In India’s Janwaar village in Madhya Pradesh, where roads are still under construction and thatched mud houses are the only thing you can see, there’s a skatepark.
Built in April 2015, it’s the first skatepark in rural India where young kids are not just having fun, but breaking caste and education barriers.
It took me 49 hours from India’s capital, New Delhi, to travel to Janwaar. I booked a train, hitched on a bus and rode a rickshaw to finally arrive in this dusty village. With a population of just over 1,000 and about 240 houses, it has virtually no jobs or businesses outside of agriculture, and even that is becoming increasingly difficult because of regular droughts.
While most of the villagers still don’t understand what exactly happens at the skate park, they are happy to send their children to a place that offers so much excitement and entertainment. For seven days, I stayed and lived with the kids and realised how small things can cause such a big change in people’s lives.
Reinhard has two basic rules for the children: “No school – No Skateboarding” and “Girls First.” If the students don’t attend school, they aren’t allowed to skate. Since Janwaar Castle opened, school attendance has gone up, and the students are much more committed to their work,
“I asked artists across the world to make us artboards. And we got 19 of them, including one by the Chinese activist and artist Ai Weiwei. We auctioned them on eBay through skate-aid and raised $16,000, just enough to build the skate park. An architect friend from Germany came to help us build the park,” said Reinhard.
Volunteers from around the world and India visit the skate park and help Reinhard. While I was there, I helped Michael, a volunteer from Kerala, build a library under a tree, which is available to everyone.
It was easy to see some of the benefits of the skate park. Reinhard’s biggest task, however, was bringing two communities, Yadavs and Adivasis, together. A lot of India still faces caste-based discrimination. Before the park, Yadav kids would avoid interacting with tribal Adivasi kids. With an equalizing space like the skate park, kids from both groups can now lose such apprehensions while doing flips.
The children have embraced it. In the initial days, they learned techniques from the professionals involved in building the skate park. Now there are no coaches or trainers, so the children learn skateboarding on their own. They watch YouTube videos to help them learn new tricks, or just make up their own way of riding a skateboard, more concerned with having fun then nailing a trick.