Can a skate park make a difference? Mika Jones hopes so. In the hip beach town of Sihanoukville in Cambodia, the Australia native is building a specially designed skate zone that will be a community center for local Khmer kids. Dubbed Skate Style, the park is now open to the public and is already seeing kids flock to its ramps and halfpipe to practice their skills. We sat down with Jones to find out more about the story behind the facility and his plans for the future.
You left a $120,000 a year construction job in Australia to move to Cambodia and open a skate park. What did your friends and family think of this lifestyle change?
Thankfully my friends and family have all been very supportive. I suppose that they understand my passion for this country and what I am trying to achieve. There were a few that questioned if it would work, but I say go chase your dreams people! If you want to change your life you are the only one who can do it!
What was the skating culture like in your hometown growing up?
I grew up skating in the Adelaide Hills in South Australia during the 90s. We would find places and obstacles to skate around the community area as there was little to do for recreation, and youth unemployment was high. There wasn’t a proper place to skate in my town so we would find downhill roads, footpaths, and car parks to skate. Sometimes friends would pool together petrol money and drive long distances to go to skate the parks and half pipes in other towns.
How important was it for you to have skating as an outlet in your teenage years and how do you think the same outlet will benefit the Khmer kids in town?
Skating was a very important factor during my youth. It was not only an outlet for frustration, but it also taught me important life skills: patience while I tried to learn new tricks; social skills when meeting new people and making friendships; and inner strength, confidence, and a sense of achievement when I skated well. My goal for this place is to create a positive environment for young people in a city with numerous issues such as sex trafficking, drug and alcohol abuse, poor education, and poverty. Plus it’s a fun and cheap form of exercise — everyone can benefit from that!
What has the feedback and support been like from the local community, both young and old?
A lot of hard work has gone into this place and I am grateful for all the support I have had from the great people around me. I have had a lot of help along the way. During construction people would drop by wanting to skate. It was frustrating not being ready. It’s pretty cool that skating is relatively new here so it doesn’t have any negative connotations that we may associate in Western culture.
How difficult has the process been to get your project from the brainstorming phase all the way through government approval to construction?
We had some water issues last year that held us up, but before then things were going pretty smoothly. There have been a few difficulties along the way and stuff I didn’t think about, like government planning regulations. The builders had never seen, let alone built, a half pipe before, but did a fantastic job! It’s one of only four in the country, I believe.
Your vision for the space is that it won’t be solely focused on skating, but also will incorporate a number of different avenues for the local kids to experiment and flourish in. What are these different ideas and how are you hoping to have other NGOs and corporations involved?
We are not just here for skating; I want to develop a new positive culture for young people to be engaged in. Skating and street art are the tools. In the future I hope to utilize the space for people to develop skills with street art, break dance, and beatbox. The space is unused during school hours so it is available for local NGOs as an alternative activity and location. We have already have support for this idea, and NGOs have even suggested using the food and drinks area we have as a way to train students in customer-service skills.
How have you funded this project since the beginning stages of development?
I have funded the project myself through my own hard earned dollars. When we open in the afternoons there is a small admittance fee to cover rental costs of the land. Recently I have had to pick up a second night job at a casino to help cover the cost of rent, maintenance, and staff wages.
Now that you have been open for just over one year, how is everything running?
Things are going really well. We have just hired our first two local employees, and we pay them a decent salary plus a commission of 10 percent each, which is quite above the national average. We’re averaging between 12 and 20 kids showing up a day, and their enthusiasm is truly inspiring!
This article originally appeared on Yahoo! Travel and is republished here with permission.