Cambodian girl holding skateboard.

Hundreds of thousands of children are struggling for survival on the streets of Cambodia. Many of them work in brick factories, garbage dumps and fish processing units.

Some are on their own. Others are trying to help their families. They are vulnerable to the lure of gambling and drug abuse.

There are an estimated 10,000 working children in Phnom Penh alone.

Now a nonprofit group called Skateistan Cambodia is using skateboards to try to bring education to the children and keep them drug-free.

The group’s programs are also aimed at breaking down traditional class and gender barriers in the poor country.

The efforts appear to be making a difference, at least for some children. Every week, nearly 200 young people come to Skateistan’s skateboarding facility. The facility includes colorful quarter pipes, bank ramps and a fun box for the students to practice their balance, kick-flips and kick turns.

Once the children get involved in the skating program, Skateistan’s partner organizations, the Cambodian Women’s Development Agency, Friends International, Damnok Toek, Pour un Sourire D’Enfant, Tiny Toones and Transitions Global are able to offer them help with education, shelter, counseling and health services.

Particular efforts are being made to help girls, who traditionally have not had access to sports.

All-girl skating programs are beginning to reach them.

“In the past, girls didn’t get involved in sports because they thought they couldn’t do what the boys could,” said Kov Chansangva, who teaches skateboarding at an all-girl skating facility. “Now, as they start to see more and more women skaters, they realize they can do better than the boys.”

For a nation that has over half of its 15 million person population under the age of 25, keeping these children in school is important for the growth of Cambodia.

“Youth are essential to Cambodia’s development,” Benjamin Pecqueur, Skateistan country and operations manager said. “And, given the right tools, they can play a role in shaping its future.”


*Based on an article originally published by the Inter Press Service.