Parkour, a form of urban acrobatics born in France, has found a welcome home in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. There, in a city that has known no shortage of violence and upheaval, a super-flexible youth collective is reclaiming the landscape from fear and devastation with high octane stunts and a positive message.
Global Voices was lucky enough to catch up with the man that brought Parkour to Afghanistan, Abdul Jamil Sherzad, who spoke to us about peace, injuries and the struggle to find funding to develop this up-and-coming sport in the country.
Global Voices: How long have you been doing parkour and why did you start?
Abdul Jamil Sherzad: I have been training and learning for seven years. I am the founder of this sport in Afghanistan. I have personal and national goals in this sport. Personally, I had a passion to learn something different, unique and action-filled. Parkour makes me more enthusiastic, energetic and confident. I had an athletic background before. I used to train taekwondo, football and fitness. But when I discovered this sport, I understood my future was only in parkour.
GV: What about the national goals?
AJS: We have a vision of representing a positive picture of Afghanistan to the world. We ask that the world pay attention to people in Afghanistan, who are tired of war. Living peacefully is our only goal. We also want to be sufficiently well-prepared and professional to represent the Afghanistan flag in International parkour competitions and win. By participating in international events we want to show the positive attitude and leadership of Afghan youth. We want to unite youth of Afghanistan regardless of ethnicity or background. We want to eliminate negativity among youth in the country, to prevent Afghanistan's youth from using narcotics. I want to motivate and inspire Afghan youth to enter sports, especially parkour.
GV: Why is parkour more inspiring than other sports?
AJS: I train parkour not only as a sport, but also as a way of life. In parkour we are always leaping over obstacles. It is the same in real life, which is full of struggles. Similarly, as a leader in parkour I pledge responsibility to teach more youths to deal with their life obstacles and learn to be hopeful in tough situations.
GV: Was introducing a totally new sport to Afghanistan a challenge?
AJS: There are many challenges but the biggest one is financial. There is no support from anywhere financially whether government or private sector. Therefore, there is not a safe place for us to train — a gym for instance — with professional equipment. Very few organizations are looking to develop sports and help creative youth progress. Injuries are another big challenge! Sometimes they put you out of action for days, sometimes for months.
GV: How many team members do you have and where do you meet up?
AJS: There are more than 50 members and 50 training students in my team aged from 10 to 26. They are all very passionate and very creative. We started to train outdoors in ruined places where we could find walls as obstacles and now we are training on the street using security barriers, open parks and on hills. This is good for learning but to develop new skills we need the gym. We don’t have that at the moment.
GV: Do women and girls also practice parkour?
AJS: Yes. Girls are really interested to learn and there are girls in our team who are undergoing training. If we get a training gym the number of girls will rise. Parkour welcomes gender equality.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
AJS: Yes. When we tried to attend parkour events in Europe our visa applications were refused just because we hold Afghan passports. We were hoping to represent Afghan parkour and come back to spread our experience and skills to others in Afghanistan but they don’t trust us. I would like to convey to ambassadors and people in the outside world that the actions of a minority should not destroy the reputations of the majority. Afghanistan is a victim of extremism not its supporter. Afghanistan is a land of a diversity of traditions and cultures and is full of amazing people. Please support us to make this land developed and beautiful again. Respect for humanity and equal opportunities should be the first priority in (regard to) developing countries like Afghanistan.