From the fields of rural India to the shining city of Nanjing in China – no, not on a skateboard – but with a skateboard under their arms.
Asha and Arun, two of our Janwaar kids, have come a long way. It’s only three and a half years since we opened Janwaar Castle, the first skatepark in a village in the heart of rural India. In Janwaar. At that time these kids didn’t have the faintest clue about skateboarding yet only a few days ago they returned proudly from the World Skateboarding Championships in Nanjing.
The vast distance of 3841 km they managed with ease. It wasn’t their first time out of the country so they were used to the visa procedure and travelling. They flew from Delhi to Beijing, China, jumped on a connecting flight to Shanghai from where they took the bullet train to Nanjing. This train covers the 300 km in only 70 minutes – it must have been quite an experience for them inside this clean and well maintained racer. Just imagine Delhi – Khajuraho – our routine route – in less than 3 hours (instead of the actual 12 hours it takes)! That really would be something!!!
Asha and Arun stand out from the kids in Janwaar and the other kids feel this which is why they chose them as their natural leaders. Asha was the first person in the village to get a passport and go abroad. This was no easy feat. As an Adivasi (indigenous people) AND a girl – there was nothing like a green card for the entire process. What a bumpy journey we had to overcome all the hurdles laid out on the way. From intrigues in the village to vicious slurs and defamation on various sides, all kinds of stuff happened which we never thought or even dreamed of when we asked her if she wanted to go abroad to learn better English. But she managed it all and is now slowly but surely finding her own way.
She learnt a lot as she moved forward. Besides English – she will soon be starting an English course at the British Council – and skateboarding – together with Deepa she is the best skateboarding girl in Janwaar – what she has learned the most is how to be herself. She became self-confident and how to stand up and fight for her desires and dreams. Even if this means trouble. She has taken responsibility for her own life and is learning to learn. She might lack a bit of passion and energy – but I believe that passion and energy are what she has seen plenty of during her time in Nanjing. She had this kind of all-important spark when she was standing with all the other female skateboarders at the Olympic bowl in Nanjing. When she saw how energized, fearless and passionate her fellow competitors were and how much they wanted to drop into this bowl and master a safe yet tricky passage, she felt the difference. It kept her thinking until she concluded after a few days that it was exactly this energy and passion that made the vital difference. The big challenge will be to keep this fire alive and burning and translate it into her daily activities.
Arun was also amazed when he saw the bowl – but after a little practice he became increasingly confident. Luckily, Jean-Philippe, director of skateboarding at Decathlon International in France, connected us to Bob Town, an Englishman now living in Shanghai and training Chinese kids in skateboarding, and Bob open-heartedly included our kids in his evening training sessions. The sessions took place at the Nanjing National Skateboarding Center – one of the largest, if not the largest, skatepark in the world. It includes a huge deep bowl and a more street-like skateboarding outlet, all on the fourth floor of a former industrial building. Arun quickly accepted Bob and the learning curve progressed by leaps and bounds.
Arun familiarised himself with the bowl and how to drop in best, and how to make speed and jump over the edges. He trained in the morning hours from 6 am onwards at the competition venue and ended the day with Bob’s session. He lived and breathed skateboarding to the fullest and stood in awe watching the best skateboarders in the world. These guys there were a true inspiration and helped him shape his plans to improve his skateboarding skills still further. He truly got infected by the skateboarding bug.
During his runs he showed ambition and passion, everyone in the stadium felt his energy and cheered him along. It was huge fun for him and his enthusiasm and pleasure were obvious for all to see. He wasn’t bothered about NOT being among the best – because he knew he was giving his very best. And the audience rewarded him for this. He left the bowl feeling very proud!
Both of them were pretty cool skateboarding ambassadors for India. They represented their country proudly and with great modesty. They were open and since this was the second trip abroad for both of them, they made contact with others easily. I very often saw them engaging with the teams from Turkey, Brazil and China – using hand signs when words wouldn’t work. Their English is now good enough for simple conversation and they understood that English is for many others a foreign language as well … 🙂 This certainly helped and encouraged them to talk.
But what I really loved was the fact that it was never ever about themselves. They were easily capable of putting their egos aside and crediting the village and their community for helping them in what they had achieved. I call it the Janwaar spirit. They were always thinking about how to let the other kids benefit from this …. and once they returned home they put their ideas into action. Asha took care of the little ones at the Villa Janwaar and Arun with not a second to lose started skateboarding sessions with the kids. So very quickly every kid in the village started to share in and profit actively from their experiences of this trip to the World Championships in Skateboarding.
The skateboard has truly become their best travel companion.
Off to more!
And certainly there is more to come! Both of them will lead another 20 Janwaar kids to the Indian National Skateboarding Championships in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, on December 22-24. The train tickets are booked and the energy is flying high in Janwaar. This will be a hell of a trip 🙂
And in the second week of 2019 Asha and Arun will start a new chapter in their lives. Together with three other Janwaar kids – Anil, Ajeet and Brajendra – they are part of a school experiment which we are preparing together with Prakriti School in Noida, Uttar Pradesh. Over the period of two years we will try to cloase their gaps in Hindi reading and writing, they will learn English and participate in vocational and creative trainings. They will learn hands on – much self-organized and informal. Our goal is to get them ready to teach our other kids in Janwaar … We will keep you posted on this one!
Selection of Nanjing photos