SAO PAULO – Poor children around the globe come up with creative ways to make their own footballs, kicking rolled up tape, fishing nets or even broken off dolls' heads to play the world's most popular sport.
An indestructible blue ball being distributed in needy regions holds quite a promise for such kids: It will never pop, even when kicked over shards of glass or rocks. It will never wear out, even under extreme temperatures.
Lisa Tarver and husband Tim Jahnigen set out to distribute their One World Futbols to children who have never had a decent ball, or if they did, it deflated or shredded after a few weeks of play on rough surfaces. In just four years — the cycle between World Cups — they have shipped more than 850,000 soccer balls. They estimate more than 30,000,000 children have played with them.
Some 15,000 One World Futbols have gone to Brazil, host country of the World Cup kicking off Thursday.
Jahnigen and Tarver, from the San Francisco Bay Area, sell the balls for $39.50 and donate one for every one purchased. In addition, they work directly with charities and sponsors to get balls to the neediest areas. They have sent balls to children in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, to war-torn towns in Africa and to remote villages in the Brazilian rain forest.
"I love it, having traveled to different parts of the world and seeing how inventive kids get with soccer balls," said Julie Foudy, a former U.S. national team midfielder and TV analyst whose own kids use the ball. "... It's not until you go abroad and you see — remember Sissi who played for Brazil? — Sissi always tells a story how for a soccer ball when she was younger they would take a doll's head, they'd rip the doll off the doll's head and they'd wrap tape around the head and that became their ball."
This ball never goes flat, inflates itself after losing air and remains playable even if punctured, thanks to closed cell foam and similar material to those popular rubber Crocs sandals. That means no extra equipment required, such as a pump or needle. The balls also can be used for other sports such as volleyball.
"The ball is great. I'm fortunate to be involved with a lot of things that I'm passionate about, helping in ways that go beyond the soccer field, so I enjoy it," said American star Landon Donovan, the L.A. Galaxy forward.
In Brazil, One World Futbol has partnered with several organizations to run programs during the World Cup. Tarver will be in the country for two weeks.
The organization Lionsraw will be operating out of Curitiba, bringing volunteers together to promote change for young people and teach children and youth about health, gender respect and tolerance using sports and the One World Futbols. Futebol Social is working throughout the country to help homeless youth transform their lives through the positive influence of soccer.
One World Futbol founding sponsor, Chevrolet, will be handing out about 5,300 balls to organizations and schools across Brazil.
And there are others, like Love.Futbol, making similar distributions in communities with new fields or those nearly complete at Curitiba and near Sao Paulo's Itaquerao stadium. Brazil hosts Croatia there Thursday night in the World Cup opener.
"What we see is the programs that are working with the most at-risk communities in the world, and for the first time can continue their programs year-round because they don't have to stop every few weeks and wait another month or two or three months until a ball can be purchased or a ball is donated before they can continue," Tarver said.
She recently visited Haiti, where a coach named Honoré Ernso at the country's largest slum — Cité Soleil in the Port-au-Prince area — used to have just one ball and would be forced to stop coaching if there was a problem with it. Tarver met him at a clinic on a previous trip, then found him again in May, when she delivered more balls.
"He's been able to keep those practices going and he's doing it from the good of his heart," Tarver said. "Those kids are going to school and going to his soccer trainings. That was just amazing."