Posted on by Zhen Paintal

Photo by Vicky Roy, Skateboarding with the Tigers
The Janwaar Castle Community Organisation is a non-profit company, a project that started in the late 2014 as the private initiative “Janwaar Castle” of Ulrike Reinhard (idea and concept) and Shyamendra Singh (local support). This is a social and educational experiment which resulted from Ulrike's work in Africa and India. Their goal is to uplift village society as a whole. Janwaar Castle – The skatepark is 450 sqm big, the first park in rural India and it’s the largest one in the country too. They started building in December 2014 and finished by February 2015 with the help of 12 volunteers from seven countries.

Image by Vicky Roy | Ulrike Rienhard
Ulrike recently visited the Active8 HQ and spoke with us on her story of skateboarding, India and the Janwaar Kids! 
First thing, what brought you to India? And how did you land in MP, Panna?
I was invited to a conference in Delhi and I was never ever in India before. So this was like 4.5 years ago. I got a ticket into Delhi out of Bombay and then in between I somehow got stuck. This was actually because I took a train first from Delhi to Agra, I always wanted to see the Taj Mahal and then I found these temples in Khajuraho, and this is where I basically got stuck on my way to Bombay. And I really like this MP, there is something very special to it.

Photo by Vicky Roy
You came to MP because of the temples..
I mean, there was a family, who asked me to build a school, out of the blue basically, when I first came there. And I thought 'ooh, that’s pretty weird' and somehow this idea got stuck in my mind. When I left India, I sent an email to a friend because he said whenever you travel and when you do have some work, I’ll come and help. So it was by then, rather a joke. But the idea was there and my friend said yes, I’ll help you. So 4 weeks later we came back to Khajuraho, figuring out what we can do. We got involved with this family; it didn’t work out for many reasons.  But somehow I really fell in love with this area; it’s so pure, wild, untouched in many ways. And I got the feeling; you can do a lot in India, simply by doing. This is the beauty which you’ll hardly find in other countries.

Photo by Vicky Roy
So basically building this school got you there. And then you had this idea of doing something that can motivate kids in a more creative way.
I didn’t know anything about India, so we learnt a lot over the year and a half and we became very clear we didn’t want to build another out-of-the mill school. So you really need to build something that would keep the kids in the villages, but gives them enough to make a decent life there. And then one day we were sitting at this treehouse overlooking the river. And I said, come on let’s build a skate park.
I knew about the Skateistan in Kabul and this would be nice. My landlord, who was then the local support of this entire initiative, he said yes. He also had no clue what a skate park was, but he said he’ll get in the land. So, I had a look and saw this village Janwaar where we are now, and I said yea that’s the place. There was a government school close by, in the village there are 250-300 kids which is enough that you get a frequent flow of kids at the skate park. What skateboarding can do to a community, this is what I was interested in. So, for us building a skate park is a trigger to drive change.

Photo by Vicky Roy
It seems like a hardcore trigger to drive change, Who helped you with the design and build?
Absolutely, we had skateboarders from across the world coming in building the skate park. We were working together with this NGO ‘Skate-aid’. When the decision was made to build a skate park, I talked to them. They helped us in a way that they setup the platform for donations; because we need to finance the skate park and they helped us in getting the architect. We did the finance in a way that we asked artists around the world to turn a skateboard into an art board. And then we auctioned it on Ebay and all the money which came in went to Skate-Aid and they gave us the money to build the park in Janwaar.
So, 12 skateboarders whom I know from Bangalore and couple of guys came in from Skate-aid, and 3.5 months it was like a huge event in the village because they didn’t know what was a skate park. So, we showed them videos and one of the guys went, ‘ah Bollywood movie’, so they didn’t have a clue but it was like a happening. The kids came from the very beginning, the first ramp was built, and they used it as a slide. We have pictures of little girls and boys climbing up this huge ramp which is like 8 feet high and sliding down.

Photo by Vicky Roy
How did you get introduced to the skateboarders in Delhi and Bangalore?
I knew Abhishek from before from Bangalore, he said that if you ever build anything in MP, I’ll be there, and he brought with himself a bunch of other guys. The funniest thing is, we setup this website and we had really nice photographs. As one of my friends, Vicky Roy is a really good photographer and he was there from the very beginning. So, the website and the Facebook page, they really attracted people. They keep coming via Facebook, and they ask 'can they work as a volunteer, can we do this and this and this'.

Photo by Vicky Roy
The idea was yours to do this?
Yeah, we were saying let’s start with a skate park. I remember in the beginning, my landlord Binny and the local part of this initiative, asked what kind of program to run if the skate park is there. But, it’s basically what I would call in Marketing language, so my background is a Ph.D. in Economics and I work as a consultant, so it’s a change process which we trigger and usually change processes don’t have a defined outcome. So you set up the frame for something, you build a sand box and you just look what is happening and you go from there. When you give kids a choice, they’ll take it, and they’ll take it their own way; and this is the best thing. What you really need for such projects, I believe, is to take ownership; and the kids took ownership of the skate park.

