On fields throughout Africa, plastic bags, old clothes, and shredded tires transform into magic orbs—soccer balls.
1. In Chicome, Mozambique, Orlando’s soccer ball is made from plastic bags twined with tree bark.
2. “This is what goes on here every day at 5 p.m.,” Jessica Hilltout says of this scene in rural Ghana. “In every village, no matter the size, there are numerous soccer fields. And no matter where I was, as the sun would set, I witnessed moments of magic: people united around a ball after a hard day’s work. Football is one of life’s essentials, like food and water.”
3. Before his school day starts in Gondola, Mozambique, 13-year-old Isaac demonstrates his ballmaking technique. Using yarn, worn fabric, and an inflated condom, he can make a soccer ball in about 30 minutes.
4. Bound with rope, plastic bags equal a ball in Bibiani, Ghana.
5. In urban Kumasi, Ghana, factory-made balls abound. Michael Sarkodie holds one on the Anokye Stars field. Sani Pollux started the club in 1956. “Soccer keeps them out of trouble,” he says of the 150 boys he coaches.
6. A golden plastic trophy is proudly displayed in a home in Lomé, Togo.
7. Handwritten journals helped Hilltout explain and document her project. At the top of this entry is a promise she made to herself to return to Africa with new balls and equipment. A year later she did just that.
8. Carlos Ribeiro stands on a ball he made from rubbish in Inharrime, Mozambique, where boys learn to make balls at age five.
9. Young Thandile keeps his head in the game for South Africa’s Cape Town Stars.
10. Players in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, aim the ball at this petit poto, or mini-goal—two and a half feet high and wide. “You don’t need to be rich or have a manicured pitch to play soccer,” says historian Peter Alegi. “You just need a flat space and a makeshift ball.”