Pushing Boundaries of Humanitarian Work: Angola’s First Skatepark

Tom Critchley, Project Manager, Zaatari Radio

Following our work Zaatari during summer 2018, we finished the year by spending a month in Angola with Concrete Jungle Foundation (CJF) constructing the country’s first ever skatepark and ‘Edu-Skate Program’. Perhaps not the first project that comes to mind when thinking of humanitarian work, but having spent a significant amount of time in Jordan working with 7Hills Skatepark it was clear the incredibly transformative role skateboarding has across the world. In fact, social initiatives based around skateboarding have become a growing trend, and if you are unaware of their work already we highly recommend you check out other skating organisations such as SkatePal, Skateistan and Make Life Skate Life to name but a few.

So, what can we learn from these organisations and the wider practice of skateboarding within humanitarian environments? Concrete Jungle Foundation has now completed two full-scale skatepark builds in two years: one in Peru and the Luanda Skatepark in Angola, and show no sign of slowing down with more projects soon to come. But these projects are far more than a few ramps and skateboards: underpinned by a young and passionate global team, Concrete Jungle Foundation construct skateparks in underprivileged areas and implement sustainably-run skateboarding programs focusing on teaching life-skills and empowerment to young people.

Organisations such as CJF are truly pushing the boundaries of contemporary humanitarian work; beyond the dynamics of the ‘Edu-Skate Programs’, the implementation of their infrastructure schemes are based on commitments to sustainability, engagement, adaptability and cross-cultural understanding. Having spent a month working with the organisation, I came back from Angola with an enormous sense of pride at what we achieved in Luanda as well as feeling inspired at the innovative approaches undertaken by Concrete Jungle Foundation to their work. Below are the key features of their work and what you can apply to your own project to ensure its successful running.

Engaging with Communities: Cross-Culture Commitments and Local Ownership of The Project

The Concrete Jungle Foundation is truly a transnational organisation: the group’s four members are spread across the globe, and the volunteers who aided in the construction of Angola’s skatepark came from the USA to France to South Africa and more. A passionate team of international volunteers brought together over a mutual understanding of the empowering nature of skateboarding, the common love and dedication to the practice meant that the team was more than just a group of volunteers — the team has quickly become good friends.

An early photograph of the site as construction begins.

Trying to squeeze a 750 m² concrete skatepark into a 30 day construction period means early starts, long nights and dampened spirits; all far more manageable when you can rely on your team members to provide the support necessary to keep going and finish the job. As one member put it: “it’s just going to get done isn’t.” Although things got a little tight towards the end, an unwavering positivity flowing through the team meant everyone was determined enough to continue working and provide the motivation and support for other volunteers. Beyond leaving Luanda with resolute pride at what we completed, each volunteer left with an experience they will never forget and 12 long-lasting friends from around the world.

Each member of this volunteer team were able to call on their past experiences and expertise to ensure that the skatepark was finished to the highest quality, however the commitment of over 50 local volunteers to construction throughout the 30 days not only ensured we were on schedule, but the cross-culture exchange of attitudes and ideas created a unique project strengthened by continued community engagement.

Engaging with communities is integral to any project; no one understands the needs and preferences of local actors than the communities themselves. This was an ethos that drove the creation of Zaatari Radio in the first place, however, Concrete Jungle Foundation displayed robust commitments to community engagement throughout every stage of their project: communication, transparency, participation, inclusion, feedback, and adaption defines the approach undertaken by the organisation in the design and implementation of their projects.

This engagement with the local community not only produced a healthy exchange of cross-cultural ideas, but also created a continued feedback loop and accountability that meant the project addressed the very core community needs. This dialogue between CJF and the local community was established long before we began construction: the design of the skatepark was coordinated with local organisation Angolan Skateboarding Union (ASU) to address local demands in sports infrastructure and communal youth spaces, and the ‘Edu-Skate Program’ was curated to overcome challenges posed to underprivileged youths through skateboarding lessons focusing on life skills and empowerment.

Having a core of local volunteers onsite meant that any concerns with the skatepark and skateboarding program could be continually addressed. This included on-site training in construction techniques to ensure any repairs to the park can be undertaken, and seminars that taught local actors how to teach skateboarding and life-skills through the sport. Continued communication with local actors is vital to encompassing humanitarian projects that are able to readily adapt to changing environments on the ground.

The Concrete Jungle Foundation was able to maximise operational effectiveness by incorporating participatory approaches throughout the project’s timeline, incorporating communal priorities and adapting to the concerns of the local community.