Photo by Vicky Roy
I think that is what was the cherry on top, for the success of it.
Absolutely and this is why I also believe you cannot do this with cricket or hockey or something like that. Many people have been asking me ‘why skateboarding?’ I think it’s really new for the kids, it’s new in India, and still it’s a small market as you say yourself. It’s kind of new and it’s a very attractive sport. You can take ownership because you have a place, a restricted place.

Photo by Vicky Roy
What was the reaction of the village when the skate park was complete?
The skate park basically turned the village upside down. It had an impact at the government school because we have a rule that ‘no school no skateboarding’. And we were very strict about it in the beginning, so kids didn’t go to school and they weren’t allowed to skate. This increased the attendance at the school and they got a new teacher within a couple of months. So, we brought in Tablets, we brought in Kindles. We do other creative work with them and now they’ve even painted the skate park. One day we gave the entire skate park free for painting and now we have the tigers, the elephants; everything they want to paint they paint on the skate park.

Photo by Vicky Roy
You’ll very soon have graffiti artists coming out of there! You were talking about this rule you have of ‘No school no skate boarding’; tell us more of these rules.
All this is happening and this really helps the kids to grow and to see what they are capable of doing. Yeah, so basically, two rules. ‘No school no skate boarding’ is really working. If they don’t go to school they aren’t allowed to skate for the day, so they do go. The second rule we have is ‘Girls first’. If a girl comes to the skate park and no skate board is available, then a boy has to give his skateboard to the girl. 
And everyone very organically complies with these rules?
Actually yes, organic is the word. It’s not so much about telling them what to do but again like giving the frame set and then you observe things and guide them. Meanwhile another thing we don’t have as a rule, but something every volunteer comes I say,’ You can do anything you want, the only thing I really want you to is walk your talk’. 

Photo by Vicky Roy
How are the parents in the village? Do they also try to skate once in a while, try the sport out?
No, but they come and look, and they are very happy. I also told you earlier that we are taking girls to Delhi and abroad. So parents allow us to do this! So in this way the parents are very supportive of their kids. 
What is the vision that you see; in terms of what this skate park will do for these kids?
It’s really a transformation process. If we keep track of what we’ve been doing over the last year and keep it as open as it is, I think what we will achieve in the near future; I’m talking about in the next 3-5 years, the villagers will understand that they can change their situation if they want to and there are ways in doing it. Not everyone will be on board and change has started and is now unstoppable. The more we do; like solving the water problem, now we bring in the solar panels, and hold this competition in November; more people come in. It’s like a constant flow of external people in the village, and all of a sudden this village is a spot on the map.

Photo by Vicky Roy
What is the message you would like to give to the world from Janwar Castle?
Very nice story; last year at summer camp, we had a guy from Khajuraho which is a really spoilt tourist place; it’s like 65 kms away from our skate park, he’s a music teacher and he came, he was working with the kids every morning and he came to me and told me that he’s written a song. I asked ‘what do you mean you’ve written a song?’ He said he’s written a song about Janwaar Castle and he gave me this piece of paper with all this Hindi writing on it and I said what shall I do with it? Sing it!
So he started to sing the song and immediately the kids go in and there was this one line, most of it was Hindi and the last few lines where in English, with ‘Nothing impossible’ in there and with skateboarding and what he’d seen over these past 3-4 weeks working with the kids there. Basically, nothing is impossible if you do things and if you keep it open and free for everyone. That’s the message.

The Janwaar Challenge

"As one big big milestone in our development of Janwaar Castle we will have this first Janwaar Castle skateboarding challenge in Nov. It will first of all be a showcase of how good the kids became in Janwaar over the last year in skateboarding and it’ll hopefully be a start to further develop this village where skateboarding has started a transformation process. The development we see with this annual event is that we slowly want to set up a training center for skateboarding since it’s become Olympic in 2020, and it’ll be an Olympic discipline. And we hope we get much better infrastructure and better medical structure going along with it in this village to keep these kids and their families going. 
So for our 2 day event in November we are aiming that we get like 60-80 kids from all over India from the skateboarding headquarters in Delhi, Goa, Bangalore and Bombay. And also from our surrounding area in MP and introduce this sport to much broader audience. It’ll be a nice mix of boys and girls and also from rural and urban."
Ulrike Reinhard, Founder of Janwaar Castle
Stay tuned for more info on the Janwaar Castle Challenge here!
Also follow with their official facebook page here!