Skateboarding in Amman: URKELL x 7HILLS Skatepark

Skateboarding in Amman: URKELL x 7HILLS Skatepark

At the end of February, Urkell flew to Jordan for a short trip. It was the perfect chance to meet the crew of 7Hills in downtown Amman, a genuinely grassroots project that plays a key role in the community, revolving around the first skatepark built in the capital city. Below you can find an account of our visit and experience and a foretaste of our plans to partner with this great project.

7Hills is a Jordanian non-profit that uses skateboarding as a tool to promote gender equality, youth empowerment and social cohesion founded and directed by Mohammed Zakaria in 2014.
In response to the lack of safe public spaces, Make Life Skate Life, Philadelphia Skateboards and the Municipality of Greater Amman established a free 600 square meter concrete skateboarding facility in downtown Amman, Jordan. The project was initiated, funded through Indiegogo and built by a crew of international volunteers, the local skate community, and people from the neighborhood. The stated aim of Make Life Skate Life is “creating partnerships with grassroots organizations to build skateparks, provide skate classes, skateboards, and safety gear”. Every week their projects reach 900 youths worldwide. 7Hills park was community-built in December 2014: during the three-week process, an international team of professional volounteer skatepark builders worked with local youth to teach them about concrete skatepark construction. In October 2016, 7Hills launched a skate program for local and refugee youth. The ongoing program includes weekly skateboarding lessons, a loan scheme, a leadership program and an outreach platform.

In order to highlight the importance of such a meeting space for the Amman community, it’s useful to report some data:

– Jordan hosts a multitude of refugees from neighboring countries. Today, there are people from 57 different nationalities.
– It’s one of the top 10 countries to host the largest number of refugees in the world.
– Although more than 70% of Amman’s population is younger than 30, there is an immense lack of public spaces and free recreational outlets available to young people in the city.
– Most recreational spaces tend to be private or residential.
– Safe spaces that are also child-friendly are almost completely inaccessible to refugees and those living in the lower socio-economic class.

Through the joyful outlet of skateboarding, 7Hills bridges the gap between different cultures, social and racial backgrounds, religions, gender and age. In simple words, it’s a place that provides a safe space for people coming from all walks of life.

We were invited to attend an afternoon of skate lessons: could we miss the opportunity? Of course not.
When Urkell visited the skatepark, we were welcomed and hosted by Ghassan, formerly a volunteer and now a full-time worker in the 7Hills family. He’s a 26-year-old flight engineer who bought his first skateboard at the age of 10. Ghassan started out as a self-taught skateboarder because, when he was a kid, there was no place to learn how to ride and, above all, build relationships with other skate enthusiasts. In a nutshell, there was no skate community in Amman.
As mentioned before, he started his experience at the park as a volunteer and, after leaving his job for the Jordanian Air Force, he was hired by 7hills full-time, turning his lifelong passion into a day-to-day job.
Ghassan gave us some of his time and we talked about 7hills in more detail, telling us about his own experience and vision.  In the background of our encounter, a diverse and heterogeneous group of young people of different ages and ethnicities participated in a skate lesson given by other 7Hills volunteers. Everything took place in an atmosphere of serenity and amusement, with 7Hills lads ready to intervene to correct a slightly unbalanced trajectory and give some tips to the aspiring riders.

During our meeting, Ghassan told us the story of 7hills with enthusiasm, without neglecting the small and big difficulties that such an initiative entails. Just to give you an eample, every small maintenance job or park improvement needs to go through the bureaucratic procedures and obtain the necessary permissions. Ghassan told us that this process is not always straightforward and every now and then they encounter obstacles and institutional delays that take days, sometimes months, to be resolved.  Dealing with the institutions is not always a walk in the park.
Despite this, the 7Hills team is highly motivated and pursues its goals with passion and dedication. Ghassan is also keen to emphasize a very important aspect: 7hills has a grassroots soul and is not interested in turning into a commercial project but in remaining a public space open to everyone. This is where no compromises are made and it is what allows the park to maintain its authentic soul, sincerely aimed at the well-being of the community around it.

