How Skateboarding Changed Lives, Janwaar Castle Panna
Updated: Aug 4, 2019
Janwaar, is a remote village, situated in Madhya Pradesh's Panna district and the 'castle' that it boasts off, is the local playground where children learn how to skateboard.
Ms. Ulrike Reinhard, a German activist and futurist, who has lived and worked in the US, set up a rural India's first skate-park for children in Janwaar. A sport, which has long been identified with urban neighborhoods across the world, is being used in as a trigger for social change.
Janwaar is no exception when it comes to the problems evident in a typical Indian village which is - the dormant governance, lack of sanitation, rampant poverty and lack of employment. A half-finished hospital and a school up to 8th grade are the only institutes found here.
Ulrike visited villages in Madhya Pradesh and witnessed the inequality along the lines of caste, gender, and class which convinced that transformational change on a huge scale in rural areas can only be achieved when you start working with children. On these grounds she started Janwaar Castle in 2014 as a private initiative. Further on discussion with a local NGO, she decided to find land to create a skateboarding rink for children in Janwaar.
In an international campaign SKATEBOARDS/ART-BOARDS, she asked artists around the world to transform skateboards into art-boards. The boards were auctioned on the eBay platform of skate-aid, a German NGO which is well-known in the international skateboarding arena. Thus the skate park was established with the help of few Indian and international organizations.
The skatepark is 450 sq meter big and is the first and the largest park in rural India. This park which started building in December 2014 was finished by February 2015. Twelve volunteers from seven countries participated in its construction.
Janwaar Castle was a social experiment without any defined outcomes or targets that aimed to bring in the change through the children. The idea of the skate park was to trigger change and empowerment in this setting, by introducing something innovative.
Breaking the Barrier
Once the park was ready the children were curious but hesitant. They didn’t know what to do with the skateboards. There was no coach and neither Ulrike could teach them as she herself doesn’t know how to skate. Urlike loaded a few how-to skateboard videos on tablets and let the children watch and learn skateboarding. “They fell and rose again, took a risk, learnt how to balance and fostered a healthy competition,” she says. Eventually over 50 children from the village self-learned to skateboard, most of them were barefooted Ulrike and the Janwaar Castle team remained observers from the sidelines as mentors with minimum intervention and insisted. They let children choose their own leader and take their own decision and helped them only when the children themselves couldn’t resolve the issues by themselves. Two important rules were introduced that all children must follow; The first and foremost is the rule “Girls first”: if a girl comes to the skate park, she is given the first preference to use the skateboard, teaching children gender equality.
And another important rule “No school, no skateboarding”: it is important for children to attend school and maintain a balance in life; therefore, children are urged to attend school and then indulge in play, both of which are very invaluable life lessons.
Within a year of the introduction of the skateboard park, school attendance had improved significantly. About 80-100 children enjoyed the skate park. For the first time in the history of the village, Yadav and Adivasi children started playing together without caste barriers.
The Real Impact
Skate-boarding, has taught these kids three main lessons to fall and rise, take risks and most importantly, maintain balance, and has given this village its new identity. The experiment has built confidence and self-esteem among the children. It has also shaken deep-seated traditional boundaries based on caste, class and gender. “The place is now owned and run by the village children. It’s theirs. Ulrike says “we are simply no longer needed”, stressing the kind of ownership and the empowerment that comes with it. One of girls from this village who learned speaking good English was granted scholarship and sponsored to go to London to study the English language. Some of the village boys got an opportunity to travel to Europe and learn skateboarding from professionals. This empowers them to become leaders and guide other children in their villages.
Skate-boarding, has taught these kids three main lessons to fall and rise, take risks and most importantly, maintain balance, and has given this village its new identity. The experiment has built confidence and self-esteem among the children. It has also shaken deep-seated tradition.
Broadening the children’s horizon also widens the parents and society’s vision to a different world. For the first time family of these children came to understand the Passport and visa processes, communicating over Skype and visiting airport to send-off receiving their children from an international airport. Few children have also visited places including Nepal, Varanasi, Delhi and Kovalam to showcase their talent. Gradually, the villagers in Janwaar realized the good intentions and positive impact of this transformation.
Janwaar Castle has also created Learning Labs where various professional from all over conduct workshops for children, teaching various skills including music, arts, dance, painting, sports, agriculture, building, clay work, English language, general life-skills and skateboarding. Children from nearby villages also join in. The learning lab mission has tied up with Prakriti School, Noida, which advocates experimental schooling.
Children from the village are sent as part of an exchange program and have attended a comic workshop. During summer, the village faces severe drought, and due to scarcity, there is no drinking water available. In the best interest of the villagers, Ulrike conducted a crowd-funding campaign with photographer Vicky Roy and auctioned the photos he took of the village children skateboarding to raise funds. With the funds, a solar panel was installed near the skate park, which fuels a solar-powered pump to provide fresh drinking water from a natural spring to the entire village all year round.
Furthermore, the solar panel provides electricity to power floodlights that brighten the skate park in the evenings, where children play after school. Armed with her iPhone and Macbook Air, Ulrike has posted rural stories on her Facebook profile and on the Janwaar Castle Facebook page to draw media interest, volunteers and tie-ups. “Internet has enabled us to collaborate and co-create at zero costs and has huge transformational power,” says Ulrike.
On a bright morning, we witnessed a sight to behold — girls and boys whizzing around on skateboards, practicing ‘Flips’ and ‘Nosegrinds’.
Children have understood how to learn and collaborate. They teach other children by encouragement and building an atmosphere of team work and equality. Simple rules such as “no school, no skate-boarding” has improved attendance in schools.
Gender equality has taught this children using an innovative method named “Girls first!”, where any girl preference in a place where girls have very few rights.
Unlike other village children, they did not shy away but confidently spoke about their skateboarding skills and their hobbies and could express themselves very well.
The children who had opportunity to travel abroad, enthusiastically showed us videos on YouTube and their travel photographs.
Janwaar village has now got its own identity through skateboarding and many visitors come here to see the amazing transformation. For visitors who wish to stay, homestay facilities have been made by some villagers which has become some extra source of income for them and it helps them showcase their wonderful Janwaar children.
Ulrike herself is currently involved in four new skate park projects in India. Except for one they are all in villages, far away from the big cities.
The skateboarding virus is spreading while the stories coming out of Janwaar keep emerging Villagers support this path breaking initiative admitting that their children have learned a lot and occupy themselves in creative pursuits.
The Janwaar castle initiative was being run under a framework of a NGO; Ulrike was acting as CEO but has now quit her association with this NGO. The network of collaborators which she had built since the start of the skate park with her continues to support her in all her activities in Janwaar and beyond. Her activities are now summarized under the label of “Rural Change Makers” and villagers and kids continue to support this mission.
The story of Janwaar Castle has inspired many people in India and abroad to think about skateboarding as a tool for change. The skateboarding has amply demonstrated how well to plant seeds of change at the roots in the large fields of rigid mind set, which is inhibiting villages to grow beyond their current situation.
It is NOT skateboarding for skateboarding sake but is skateboarding to drive fundamental change. Truly is a transformational cause worth supporting.