The Joy A Soccer Ball Brings To Kids In Darfur Is Unbelievable – And Makes Me Think Our Kids Lack Perspective

After reading the most amazing story in the New York Times today, I am reminded of how important it is to constantly remember how lucky I am, and teach my children to count their blessings. Also, if I ever hear another chorus of “I’m bored” from the children in my life again – I am going to freak out.

When Tim Janigen, an Engineer from Berkeley California, saw a documentary about children in Darfur who found some comfort and happiness playing soccer with balls made out of garbage and string – he was inspired to help build a more durable toy. It turns out the kids were resorting to these materials because the balls donated by relief organizations would usually deflate within 24-hours – owing to the harsh terrain they played on. Kicking a ball provided the children a joy that was impossible to come by – and they would “play with practically anything that approximated a ball.”

My toddler has a room full of toys, and some days he can’t find one that holds his interest. My stepdaughter regularly complains of “being bored” when she visits, even though she is flanked by every modern luxury and convenience you can think of to keep her happy and occupied. The thought of children in war-torn parts of the world being so desperate for solace that they can imagine a toy into any trash they find in the street, not only breaks my heart – it makes me think that I have to work really hard to make sure my kids understand perspective – and how lucky they are.

This story reminded me how important it is to teach our children about the way other children around the world live – and the circumstances they have to endure. It is also a reminder that one person can make a huge difference in the lives of many. Mr. Janigen – funded by Sting (yes, the singer) – created a prototype of a ball that is basically indestructible. It is made of the same type of durable plastic that is found in Crocs. It is a solid mass, that never deflates. The NYT reports that “by his estimate, the ball can last for 30 years, eliminating the need for thousands of hand-sewn leather balls that are typically donated by relief agencies.” One man’s inspiration and drive made that happen. Pretty inspiring.

It is unbelievable that most children in this country could give you a laundry list of things that they want – even though their bedrooms probably resemble an independent toy store. Learning about how children in the roughest of circumstances can find joy could do wonders for our kids.

“A child can play to their heart’s content where there are no content hearts,” Janigen told the NYT. “We don’t understand that having a ball is like the best PlayStation 3 or a rocket to Mars.”

(photo: andrej_sv/



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  • miliotisa1

    As someone who played soccer with stomped soft drink cans as a gradeschooler during lunch breaks (we weren’t poor, the teachers simply wouldn’t give us balls for recess so we had to improvise :p) I can definitely understand the fun in playing soccer even with a pile of garbage.

    On the other hand, I had a pile of toys too (can I get a “wut wut” for the Green Power Ranger and Dragonzord!), I had a playstation, back then it was just ps1, I had a gameboy too. I for a time would love soccer just as much if not more so than these things….but alas, around age 12 or so, it stopped being mentally stimulating enough so I focused more on things such as trading card games and complex role playing videogames and Japanese animation among other things.

    Kids nowadays are bored cause they live in worlds of magic and adventure, they deal with planets exploding and katana blades having the power to chop mountains in half. They turn to dragons and rain flames upon the wicked and they grow angel wings and shine the light of life upon the dead. Of COURSE bland old reality would be boring in comparison to these amazing things. It’s not a show of how spoiled they are as much as a show of the level that we’re currently at in our entertainment.