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Joy is Round: Children in Rural Africa Have the Will to Find a Way to Play Soccer (PHOTOS)

Photo credit: Jessica Hilltout

© Jessica Hilltout/National Geographic

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?

But the reality is, in some countries, soccer is hardly just a game. Soccer joy is about more than just soccer, and it changes the children who play it by giving them much more than only joy.

“It is the passion of everyone here,” said Abubakari Abdul-Ganiyu, a teacher who oversees youth clubs in Tamale, Ghana, in the February issue of National Geographic. “It pleases us and unifies us. The moment there is a match, we throw away all our quarrels.”

He adds: “Most clubs don’t allow boys to play if they don’t go to school. We’re trying our best to mold young people and make them responsible in society. So for us, soccer is also a tool for hope.”

Read the full story at NationalGeographic.com and take a peek at some of the story’s photos here:


  • Joy is Round 1 of 6
    Joy is Round
    Bound with rope, plastic bags equal a ball in Bibiani, Ghana.

    Photo credit: © Jessica Hilltout/National Geographic
    All images are from the February issue of National Geographic magazine.
  • Treasure from Trash 2 of 6
    Treasure from Trash
    Carlos Ribeiro stands on a ball he made from rubbish in Inharrime, Mozambique, where boys learn to make balls at age five.

    Photo credit: © Jessica Hilltout/National Geographic
    All images are from the February issue of National Geographic magazine.
  • Michael Sarkodie 3 of 6
    Michael Sarkodie
    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.

    Photo credit: © Jessica Hilltout/National Geographic
    All images are from the February issue of National Geographic magazine.
  • Soccer Shoes 4 of 6
    Soccer Shoes
    Mensah Dosseh bought his soccer shoes at a market in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, then adorned them with the name of his favorite team—Barcelona.

    Photo credit: © Jessica Hilltout/National Geographic
    All images are from the February issue of National Geographic magazine.
  • Petit Poto 5 of 6
    Petit Poto
    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."

    Photo credit: © Jessica Hilltout/National Geographic
    All images are from the February issue of National Geographic magazine.
  • National Geographic February 2013 6 of 6
    National Geographic February 2013
    For the full story and more gorgeous images on Soccer Joy, visit NationalGeographic.com .

    Photo credit: National Geographic

All images and captions used with permission from National Geographic

More from Meredith on Babble’s Mom blog:

Read (even) more from Meredith at Babble’s Toddler blog, follow her on Twitter, and check out her weekly column on the Op-Ed page of The Denver Post at MeredithCarroll.com

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