One way to bring hope, joy and even peace to war-torn, ravaged countries like Rwanda and Kenya? Indestructible soccer balls.

  • Image about Bobby Sager
AS WE NEAR the kickoff of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, logic would dictate that African customs officials would be dealing with an influx of imported soccer balls. After all, Adidas, the official supplier of the FIFA World Cup ball, will be sending over hundreds for use in the two-week soccer extravaganza. But that number pales in comparison with a soccer ball of a completely different kind — one with a social conscience and a hell-bent desire to change the world, one African child soldier at a time. More impressive than the numbers (10,000 of these balls will be making their way to South Africa, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya in June), though, is the fact that this ball cannot be defeated. It is indestructible. No, really. You can’t destroy it — not even with a Mack truck. (OK, the verdict is still out on that one, but still.)

The story of the indestructible soccer ball is one of charity, photography, rock ’n’ roll and 9-year-old African soldiers. Philanthropically known as the Hope Is a Game-Changer Project (and the Hope ball by the cool kids), it is the brainchild of Bobby Sager, an American philanthropist and photographer. Sager is best known for founding the Sager Family Traveling Foundation and Roadshow, a roaming charitable organization that is to desperate, war-torn countries what Ringling Bros. is to small-town America. In 2005, Sager was in northern Rwanda when he met 9-year-old Moise, a former child soldier from the Congo who was living in a child-soldier rehabilitation camp. Despite his size — he was smaller than all the other kids — Moise had killed at least three people by the time he was 7 years old.

That fact alone is enough to haunt the average person’s nightmares for life, but there was something else that stuck with Sager, something far less sinister but perhaps every bit as sad. Sager couldn’t stop thinking about Moise’s soccer ball, a crude construction of rubbish and garbage bags tied together lifelessly with string. God only knows what this ball had been through, the turmoil it had seen, the struggles of the feet that had kicked it. But despite its battered appearance and troubled past, it was Moise’s security blanket and best friend. “What I remember most about seeing that ball was how proud he was of that possession and how he was the central figure in deciding whether or not people would start playing the game, because he had the best ball,” Sager recalls. “It felt like he took strength from having that kind of say over what was going to happen. When they weren’t playing a game and he was fooling around with it and just touching the ball, it felt a little like it was his companion. In a distant way it was like Wilson in the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away. I remember sometimes seeing his hand patting the ball like a dog.”