In Chicome, Mozambique, Orlando’s soccer ball is made from plastic bags twined with tree bark.
In Chicome, Mozambique, Orlando’s soccer ball is made from plastic bags twined with tree bark.

Joy Is Round

On fields throughout Africa, plastic bags, old clothes, and shredded tires transform into magic orbs—soccer balls.

Miles from the main roads, in rural Africa, soccer balls bounce unevenly. Playing fields are arid, lush, weedy, sandy—any flattish space will do. Goalposts might be made of gathered mahogany or driftwood. Some feet are bare, others shod in fraying sneakers, boots, rubber sandals. Yet children kick and chase handmade, lopsided balls with skill and abandon, competing for pride and joy—for the sheer pleasure of playing.

Has the “beautiful game” ever been lovelier?

Jessica Hilltout doesn’t think so. In 2010, when the World Cup came to Africa for the first time, the Belgium-based photographer set out to see what soccer looked like far from the bright lights and big stadiums. What she found—over seven months, ten countries, and 12,500 miles—was a grassroots game where passion trumped poverty, a do-it-yourself ethic prospered, and one ball could “bring happiness to an entire village.”

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