Some of you might remember the book release of “Every Girl Presents: Indy Jamma Jones – Planet Roller Skate” by Sojourn Wallace and Amy West aka Indy Jamma. With its profits, Sojourn’s mission is to build a skatepark in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, around 90 kilometers north-west from Beirut. The Valley is home to around 340.000 of the 1.5 million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon right now. Sojourn has been doing volunteer and charitable work for a few years now. With her program Free Border Skate, a Salam LADC supported project, she wants to bring roller skating to young people living in areas of conflict and civic unrest such as Lebanon. In between travels to Lebanon, Sojourn took a trip to Skate Love Festival in Barcelona where she presented her idea and program. As a result, Moxi Roller Skates founder Michelle Steilen offered not only support but also a collaboration. We hooked up with Sojourn to learn more about her Free Border Skate project and its future.
Building skate parks is not where you originally come from. Tell us how you became an advocate for refugees.
I was homeless myself once. It is a personal trauma. In 2014, when the refugee crisis began I felt like I want to do something. I went to Lesvos in Greece to volunteer. We raised money and organized a trip for a Hungarian doctor. We started a charity called “Off Track Health” out of it. From there it went on to become much more than just medical help.
Your project Free Border Skate grew out of this committment. To raise money for it you teamed up with Indy and released the children’s book Planet Roller Skate. How did you approach this project?
First of all, I wanted to move away from just collecting donations to writing. Planet Roller Skate is the fourth book of this series. I reached out to Indy with my idea and she liked it. 30 per cent of the profits go into the program. So far, we raised $ 12.000. The NGO Salam LADC I work with is also helps. There are so many programs like these for skateboarders but none for roller skating. I really wanted to not only build a park but also collect roller skates and bring out coaches to Lebanon.
With your collaboration with Moxi you made a big step forward towards your goal. Tell us how you and Michelle got together and what you both came up with?
At Skate Love Barcelona, Michelle approached me asking to collaborate. She said it had been a dream or hers to see a project like this come to life and that she would do whatever she could to breathe life into it. She’s kept her word! She’s been helping setting up the Moxi week London fundraiser, which is a four day fundraiser we will be putting on workshops, classes, Q&A‘s, as well as a dinner on wheels here in the English capital, for that event she is bringing coaches from the USA so that we can attract a wider audience she’s also coming out to Lebanon in May to help facilitate the first big training with all of the kids and has been interviewing the other volunteers and making sure that we have a curriculum that the kids can follow.
You just returned from another trip to Lebanon. What was the recent purpose of your trip?
This recent trip was just about dropping off skates. It can be really difficult to get in any type of merchandise or equipment for any of our programs. So ironically enough the easiest and most efficient way to bring the skates is to transport them in our suitcases. That way they don’t go missing in customs or become subjugated to any taxes or import fees.
How is your concept for next year’s trip to Lebanon? How long will instructors stay?
The project will continue forever. But we’re bringing coaches out there for a one week training. We will be training the kids and also the local coach that will keep the project going forever. Free Border Skate is a part of salaam LADC which is a not-for-profit organization that runs 24 hours around the clock. So once the local coaches are trained, the program will be cemented into the community. International coaches will always have an opportunity to sign up and go and work with the local coach but this trip in May is really about setting up the project and training the locals how to teach.
In which way will Free Border Skate help those kids?
Free Border Skate is a female lead, female centered extreme skate program in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, aimed at fostering positive spaces for youth living in areas of conflict and civil unrest. Through the therapeutic nature of physical activity and the confidence building that comes with learning an extreme sport, Free Border Skate encourages children and teenagers to positively express themselves, and work towards overcoming the traumas of their past. Program participants will grow physically as well as emotionally, as they learn through the encouragement from their skate community.
What about people who would like to volunteer. How can they apply?
We aren’t taking any more coaches this year but people can sign up to register and then we will keep them updated in our newsletter which will give people instructions and information on how they go about applying to come out once we take the first trip out.
If you want to stay up to date or get tickets for the Moxi Week visit the website Freeborderskate.org