skateboarders were always present on the build site as well, and had the opportunity to learn about concrete skatepark construction from experienced builders and help create their own skatepark”.
“You had 60 people getting sunburned in March, one of the hottest months in Ethiopia, doing construction day and night,” Sean adds. “The volunteers are honestly really inspiring, they paid money out of pocket to go somewhere far and do hard labor all day because they were so passionate — I’m so grateful they were able to do that.”
“And for the kids to see this, to see if you believe in something, you can make something out of nothing — the kids feel ownership over the park and learned so much just by seeing these [volunteers] do what they did,” Sean says.
In April of 2016 the team of volunteers completed construction of the Addis Skatepark. Today, it’s a bustling public space bringing skaters around Ethiopia, and the world, together to socialize, learn and skate. “Based on economics and social circles, things are generally segregated [in Addis],” Sean says. “But with the skatepark, the beautiful thing is, you see people from all walks of life that get together and they just want to skate.”