Imagine this scene in your neighborhood: A group of kids plays a pickup soccer game. They kick around the ball in the street or maybe in someone’s backyard. The ball bounces from child to child, off of feet, knees, heads.
“We look at it…as an essential tool for children who are 12 and under who live in affective poverty, war zones, disastrous, and refugee camp situations, including right here in our own country.”
Now, imagine that same scene in a war zone. In a landscape peppered with barbed wire, broken glass and thorny brush, that same soccer ball has a lifespan of about one hour.
It was this realization that led Tim Jahnigen, a former lyricist and chef, to take action. In 2006 while watching a news story on Darfur, Tim noticed children kicking around a ball of trash with a string and recognized a need for a ball that could withstand harsh conditions during play.
Tim mentioned his idea to a well-known friend from his time in the music business, Sting, who urged him to pursue the idea and provided initial funding and support.
In 2010, Tim and his wife, Lisa Tarver, launched One World Futbol Project, an organization that hopes to foster the healing power of play by producing nearly indestructible soccer balls for disadvantaged communities. Made from a unique plastic that’s lighter and more flexible than rubber — a material similar to Crocs shoes — One World Futbol never needs a pump and does not go flat, even when punctured. And trust me, I tried.
As Tim and Lisa shared their story with me, I was particularly struck by One World Futbol’s potential for healing. Lisa says research continues to show that play is one of the few forms of activity that actually helps people recover from traumatic situations. “So when children are in refugee camps or recovering from natural disasters, the opportunity for play is vital to that community’s recovery,” she explains.
One World Futbol Project operates on the “buy one, give one” model, similar to other mission-driven companies such as Toms shoes and Warby Parker. Buyers can purchase two balls for $39.95, which covers one for themselves and one to be donated to a community in need.
To date, the organization has supplied over 850,000 balls, but distribution doesn’t come without challenges. Because the balls cannot be deflated, they are significantly more expensive and difficult to ship than traditional soccer balls. And the question still remains of how something that supposedly lasts forever can be commercially viable. There’s little need to ever buy another!
Still, there’s so much hope in something as simple as a ball. Regardless of geography, kids are kids, and the enthusiasm over a soccer game played with friends is something that’s universal, from Detroit to Darfur, Miami to Malawi.