Children in a Kabul neighborhood rush to grab skateboards in 2009. Skateistan,… (Rick Loomis, Los Angeles…)
KABUL, Afghanistan — When 14-year-old Khorshid took to her skateboard, her face would light up with an enormous smile. For an Afghan girl whose short life had been filled with hardships, the swooping and whooshing and rocketing speed were an undreamed-of taste of freedom.
Khorshid, together with her little sister and two teenage boys who were her friends from Kabul's first and only skateboarding school, were among the six Afghan civilians who died in a weekend suicide bombing in Kabul, the international nonprofit group Skateistan said Tuesday.
The four friends were killed by a powerful explosion a short distance from the headquarters of the NATO force, a tightly secured district filled with Western embassies. Like more than half of the children taking part in Skateistan's programs, they spent much of their time working in the streets of the Afghan capital, selling items like bangles and chewing gum to passing foreigners, offering up bright smiles and English patter along with their meager wares.
"It is ... with great pain and heavy hearts that we share our memories of children who were not just victims of senseless violence, but also beautiful human beings who will never be forgotten by their teachers, peers, co-workers, students, friends or family," said a statement by Skateistan on its website.
Those killed in addition to Khorshid and her 8-year-old sister, Parwana, were a boy named Nawab, a 17-year-old who had won a competition staged by the organization this summer, and Mohammed Eeza, 13. Another boy associated with the group, identified as 14-year-old Navid, was seriously injured in the explosion. The group did not provide full names for most of the youths.
Skateistan was founded in 2007 by Australian skateboarder Oliver Percovich, an outgrowth of his being mobbed by Kabul street kids when he showed off his skateboard, despite the fact that most of the capital's streets are too rutted and pitted with potholes to use one.
Initially a shoestring operation, the group has since built a skate park in Kabul and runs skateboarding and education programs in three countries. It has been the subject of a book and a documentary film.
Almost from the moment that Saturday's explosion rocked Kabul's city center, the families and friends of the Skateistan children feared that some of them might have been caught up in it. That stretch of road near the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization force was a prime spot for selling their wares, and the four tended to stick together. Khorshid, the protective big sister, almost never let Parwana out of her sight.
"It was a dangerous place, but that's how they supported their families; they were regulars there," said Duncan Buck, a Skateistan staffer who helped scour the hospitals for word of the children's fate.
When the worst turned out to be true, staffers and students were plunged into mourning.
"These kids were wonderful," said Buck. "They were inquisitive, intelligent, cheeky. They had dreams and aspirations. I thought they had amazing futures ahead of them."
Staff members briefly considered suspending skateboarding sessions at the skate park, but decided skating might be the best way for friends of the four dead youngsters to work through their grief.
"The kids are so sad," said Buck. "They just need to skate."