Changing the Game With an Indestructible Ball

It's not World Cup matches that are capturing Bobby Sager's attention. It's a different game of soccer taking place across Africa.

The philanthropist and photographer is actually in Zimbabwe. He and his team are handing out bright yellow soccer balls to children. Not just any soccer balls -- these one's are indestructible.

On the pitch, Sager delivers nets filled with these foam spheres made to withstand the rocky, dirt roads. They are emblazoned with the words, "Hope is a game-changer." As he tells the young people who receive they represent both a game and the opportunity to develop life skills.

"An indestructible ball that can't be deflated and can be played with forever represents durability, longevity, possibility and hope," says Ken Tsunoda, executive director of the Sager Family Foundation. "It can mean a lot to a kid living in really difficult places."

For Sager, that kid was a boy named Moise.

Sager met the nine-year-old in 2005 at a child soldier rehabilitation camp in northern Rwanda. He was much smaller than the other boys. Still, they quickly learned he had killed three people by his seventh birthday.

At the camp, Moise and the other children struggled to gain back some semblance of their childhood. It was a tattered ball that was Moise's greatest source of pride.

For most kids in the developing world, sporting equipment is a luxury they cannot afford. So, they make their own out of old garbage bags and rubbish tied together with fraying twine.

"If they managed to get a real, inflated ball, because they play on dirt roads strewn with rocks and debris, the balls almost always get deflated and unusable," explains Tsunoda.

Sager watched as Moise and his son spent the afternoon playing soccer with the green and black ball. Before leaving, he took a picture of the boy with his most cherished possession.

For years, the photo hung in Sager's living room. Every time he walked past he remembered the joy Moise got from the barely usable piece of equipment. He wondered what happened to both of them. He determined that even if life hadn't been kind, kids needed a ball that wouldn't let them down.

Because the indestructible ball is not inflated, it can't be punctured. At $8 (US) to produce, they replicate they size and feel of a regular ball, stand up to the makeshift soccer fields, and can be an instrumental tool for bringing youth together to have important conversations on health, education and social issues.

Sport is often seen as inconsequential in the face of pressing issues like extreme poverty, HIV/AIDS and hunger. But, around the world, soccer has enabled at-risk youth to combat these problems.

Take Tebogo Tshimane, a 13-year-old South African girl who participated in a program through Grassroots Soccer, one organization through which Sager distributes the indestructible ball. The program provides soccer skills training in an environment that facilitates open discussion about HIV/AIDS.

After completing the program, Tebogo said, "At the end of the day we all have choices and I chose to treat everyone with respect regardless of their HIV status and I have also made the choice to work hard towards my dreams."

Similarly in Zimbabwe, Grassroots Soccer reported the percentage of students who believed condoms were effective increased from 49 per cent to 71 per cent after the program was completed.

"Pro players and coaches get the kids' respect and attention," says Tsunoda. "They can be very powerful role models and mentors to the kids."

The indestructible ball just tries to make their lives easier. By ensuring children in countries like Rwanda, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan have a ball that stands up to the terrain, Sager can ensure they always have something to practice with and always have something to work towards.