It is common for people nowadays to turn on their televisions, surf the Internet, read newspapers or magazines and find heart-wrenching stories about the plight of those living in impoverished or war-torn countries in faraway corners of the globe.

It does not matter whether it takes place in a struggling third-world nation or the inner city of a concrete jungle; these tales all resound with similar themes -- hardship, violence, disease and constant threat of death, which, for many, especially youths, are lamentable situations they must face on a daily basis.

However, there is another story that is rarely relayed by the media. It is the story of those same youths out on the streets or in the fields playing a particular sport that takes their minds off the turbulent lives surrounding them.

For most of them, it is soccer.


SacBee
Kids worldwide find respite playing the world's game


For a few hours or so each day, they do their best to ignore the sounds of gunfire or the hunger in their bellies. Instead, they focus on the game and, in the process, try to emulate the moves of the world's top soccer stars.

The ball they use may not be manufactured in a factory and easily purchased at a nearby store. This is when human ingenuity takes over as a ball is assembled from whatever is available, sometimes from rubbish, and then bound together with rope or twine.

When listening to these stories one may wonder what can be done to help those less fortunate. Donating clothes, food or money definitely helps. However, Tim Jahnigen is doing something that will have a more profound impact on the lives of children and their futures.

Through the establishment of One World Futbol Project, the man from Berkeley, California is providing impoverished youths with "the healing power of play" by making, selling and distributing a nearly "indestructible" ball that has proven to survive harsh conditions.

According to the B Corporation's mission statement, through cooperation with sponsors, governments, organizations and consumers, it is hoped that the delivery of the balls to disadvantaged communities can be used to foster social change.

Soccer is considered the world's most popular game, with a large number of people worldwide participating in the sport. While Jahnigen never played soccer, he has an even more important purpose in mind.

"I, myself, have always been an advocate of play in its purest form," Jahnigen told Yanks Abroad.

This is the story of how one man took his idea of creating a nearly indestructible soccer ball to impact the lives of millions of youths around the world.


Justin Wilkes/RadicalMedia
Tim Jahnigen and backer Sting

Inspiration for One World Futbol Project

Sudan's Darfur region has been one of the most contentious hot zones covered by the media over the past decade. A conflict between government and rebel forces, which started in February 2003, has seen countless innocent people lose their lives as warring sides seek to gain control of the area.

In addition, many displaced persons have been forced to seek shelter at refugee camps within the country and neighboring Chad in hopes of escaping the violence. Despite the efforts of the United Nations and other relief organizations, stories of mass killings, rapes, rampant violence and a lack of basic necessities in the camps has many calling it the worst humanitarian crisis in history.

Nevertheless, on the other side of those horror stories are stories of hope as Jahnigen watched a news program highlighting youths from the war-torn region playing soccer in the dirt with a ball made of trash tied together with twine.

Watching those scenes of the youths playing despite the violence around them inspired Jahnigen to establish One World Futbol Project along with his wife, Lisa Tarver, in 2010 during the FIFA World Cup in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Having an idea to create a ball that could be used by youths at any time seemed like a noble idea. But, how would he be able to pull it off? As Jahnigen shared his idea with friends and family, it seemed that it was rather crazy, but they soon started to come around.

"The first reactions I got included blank stares, raised eyebrows and piqued curiosities," he said. "These reactions came from a handful of people, who were close to me, and who really loved the sport of soccer, and something in their reactions actually told me I was, without a doubt, on to something.

"I understood in those reactions there was a difference between the sport they loved and their love of play in the form of sport," he added. "It seemed clear that it was play that was universal and unifying, not necessarily the specific sport itself."

Creating the One World Futbol Ball

Having the idea to create a nearly indestructible ball is one thing; actually developing one is another, as Jahnigen learned throughout the process of creating the One World Futbol ball.

It was not easy to find a material that would be able to withstand the elements and various surfaces as traditional hand-stitched soccer balls, which need to be pumped from time to time, can be easily damaged. However, Jahnigen was able to find a company that has worked with One World Futbol Project to create a series of One World Futbols that have been used all over the world.

"We work with a company called PopFoam," Jahnigen said. "I knew I needed to make a ball that would be flexible, yet strong, and very durable. It would need to survive the harshest of terrain, in the most challenging environments."

He saw the materials years before he had come up with idea of creating the soccer ball. It was after watching that same news program on Darfur that Jahnigen would remember the material.

With his idea and a material in mind, Jahnigen along with PopFoam set out to develop the One World Futbol. The plan was to design a ball that played like a soccer ball to replace the garbage-filled balls so often used by millions of children in impoverished areas around the world.

