A Scot who has been “spreading the love of skateboarding” in Palestine by connecting conflict-worn children to the sport is set to take his peace-driven project around the world.
Charlie Davis, from Edinburgh, first arrived in Palestine in 2005 as an English-language teacher and went on to turn children’s fascination with his skateboard into the volunteer-led organisation SkatePAL.
He and his team have since led hundreds of children, both boys and girls, through skateboarding classes with several ramps now built in the region where social and sports opportunities for young ones are limited and many had not seen a skateboard before.
Mr Davis first built a small wooden ramp in 2013 in Ramallah with the help of his brother and two volunteers, all unsure of how the project would be accepted.
Last autumn, SkatePAL completed its biggest project to date when 20 volunteers from around the world built a large concrete park on a hillside in the village of Asira Al-Shamalyia, near the town of Nablus.
In Palestine, the kids can escape from the reality of their situation and lose themselves in the world of skateboarding, which provides a constructive outlet for their stress and anger.Charlie Davis, founder of SkatePAL
With 60 skaters now regularly tutoring for SkatePAL, Mr Davis hopes his organisation can soon be replicated in other countries with interest shown from organisations in Egypt, Nepal, The Congo and Zimbabwe.
He said: “From the outset, my aim with SkatePAL was to establish a self-sustaining skateboard scene which would flourish on its own.
“I had not considered continuing the project after Palestine, but now we are in a position where we will soon be able to take our model to other countries which would benefit from what we can offer.
“I am very happy that SkatePAL has a number of future options to continue spreading the love of skateboarding.”
Mr Davis, who studied Arabic at Edinburgh University, said you could see the “excitement” in the eyes of a child every time they got on a board for the first time.
He added: “ “The kids have embraced skateboarding in Palestine for many of the same reasons as it is embraced throughout the world: skateboarding is a very social activity, but one where you are constantly challenging yourself in a creative environment. There are no rules, and no limits to what you can do.
“In Palestine, the kids can escape from the reality of their situation and lose themselves in the world of skateboarding, which provides a constructive outlet for their stress and anger, and gives them something to show for it - learning a new trick and increasing their confidence.
Mr Davis said one of the main challenges working in Palestine was trying to keep SkatePAL apolitical in a “highly charged political environment.”
He said clashes were not uncommon and that “almost everyone” from the age of 10 was “very politically aware.”
However, he added: “The fact remains that our focus is on play, and play alone, which is a hugely important and often overlooked aspect of young people’s development in troubled areas of the world.”
One of SkatePAL’s main practical tests is finding a way of directly importing skateboards directly to the West Bank, with the kit currently coming in to Israel by plane and then to Palestine on Bus.
In time, it is hoped that sports and toy shops will support the growing skate scene by stocking the boards and that, one day, one of the country’s up-and-coming skaters will open their own shop.
He added that he charity was now seeking long-term funding to secure it future in bringing skateboarding to the people, in Palestine and beyond.
Mr Davis added: “Any time I see someone get into skateboarding, I know it has the potential to shape their life for the better. The enjoyment, satisfaction, and life-long friendships you make through skateboarding are undeniable and in this respect I do see hope in an otherwise bleak and often violent environment.”