Megabi Skate was founded in 2005 as a way to engage and inspire the at-risk youth in Ethiopia by giving access to a new constructive outlet – skateboarding. They provide equipment and lessons to kids and meet five times a week to skate with and engage the youth.
They recently expanded in a somewhat controversial move in Ethiopia by launching Megabi Skate Girls – the first African girls skateboarding team. The initiative met some pushback but eventually the community was won over by the riders improved teamwork and leadership skills as well as an increased self-esteem.
Megabi Skate founder Israel Dejene recently sat down with ESPN Women to talk about the founding of the organization and the launch of Megabi Skate Girls.
“I decided to start Megabi Skate because I want to inspire and empower the youth,” Dejene told ESPN. “Skateboarding is helping them stay positive and find a new image of themselves.”
Dejene was in Sweden the first time he encountered a skateboarder. The Addis Ababa, Ethiopia native was perplexed by the board, and fascinated with the elegance and efficiency of its rider. He saw the man maneuver a crowded street, weaving in and out of traffic and around people with a strange grace unfamiliar to him. Dejene decided to follow the man, he had to know more about the strange wooden board he was riding.
That chance encounter changed Dejene’s life. It didn’t take long for him to realized that skateboarding could be more than a personal escape, it could be a way to reach the youth back in Ethiopia and give them a constructive outlet to pursue.
When Dejene skated, he couldn’t help but think of the Ethiopian word Megabi. The term translates to “someone or something that gives life to others”. It’s a nickname that his father gave him as a boy when Dejene would wake up early and walk to buy bread for the family when food was scarce. Now skateboarding seemed to embody the term.
So, when Dejene returned to Ethiopia to start a youth skateboarding program it only felt right to adopt the term.
“The same way that bread was a life-giver to us, that’s the way that I feel about how skateboarding gives life to these kids.” Dejene said.
From the beginning Megabi Skate has been open to both boys and girls, but they ran into trouble reaching girls whoes time was traditionally spent at home doing chores. Inspired by his sister, Muluken, Dejene and his team has pushed to reach more girls and now the team has grown to 40. They’re doing everything to ensure the parent’s permission for the girls to leave the house, even if that means doing the children’s chores themselves.
“We had a 3-year-old, Yemar, say, “I am a birrabirro” — which means “butterfly” in Amharic,” Dejene said. “As she was skating on the mini ramp back and forth in her dress with polka dots. She said it made her feel free, and several of the girls say the same thing. The girls love to skate together and support each other. It’s created a sense of community with each other, and it’s helping them see that they don’t have to follow societal norms.”
It’s a great example of the positive power that skateboarding – or any sport – can have on young disadvantaged girls, especially in a country with stricter social ideologies for women.
“Over time they have started to shine and be an example for future generations,” Dejene said. “Skateboarding broke their fears and helped with their low self-esteem, and they are no longer afraid of skateboarding not being a normal thing for them to do in Ethiopia . . . These girls are a true example of how they can change the world.”
Aside from Megabi Skate, Dejene has also been involved with bringing skateboarding to the Olympics. Dejene and others from Africa worked alongside the International Skateboarding Federation to successfully petition the Olympic Committee to include skating.
There’s no guarentee that anyone on the team will make the Ethiopian Olympic team in 2020, but it’s certainly given them a goal to focus on.
“The Megabi kids are very excited about the prospect of competing in the Olympics and are working so hard to be able to get there,” said Dejene. “We have a couple guys and girls that I think will be able to make it if they focus and continue to push themselves, and I’m hopeful Ethiopia will have Megabi Skaters at the Olympics.”