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Palestinian Descent Built the First Skatepark in Amman, Jordan, for Refugee Youth and Other Vulnerable Groups

posted on: May 31, 2022

Palestinian Dissent Built the First Skatepark in Amman, Jordan, for Refugee Youth and Other Vulnerable Groups

(Photo Credit: Make Life Skate Life)

By: Kimothy Wong/Arab America Contributing Writer

7Hills Skatepark is located in the center of Amman, the capital of Jordan, which is famous for lacking public space and accessible recreational outlets for youth. The skatepark was originally an open space with only a couple of trees. Mohammed Zakaria, the founder of 7Hills Skatepark, came out with the idea of transforming it into a skatepark and becoming a melting pot for refugee youth and teenagers from neighborhoods.

Palestinian Dissent Built the First Skatepark in Amman, Jordan, for Refugee Youth and Other Vulnerable Groups

7Hills Skatepark is surrounded by residential buildings. Young people or children playing in the park will more or less have the feeling of showboating their skills. (Photo Credit: Make Life Skate Life)

Moved to Jordan at Ten and Found the Joy of Skateboarding

Palestinian Dissent Built the First Skatepark in Amman, Jordan, for Refugee Youth and Other Vulnerable Groups

Zakaria (right) travels around and builds a skatepark in Amman to enjoy skateboarding with young people. (Photo Credit: Make Life Skate Life)

Mohammed Zakaria, of Palestinian descent, was born in Qatar and moved to Amman when he was ten. After receiving a skateboard as a birthday present, he quickly became obsessed with it and practiced moves and tricks on the streets all the time like other kids. However, Zakaria promptly discovered that there was not enough space for skateboarding.

Opened the First Skateboard Shop in the Middle East

Palestinian Dissent Built the First Skatepark in Amman, Jordan, for Refugee Youth and Other Vulnerable Groups

(Photo Credit: Make Life Skate Life)

Zakaria grew up and became a computer engineer, but his passion for skateboarding has not waned. In 2009, he opened a skate shop, Philadelphia Skateboards, which became the first in the Middle East. No one thought the store could do well, and Zakaria said: “my friends thought I was crazy, and my father didn’t agree with the idea.”

Skateboarding was not popular in Jordan. The skate shop business slowly got on track after Zakaria’s hard work in import, retail, and publicity. He also exported skateboards made by local artists to Europe.

Advocating the Construction of Skateparks to Gather Veterans and Cultivate New Blood

Palestinian Dissent Built the First Skatepark in Amman, Jordan, for Refugee Youth and Other Vulnerable Groups

(Photo Credit: Make Life Skate Life)

Zakaria faced difficulties in promoting skateboarding. Amman is a city with few public spaces, let alone a skatepark. Even if young people skate on the street, they will be stopped by the police. In addition, many skateboarders are slowly leaving Jordan for college or other reasons, but no new enthusiasts have joined.

Local skateboarding was in danger of declining at any time. One day, Zakaria had a whim and decided to build a skatepark. “If we can provide a place for experienced and new skateboarders, it can make a difference.”

Passing the Torch, Changing the Lives

Moreover, Zakaria hopes to use the skatepark to help young people find their purpose in their lives. He said: “For young people, it is not easy to survive in this corner of the world.”

Due to the ongoing warfare in Syria, UN Secretary-General António Guterres reported that Jordan had hosted more than 650,000 Syrian refugees. The influx of refugees increased the unemployment rate in Jordan, causing many young refugees to become unemployed and wander on the streets all day.

Zakaria said, “Maybe I can pass on my passion for skateboarding to them and changes their lives.” Zakaria contacted the Amman government and the non-profit group Make Life Skate Life and launched an online fundraising campaign. They raised more than US$25,000, and the plan was also supported by the Amman government, which allocated an open space for free.

The Skatepark Has Become a Place for Children and Youth to Put Their Worries into Oblivion

Palestinian Dissent Built the First Skatepark in Amman, Jordan, for Refugee Youth and Other Vulnerable Groups

(Photo Credit: Make Life Skate Life)

Volunteers from all over the world came to Amman to help build the skatepark in 2015. Local children also participated, and the venue was successfully built. Zakaria said: “When the children also start building the park together, there is a sense of ownership. If someone tries to destroy it, the children will stop it because this is their park.”

After the skatepark was built, it quickly became a gathering place for young people and children. They all grew up from different backgrounds, some from families, and some were refugees, but they all shared an interest in skateboarding and smiled when they received their first skateboards.

Palestinian Dissent Built the First Skatepark in Amman, Jordan, for Refugee Youth and Other Vulnerable Groups

Ahmad Al Rayyan, a 17-year-old Syrian refugee who moved to Jordan’s capital city two and a half years ago, is one of the many skaters who skate 7Hills skatepark. (Photo Credit: Make Life Skate Life)

“My life here is better. I can go out without problems. There is no shelling or fighting here. I had never skated before, but I saw them skating, and I liked it, so I helped build the park and then kept practicing.”

Ahmad Al Rayyan

Sherif Al Sayah, a volunteer from the Collateral Repair Project, an organization that assists refugees, said: “We try to provide a lighter environment for refugees to unload the burden of their status.”

Life is Like Skateboarding; If You Fall off a Skateboard, You Can Always Get up

Palestinian Dissent Built the First Skatepark in Amman, Jordan, for Refugee Youth and Other Vulnerable Groups

(Photo Credit: Make Life Skate Life)

Arne Hillerns, the founder and executive director of Make Life Skate Life, recalls that when the skatepark was first built, they encountered so many obstacles. Initially, residents opposed the construction of a skatepark since they had limited knowledge.

Secondly, after the site was completed, the skateboards placed in the storage were always stolen. However, they were patient and solved the problems one by one. They set up a skateboard rental program, raised funds to improve the storage security, and used donations to buy more skateboards for more children to play with.

Two years after the skatepark opened, the skateboard rental program finally broke even. Perhaps just like skateboarding, whether it is launching a skateboarding project or even a child’s life journey, you must first experience mistakes and failures if you want to succeed. Zakaria said: “I hope children can learn this.”

Palestinian Dissent Built the First Skatepark in Amman, Jordan, for Refugee Youth and Other Vulnerable Groups

(Photo Credit: Make Life Skate Life)


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