According to Jahnigen, what makes the One World Futbol nearly indestructible is that it is made from unique (proprietary) cross-linked, closed-cell foam that enables the ball to withstand a lot of abuse without wearing out.

"The wonderful thing about cross-linked, closed-cell foams are that they are very versatile and customizable and can be adapted to many different needs," he said.

However, the first set of balls made by the company, from a visual standpoint, were not "inspiring" as the inventor explained.

"The manufacturer had already warned us it wasn't likely that we could even make a ball out of this material. Each sample was distorted and misshapen, some looking more like eggs and pumpkins then a ball," Jahnigen explained.

Undeterred, he went ahead and bounced one of the balls on the ground to see what would happen.

"In that moment, all doubt and fear about our decision to pursue this idea evaporated," he said. "Those first prototypes actually bounced so much better than the rag balls or wads of trash, boxes, bottles, cans and the rocks that not just millions, but hundreds of millions of children use to play with every day. We were all excited and moved forward."

Jahnigen added that it took 11 months of prototyping and testing for the first set of balls. Today, One World Futbol Project has developed the fifth generation of the One World Futbol.

One World Futbol Project sells the balls through their website in two methods. People can either purchase a ball that is then given to one of the organizations working with One World Futbol Project, or they can opt for the Buy One Give One (BOGO) offering. Through BOGO, supporters can purchase a One World Futbol for themselves, which triggers a donation of another ball to an organization working with children and youth in disadvantaged communities, using play and sport to foster social change.


One World Futbol Project
Schoolchildren in Ghana showing off their soccer ball


To Rwanda...

Rwanda is another country that has received its fair share of press as the country was embroiled in a deadly civil war in the 1990s.

Once a colony of Belgium, Rwanda is now trying to heal the wounds of a bloody struggle between Hutu and Tutsi forces that led to one of the most harrowing genocides in history.

This would be the testing ground for Jahnigen's One World Futbol.

In 2009, Jahnigen's team would deliver their first set of One World Futbol prototypes to L'Esperance Children's Aid, an organization that tries to promote better relations between Hutus and Tutsis. In 2010, Jahnigen got his first reactions about ball.

"I was traveling with Sandra Cress, who heads up our work in Africa," he explained. "While there, we happened to run in to a program director who was part of the team receiving the first prototypes in 2009. I was curious how the balls were faring in the year since the balls had been delivered as many organizations had told me that once children heard that the ball was 'nearly indestructible' they might try to destroy it."

The answer Jahnigen got from the program director told him how durable the balls were.

"The director looked at me and was shocked," he said. "He then proudly told me that not only did the program still have all 100 balls, but also the children would wash them every night after play and put them away in a locked shed."

The durability of those 100 One World Futbols allowed the director to save valuable resources for the rest of the program instead of purchasing 1,000 balls per year.

Jahnigen said for those youths, who had lived through years of conflict and hardship, the One World Futbol was more than just a ball -- it was a precious resource.

..And Beyond

After receiving positive feedback on the status of the balls in Rwanda, One World Futbol Project has gone on to extend their outreach their global network of partner organizations.

From Mexico to Kenya, Brazil to Thailand, One World Futbol Project has delivered balls to countless non-profit organizations, helping them promote their causes to a wider audience.

One of those organizations is the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a non-profit wildlife conservancy based in Kenya.

According to the organization's mission statement, it works to conserve wildlife as well as generate income through wildlife tourism and complementary enterprises for re-investment in conservation and community development.

In one of their many efforts, Ol Pejeta is fighting to end illegal poaching. As part of its community outreach program, the organization is working with youths to educate them about the importance of conservation.

One way they are trying to get their message across is through soccer. Thanks to One World Futbol Project's donation of One World Futbols, the Conservancy is getting its message across.

"We believe that the long-term success of conservation and protection of wildlife lies with educating children on the importance of the natural world," said Kevin Wabungo, Ol Pejeta's Tourism Coordinator.

"Soccer for the children here is more than just a game - keeping our youth active results in healthy minds and engaged communities. We are using soccer and One World Futbols in schools like Thigithi Secondary School to raise awareness about conservation issues, including the destruction that poaching causes, and inspiring youth to take an active role in the conservation of wildlife in the areas they live."

Another organization that has benefited from One World Futbol Project's support is Soccer Without Borders. The U.S.-based organization offers opportunities for disadvantaged youths around the world through soccer. It is the goal of the organization to help those youths overcome their obstacles to achieve growth, inclusion and personal success.

