Five teenagers, aged between 13 and 16, from across Africa, will see their dreams come true as they head to Egypt to take part in the continent’s biggest sporting event as Total Ball Kids.
What does football mean to you? For millions of Africans, young and old, football is more than just a sport; it’s an important part of their lives that is to be shared, celebrated and enjoyed together.
This summer, five kids from Cote d’Ivoire, Madagascar, Nigeria, Algeria, and Egypt, united by their love of the beautiful game, will have the opportunity to participate in the biggest celebration of African football, the Total Africa Cup of Nations 2019, as Total Ball Kids.
The prospect is an exciting one. The Total Ball Kids will have the opportunity to travel to Egypt to actively take part in the continent’s largest footballing event and see their sporting heroes up close.
Each of them has a personal attachment to the sport, not only as a fun group activity or through the satisfaction of their team’s victory. All the Total Ball Kids say that playing football has taught them valuable lessons about personal responsibility and the importance of teamwork. They all believe that football plays a crucial rule in value transmission. As Walid, 16, from Algeria, puts it, “Football teaches us how to live and how to support each other. It’s like a school of life.”
Malak, 14, from Cairo, Egypt, agrees. “Football isn’t just a game,” she says. “It’s my whole life.” Like many of her fellow Total Ball Kids, Malak’s love of football came to her from her father, who is also a player and a coach. This initial shared enjoyment has become a lesson that she carries with her into every game: “It’s a team sport and it teaches us a lot of things, such as teamwork, what it means to lose together, and dealing with each other in all situations.”
The Total Ball Kids all have their idols. These individuals inspire them through their hard work and dedication, but the importance of the collective effort of a team is not lost on any of the kids. Jeremiah, 16 from Lagos, Nigeria, wants to imitate his idols and become a professional player and hopes to one day play for the Nigerian national team. But although the star quality of individual players has its allure, and although their unique skills may be awe-inspiring, Jeremiah’s years of training have taught him to value every member of his team. “When I score a goal, I don’t take all the credit because the goal comes from the team’s buildup,” he says. “When we celebrate, we just come together and hug each other.”
More than just a game, football has a way of uniting people around a match, inspiring them to overcome practical or interpersonal boundaries. Rija, 13, from Madagascar, explains that when it comes to football, the team spirit he enjoys in the game has also spread to other around him. “What I like about football is the sharing… Sometimes we can’t find a ball but we always find a solution. We will make one ourselves, so we can train. I like living in my neighborhood because we all help each other.”
Fanta, 14, from Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, experiences the transcendent celebrative aspect of the game whenever she plays. From the universal appeal of the game—she only needs to have a ball to get all the other children clamoring to play with her—to the joys of a victory, for Fanta, football spreads a message of unity and celebration. “Even when the other team scores,” she explains, “everyone is happy and we all dance.”
For four of the Total Ball Kids, the final of the Total African Cup of Nations will mark their first journey to Egypt. It will also be their first time experiencing football fever in another country, with fans from all over the continent. They’re all excited about seeing their country’s team succeed and sharing the atmosphere of celebration with the thousands of spectators who feel the same way.
For those who hope to one day become professionals, this is their first opportunity to be close to the action and fan excitement.