Ultimately, this encouraged ownership of the skatepark and Edu-Skate Program amongst the local community that supports the sustainability of CJF’s work. Concrete Jungle Foundation’s work is far more than an infrastructure project that lasts for a month, in building skateparks they build life long commitments to the communities they work with and it is this continued support that makes their work so special. The 50 local volunteers have an unbreakable bond with this skatepark which you can only truly understand after you have spent 12 hours a day in the African sun spreading concrete around! Beyond a 750 m² skatepark they can truly call their own and the ability to continually repair any potential damages, this connection with the space supports project sustainability due to the ownership of the park in one of the most deprived areas of Luanda.

A community effort.

Moreover, in undertaking the teaching of the Edu-Skate Program themselves, local skateboarders are best placed to understand the difficulties of growing up in the area and in understanding the transformative role skateboarding has played within this shared environment. Through Concrete Jungle Foundation’s work, these local skateboarders have become community leaders and examples to those who attend the skate program of what can be achieved through hard work and dedication.

Sustainability, Collaboration, and Celebration

This cultivation of local innovation through community collaboration has supported the sustainability of the CJF’s project. However, this does not come as a surprise: sustainability is at the very core of Concrete Jungle Foundation’s work, and the organisation takes a number of measures to ensure their projects have a bright future. CJF partner with organisations working in the area to leverage local expertise and experiences, as well as hand over the running of the skate program to encourage community ownership of the scheme.

The Edu-Skate Program runs as a three month semester after which the organisation provided fresh equipment to ensure the logistical continuation of the program, and volunteers from the organisation provide continued lessons to teachers to ensure that the highest quality teaching is delivered. Although a relatively new organisation, Concrete Jungle Foundation’s skateboarding classes in Alto Trujillo, Peru recently celebrated their second birthday; a signal for sustainability. The management of the skatepark and skate program was handed over to Espaanglisch, an organisation with over 12 years of experience working in Trujillo across schools in the city, and through continued support from CJF the program sees no sign of halting.

Collaboration has supported the sustainability of Concrete Jungle Foundation’s projects; through partnering with local organisations they ensure expertise and longevity to their Edu-Skate Program, ensuring the most disadvantaged people are able to heed the benefits of their work. However, their collaborative approach to humanitarian work began well before the completed construction of the park and implementation of the skate program. Without this collaborative approach to their projects, it is unlikely that organisations such as CJF achieve such ambitious and successful work! Key partners to Concrete Jungle Foundation are Donate for Skate, New Line Skateparks, The Skateroom and Skateboards for Hope.

Attendees of the Edu-Skate Program watch at skateboarding demonstration at their new park.

These established organisations provided support throughout the project from fundraising to skatepark design to the equipment used at the Edu Skate Program… and if you cannot guess by their names what brought these organisations together is the shared love of skateboarding. As I alluded to in an earlier blog post, the well-defined focus of Zaatari Radio meant that market-leaders in music and radio supported the project and likewise significant organisations have supported Concrete Jungle Foundation based on a shared passion to skateboarding. The take away point here for your own project: reach out to people and organisations that can support the project and provide their own unique expertise.

The intricacies and beauty of the Luanda Skatepark and its Edu-Skate Program is a testament to the unconditional dedication of Concrete Jungle Foundation, as well as their partners, volunteers and local skateboarders who helped a dream become a reality. If you are looking to undertake your own humanitarian project the immense hard work and determination you exert will be succumbed by an overwhelming sense of achievement when these projects become a reality.

However, a shared celebration does not mark the end of your work but signals the beginning of something new. What better way to introduce the skatepark and Edu-Skate Program to the local community than a celebratory public event? For the Luanda Skatepark, open skateboarding lessons were held on opening day where students were introduced to the Edu-Skate Program and given the opportunity to sign up. Competitions, music, and refreshments were all on offer as the community celebrated the hard work of a truly innovative project. A community-led initiative from its design, to its construction, to its open day and beyond, Concrete Jungle Foundation have provided the framework for a progressive humanitarian project.

The completed park.

Feedback

This blog series aims to detail guidelines on starting grassroots humanitarian projects. We’d love to hear about your own experiences and additional tips on grassroots projects, and how this article has helped you along the way.

For more information on worldwide skateboarding projects, including tools and templates on starting your own imitative, head to the Good Push Alliance page

If you want to follow our journey at Zaatari Radio — stay tuned and discover more here: