A round orb capable of bouncing from point A to point B and everywhere in between may seem like nothing more than a child’s simple play thing, but we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss its value in the cultural fabric of our global society. The humble ball was a universal form of entertainment and recreation long before video game joysticks and iPods became the apple of our collective eyes, but with rates of childhood obesity running rampant in the western world, perhaps “kicking it old school” really is the cure to all that ails us. As two international eco-minded organizations are proving, the secret to resurrecting this perennial childhood favorite is not in flashy graphics and branding, but simply in their trash-to-treasure sensibility.
Ragballs cost just under $10.
Unplug Design Studio tackles the clever eco-makeover of this outdoor staple with its Dream Ball, which injects a little joy into the lives of children from Third World countries who are not typically able to fully embrace their innocence due to the harsh realities of war, chronic poverty and climate change. Families fortunate enough to have access to a Red Cross or UN aid box (which is typically made of flexible cardboard) can now help their children follow simple illustrated instructions that enable them to transform their relief aid packaging into a woven ball of varying sizes, depending on the sport in which they want to engage. Aid organization workers can also help in the creative process of fashioning a Dream Ball, offering children a pleasant distraction that also happens to be bare-foot-friendly, a key factor among those with compromised backgrounds who lack access to proper sports footwear. Hard to imagine that an idea like that could be improved on, but Ragball International has devised an equally impressive yet entirely unique recreational ball concept with a twist. Allying itself with 22 South African youth throughout the course of their school careers, the company charges them with the task of locating as many pieces of wayward street trash as they can find, including newspapers, plastic and discarded mesh produce bags. Once the children collect a sufficient volume of raw materials, they take on the role of artisans who stuff the mesh bags with just the right mix of waste materials to create perfectly bouncy balls. Sold for $9.99 via the Ragball International website, each handcrafted final product is adorned with the personal information and future goals of the child who created it. As long as this select group continues committing to academic success by staying in school and achieving good grades, the organization earmarks profits earned from the sale of their Ragballs toward their future. All of this from materials that we traditionally perceive as garbage? Wow… perhaps all of us could benefit from a refresher course in precisely what items are truly worthy of a final resting place in our trashcans. It is worth noting that Ragball International goes the extra mile by instilling its program participants with financial planning skills as well as commonsense entrepreneurial know-how that can be applied throughout the journey of their lives. Given the extraordinary success of this empowering program, Ragball International is currently in the midst of expanding to other African nations such as Ethiopa, Namibia and Zimbabwe, as well as South America. Unplug Design Studio’s idea, while simple in comparison, still deserves praise because it offers a silver lining for children that far too often experience overcast skies teeming with storm clouds. Sometimes the very best concepts become extraordinary with the right heart behind them. In both cases, the humble ball takes on the role of fairy godmother, reminding children on the other side of the world that the magic of their youth can be momentarily restored with a simple smile and a romp with their friends in the great outdoors. Kicking it old school, indeed. Bring on the garbage!