That was the lightbulb moment. Sager teamed up with his longtime friend Sting (yes, that Sting), whom he had met in the buffet line at the Copacabana Palace Hotel in Rio de Janeiro a decade earlier. Sting was searching for a wider application for the Police song, “Invisible Sun,” from 1981’s Ghost in the Machine, originally written about tensions in Northern Ireland, and he floated the idea to Sager about using a collection of child photographs that Sager had snapped in unsettled locales around the world, like Afghanistan, Rwanda, Pakistan and Palestine, to visually accompany the song onstage during the Police’s 2007–’08 reunion tour.
Meanwhile, Sting remembered another friend, inventor Tim Jahnigen, and threw him some of that Police reunion-tour money to get the soccer-ball project off the ground; the idea was to create an everlasting ball that would forever eradicate from Africa the makeshift numbers fashioned from discarded trash. Jahnigen then teamed up with engineer Kevin McCarthy, who had been developing the pump-free, indestructible ball prototype for about a decade, and they got down to business.
SO HOW do these little yellow “suns” work? Well, tech details are somewhat mum — the patent is still pending — but the surface wall of the Hope ball is what provides its inherent energy and response. “Unlike a pressurized ball, which can change greatly in varying temperatures or elevations, or go flat altogether, the Hope ball maintains neutral air pressure and adjusts freely to varying temperature and elevation, therefore it never needs adjustment or maintenance,” explains McCarthy. “The thick, lightweight wall construction is impervious to wear, UV [rays], water and chemicals.”
Translated from techspeak, that means revolutionary guerrillas and opposition armies are no match for its everlasting recipe. “We unleashed an entire child soldier rehabilitation camp at Lake Muhazi in Rwanda on these balls,” Sager says. “This wasn’t just nicely kicking the ball at recess. These were child soldiers kicking it like they meant it all over some really rough terrain.”
“Early tests put the ball through the harshest conditions it would face in the places it’s going to be delivered, such as rocks, glass and sharp debris,” McCarthy adds. “They’ve also done extensive puncturing with knives, ice picks and the like. Basically, the ball is totally nonpuncturable.”
Once the balls were ready for kickoff, the charitable tag team realized they needed an outlet to move them. Enter The Power of the Invisible Sun, a striking hardback coffee-table book of Sager’s photographs, of which all of the proceeds go to the Hope Is a Game-Changer Project. Retailing for $45 for the standard edition, on up to $1,500 for a large copy signed by Sting and Sager, the sale of each book funds the sending of Hope balls into far-flung, war-ravaged nations, where something as simple as a soccer ball can make unimaginable differences. “These balls are a powerful symbol of hope, but more importantly, [they’re] a delivery mechanism to teach critical life skills to children while they’re having fun,” Sager explains. “It’s that — using soccer to teach life skills — that gives this effort real substance and sustainability.”
It’s probably completely unimaginable to most people that Moise and his band of former child combatants have been changed by little more than the joy of a pickup match with an actual soccer ball that isn’t unraveling on every free kick. But then again, nothing about this story is imaginable (who thought the Police would ever reunite?).
“The idea that someone who was 7 years old could have killed people was just so extraordinary that I was kind of mesmerized,” remembers Sager. “[But] also, it was because in that raw, rough and difficult environment, he seemed so gentle.”
For more information on the Hope Is a Game-Changer Project or to buy a copy of The Power of the Invisible Sun — and to send a couple of indestructible soccer balls across the Atlantic — visit www.poweroftheinvisiblesun.com.