The victims’ names were listed on a chalkboard inside the cavernous hangar where an unlikely nonprofit organization called Skateistan, established here five years ago, melds skateboarding, the arts and education for some of Afghanistan’s poorest children.
No coalition troops or foreigners were killed in Saturday’s attack, but the loss of the children has resonated among Americans and other Westerners. These, after all, were the very sort of children that the 11-year war has been waged to protect and uplift.
The children supported their families by selling chewing gum, scarves and trinkets to military personnel, diplomats and aid workers in Kabul’s well-fortified international zone. Some called them beggars and urchins, but at Skateistan they were success stories.
“They were all my students — Khorshid, Nawaz, Mohammed Esa, Parwana,” Skateistan education coordinator Benafsha Tasmim, her voice catching and eyes moist, said Thursday. She recalled how the children, ranging in age from 8 to 17, bonded over a distinctly American sport in a country savaged by an Islamist insurgency.
“Most of these kids spend all their days on the street,” said Tasmim, 23, who has a degree in psychology. “Here they made a little society for themselves.”
Skating wasn’t just about fun: It built the children’s self-confidence. And Skateistan, founded by an Australian skateboarder and now operating in several other nations, exposed them to a world of new ideas, where education mattered and boys and girls were equals.
“It gave them goals,” Tasmim said. “It gave them hope for the future.”
On Saturday, the forces of progressive and regressive Afghanistan collided on a street that houses embassies, intelligence services and other foreign outposts. An intruder — a boy of 14 or 15, carrying a backpack — made his way onto the turf held by the scrappy Skateistan crew.
The Taliban later asserted responsibility for dispatching the bomber, but claimed that he was much older. Kabul police said Thursday that they believe he was almost 16,
but they did not release his identity and had not determined his target.
Accounts vary about what happened that morning, but by most tellings there was an altercation. The street children thought the boy was horning in on their vending business. During the ensuing tussle, he detonated his explosives — about 150 feet from the blast-wall-protected headquarters of the NATO-backed International Security Assistance Force.