In 1994, the conflict between ethnic groups in Rwanda led to a mass genocide. In just 100 days, the Hutu-led government and ethnic militias killed 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Neighbors, friends, and families turned on each other. Children watched as their parents were tortured and killed. Many youth were abducted or forced to join the conflict—and had killed several people before they reached the age of 10.
By the end of the genocide, nearly 75 percent of the Tutsi population had been murdered. Still today, Rwanda struggles with the aftermath of the massacre and tensions between the ethnic groups.
Their Most Precious Resource
Espérance is an organization working to help bridge the gap between the Hutu and Tutsis through education and social programs focused around soccer. In 2009, 100 of the first prototype One World Futbols were delivered to an Espérance program that uses soccer to reconcile ethnic conflict of Rwanda, promote social inclusion, and raise awareness of other pressing issues, such as AIDS.
During the 2010 World Cup in Johannesburg, One World Futbol Project founder Tim Jahnigen had a chance meeting with an Espérance program director. Tim was curious how the balls were faring in the year since the balls had been delivered—many organizations had told him that once children heard that the ball was “nearly indestructible” they might try to destroy it.
When Tim asked about the balls, and whether the children had tried to destroy them, the director was shocked. Destroy them? He proudly told Tim 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 first 100 balls also kept the director from having to purchase 1,000 balls per year, saving valuable resources for the rest of their programs. The director said the One World Futbols were helping to heal his children.
For these children and youth, who had lived through years of conflict and hardship, the One World Futbol was more than just a ball—it was their most precious resource. The ball brought them hope, joy and relief from the struggles of daily life. They would never think to destroy something so cherished and so important to them. That is the healing power of play.