"Our programs engage youth who are typically excluded from formal opportunities to play and learn outside the classroom, with an emphasis on working with refugee youth and providing opportunities for girls to play. Using soccer as a platform, we work to support youth in a holistic way, helping them achieve growth, inclusion and personal success," said Ben Gucciardi, Founding Director of Soccer Without Borders.

"Our alliance with One World Futbol Project has played an important role for the development of our programs and our efforts to reach more youth especially at our international program sites," he added. "Just like a hammer can't build a house by itself, soccer on its own cannot develop children. You need quality, committed and consistent coaches who are supporting youth on and off the field, and you need to form ongoing relationships with young people that last over time."

Gucciardi said that because the One World Futbol was designed to play in the harshest environments, it has become a tool that Soccer Without Borders uses effectively and, for an extended period of time in their programs both in the U.S. and internationally, to make a life-changing impact on the lives of young people.

One World Futbol Project's work with Coaches Across Continents has helped the nonprofit organization in its efforts to help young people in developing communities to become modern leaders.

"We use soccer, play and sport to foster social impact - and the One World Futbol is helping us tackle real social issues children and youth face on a daily basis," said Nick Gates, Coaches Across Continents' Founder and Global Strategist.

Gates said he took the One World Futbol with him everywhere as it helps his organization to change lives.

"We've seen girls in Marsabit (Northern Kenya) who have suffered atrocities, including rape and genital mutilation, regain their voice and become more confident. We've been able to use soccer to welcome child soldiers back to their communities. Knowing that the ball is nearly indestructible goes a long way in helping Coaches Across Continents create locally-owned and sustainable community programs," he added.


One World Futbol Project
The project has reached kids in dozens of countries, including these children in Uganda


Backing from a world-renowned musician

Of course Jahnigen's idea to create the One World Futbol could not have been completed without the support of close friends. As a music producer, he would find initial support from his friends in the music industry.

It would be Grammy-award winning musician Sting who would provide Jahnigen with the initial funding to create the prototype One World Futbol.

He got to know the English-born singer-songwriter and Newcastle United fan as he helped produce the bi-annual Rainforest Fund Concert.

"Sting was telling my wife Lisa and I that some friends had just financed the construction of a soccer field in Gaza," he said. "I told him about my idea for a nearly indestructible soccer ball. When Sting heard about my vision for this ultra-durable ball, he provided the initial funding to do the R&D for a prototype of the One World Futbol."

According to Jahnigen, a song written by Sting was also the inspiration for the name of the company and the ball - "One World (Not Three)."

In addition to Sting's early support, One World Futbol Project has partnered with Chevrolet. The automaker has pledged to distribute 1.5 million One World Futbols over a three-year period through One World Futbol Project's network of organizations that work with disadvantaged communities.



One World Futbol Project
Boys and girls in Myanmar are all smiles

The global impact of One World Futbol Project

From what was just an idea, Jahnigen and his team at One World Futbol Project have created something that has not only given youths the opportunity to play the sport they love, it has also helped organizations to put their funding into other areas instead of spending money every year on replacing damaged soccer balls.

Having celebrated its third anniversary last year, One World Futbol Project has distributed more than 750,000 balls and has impacted the lives of an estimated 21 million youths in that time.

One World Futbol Project is not resting on its laurels. Last month, the B Corporaton announced its partnership with RHIEM Group, an e-commerce and fulfillment specialist based in Germany, in opening a European distribution center.

With the opening of the new distribution center, it will make it easier for customers in Europe, Africa and the Middle East to purchase the nearly indestructible ball.

For Jahnigen, the success of the ball has gone way beyond his expectations.

"For me, and for our incredible team, it's hard to believe it's already been three years since we first launched One World Futbol Project," he said. "The challenges have been tougher than we expected, but in terms of the high point: the impact this ball is having has been far greater than we could have hoped for.

"This idea - this ball - was inspired by one of humanity's most threatened and neglected fundamental needs: Play and the universal need to do it," he added.

As for Jahnigen himself, starting One World Futbol Project has changed his life in many ways.

"Starting the One World Futbol Project has changed my life in every way and has also helped me to discover the truth about skills and abilities I always had but wasn't aware of," he said. "In other words, while I still have so much to learn about the creative process, manifesting ideas and running a business, I've learned anyone using common sense, who is determined and who injects a sense of humor can do more than they ever thought possible.

"We are just at the beginning of this incredible journey - a journey that is much more than what this ball is - it's what the ball lets us do," added Jahnigen. "The One World Futbol is a catalyst for change, collaboration and community in the countries and regions where we've distributed balls and in the many countries and regions to come. The One World Futbol is the ball that our children's children will play with."