It’s Christmas morning. You’ve been up all night wrapping the presents you’ve painstakingly researched and carefully chosen for your two-year-old. Then, after the sound and fury of tearing paper settles down, the new toys wind up hidden under a mountain of crumpled Santa Claus faces while your daughter happily spends the morning playing with an empty toy box.
It never ceases to amaze me how kids will create whatever they need to play with from nothing. Kids just love to play. And, more than that, they need to play. It’s GOOD for them. It helps them to learn and grow and — when things are hard — it can help them to heal.
With FIFA’s World Cup underway, soccer’s been on my mind lately, and, thinking of innovative kids, play, and soccer, I remembered this amazing National Geographic story about photojournalist Jessica Hilltout. She travelled to ten different countries in Africa to investigate “grassroots” football where she found kids doing just what kids do — making something from nothing so they could play.
Using rags, nylons, tires, tree bark, plastic bags, string — even condoms — kids proudly made their own footballs and got on with their games.
Humbled by the experience, Hilltout explained, “The people I met do so much with so little. It’s easy to look at a tattered ball and feel sadness. My aim was to make you look at the ball and feel uplifted.” (You can see all of Hilltout’s photos in an online version of her beautiful book Amen: Grassroots Football.)
Encouraging and supporting kids’ need to play is what drove One World Futbol Project founder Tim Jahnigen to create the world’s most durable soccer ball.
In 2006, he saw footage of kids in a Darfur refugee camp playing soccer with a homemade ball. Moved and inspired, he made a self-inflatable football that could survive snafus like barbed-wire fences, rubble-strewn playing surfaces, and even lions named Triton.
This may seem a little over the top, but Jahnigen wanted to make sure kids could play the sport they loved so much in very dangerous, difficult life situations like refugee camps, war-zones, or disaster areas — situations where play is especially important, since for kids “play is the most healing therapy.”
Uncharted Play founders Jessica Matthews and Julia Silverman were also inspired by kids’ play. They created the Sockket, a soccer ball that converts kinetic energy that’s built up when the ball’s in play into electric energy that can be used later to power small appliances. Or to power the LED lamp that comes with each ball.
Half an hour of playing with a Soccket means you’ll be able to read or study for three hours after it gets dark. In some areas of the world, where access to power is an issue, this can make a huge difference to kids and their families.
Both the One World Futbol Project and Uncharted Play support initiatives to help kids in need around the world. And they do it through things kids naturally are drawn to: sport and play.
Which brings us back to you and your kids. World Cup’s is happening. Want to learn how to make a homemade soccer ball with your kids? Here’s a great tutorial. Or you can let this young man teach you:
Either way, what a great opportunity to get out and play…
All in-text images from ‘Amen: Grassroots’ Football © Jessica Hilltout
Image of Lisa Tarver © One World Futbol Project
Image of Sockket ball © Uncharted Play