The 7Hills skatepark has become a utopia for neighboring refugees. Given their refugee status after fleeing their home countries due to war, they’re not considered citizens and therefore exist on the margins of a society. Just like any country, Jordan has its fair share of socio-economic struggles, but the upper class has access to parks and recreational choices, while the middle and lower classes do not. Having grown up skateboarding in Amman, Mohammed knew the importance of providing places where kids could communicate and interact. This knowledge inspired him to find a way to build the 7Hills Skatepark as a free community space not only for Jordanians but also for refugees in and around the city. Skateboarding is not only an inexpensive sport, but it also transcends racial and gender divisions.
That sense of being an outcast in society is a familiar theme for skateboarders all over the world, and 7Hills is no exception. Here, skateboarders include girls who wear hijabs, Syrians, Sudanese and other refugees, but also locals who come together in a spirit of collaboration, peace and community. People who might not otherwise meet, come together at 7Hills for fun and as a respite from their personal life circumstances.
7Hills crew intent is focused on maintaining the park as a peaceful heaven where children can be children and not labelled as refugees who are alienated from their culture and heritage.In addition to all this, 7Hills built a second, 650M2 skatepark, in the heart of an overpopulated area in East Amman. This choice has been made because East Amman has many vulnerable areas, it is very densely populated, and houses a lot of people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. There are barely enough recreational spaces or parks for young people and in general it is very poor in opportunities for the youth to learn, be creative, and do something meaningful.  This project was a collaboration between 7Hills, UNICEF Jordan, the Ministry of Youth and the Greater Amman Municipality. Under the supervision of 7Hills Team and the international construction team, the construction site was open for the local community members to take part in the whole process, learn more about skatepark construction and encourage local ownership of the space from day one.

This project was a collaboration between 7Hills, UNICEF Jordan, the Ministry of Youth and the Greater Amman Municipality. Under the supervision of 7Hills Team and the international construction team, the construction site was open for the local community members to take part in the whole process, learn more about skatepark construction and encourage local ownership of the space from day one.

The full weekly 7Hills program is detailed below:

Urban Education Program: Skateboarding and Arts
– Loaners session: Open sessions, twice a week: Sunday and Wednesday
– Outreach sessions: 7hills have weekly outreach programs outside Amman, in Zarqa and Irbid. This outreach program “Skate and Create” is made possible with the collaboration of Skateistan.
– Twice a week to governorates around Jordan, Irbid and Zarqa: Monday and Tuesday
– Girl’s only session, once a week: Saturday
– Gaza Camp Session, once a week: Saturday
– People with disabilities session, once a week: Saturday
– Weekly youth leadership session (to coach and train youth leaders, invest in their personal skills, skateboard skills, and skateboard teaching skills)
* It’s important to note that all sessions are free of charge

Recognizing the importance of the initiative promoted by 7hills for the local youth and the community of Amman, we are happy to contribute in our own small way. That’s why we decided to start a partnership with the 7HIlls park, through which you too can play your part: we’ll donate automatically 1 euro for every purchase made through our e-commerce platform, entirely devoted to fund the initiatives and new projects run by the 7Hills family.
We deeply appreciate what these guys are doing and the spirit they have adopted: 7Hills bridges the gap between socio-economic, cultural, religious gender differences to create harmonized spaces for youths from different backgrounds, although with extra focus on marginalized and underserved youth groups. If the vision we support is “to be the change you want to see in your own local environment”, 7hills fully represents this philosophy and we are really pleased to collaborate with them and support this community-change program.

7Hills Website
7Hills Instagram
7Hills Facebook
7Hills LinkedIn

MakeLifeSkateLife Website
MakeLifeSkateLife Instagram

Skateistan Website
Skateistan Instagram

Urkell Journal Team

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