According to the article, regular balls are already being donated but usually go flat quickly. This basically means donations are currently being wasted. If this wasted money can be redirected into something which will not be wasted, that seems like a definite win.
Further, balls are not just used for neighborhood games, but by organizations which use football as a tool for reaching other goals. If these organization are at all helpful, scrounging in the trash for materials to make balls is probably not a good use of their time. An organization may need dozens of balls, and if a trash ball only lasts for an hour (just a guess, I've never played football with a trash ball), then they may need over a hundred of them a day. The opportunity cost of the time spent making trash balls is probably higher than the cost of these balls, especially if they can truly last for years.
You could apply the same thinking about opportunity cost to the children's time. If play is important for children and if making balls out of trash is not play, then giving them more time to focus on play is a win.
Having cool things seems to be universally enjoyable. This gives the children something cool, probably adding to the fun of playing.
Digging in the trash is probably a lot less safe than playing football.
According to the corporation's website, 20 million deflated balls are discarded in Africa every year. If these balls last longer, there will be an environmental impact.
And finally, the main ways other charity attempts backfire (economic damage, not meeting the whole need [providing things the community can't maintain/support], giving a fish instead of teaching to fish, etc) seem to just not apply.
I also live in Rwanda and whilst I don't agree with my friend's argument that playing football with a piece of trash is as much fun as playing with a real ball, I do agree with his conclusion that this a solution looking for a problem.
There's no doubt that kids will be happy if you give them a shiny new football. They'll also be happy if you give them a secondhand t-shirt or new pair of shoes. That makes for lots of donor 'feel good' and nice photos on your Facebook page, but that doesn't make it good aid.
If the priority here is to do something helpful for the developing world, and that's why they're willing to put all the required effort and money into this project, then why not start by asking the developing world what their pressing problems are? Ask a few developing country governments and see how many of them report a lack of good footballs as a pressing problem.
When people don't ask questions like that it's usually an indication that the aid is more about the donor than the recipient. This project sounds a lot like TOMS Shoes Buy One Give One which has been frequently criticized for being a donor oriented initiative with little long term benefit . It might sound completely harmless to hand out free shoes to kids, but it ends up undermining local producers and sellers, and perpetuates a 'handout' aid culture.
There are no local producers of indestructible soccer balls. What will this undermine? I'm not trying to defend all comparable initiatives. I'm trying to understand the opposition to this particular one. Tom's shoes is a completely different issue.
Further, one cannot live on soccer balls no matter how indestructible. We aren't talking about giving out food for 10 years and then expecting someone to provide for themselves. We're talking about something that, where livelihood is concerned, is completely useless. A toy. I really do not see how giving a toy could create or perpetuate an expectation of handouts for any "real" aid. And I also don't see how handouts of toys can do any harm. I'm open to being corrected. I'm just letting you know why your argument hasn't convinced me yet.
Finally, asking someone what they want is not necessarily the best way to determine how to help them. I'm not suggesting that this is the best way to help. I'm just pointing out that, "If you want to help, ask, then do that," isn't foolproof.
I mentioned TOMS shoes because I believe that the buy-one-give-one model is usually not helpful. Giving sometimes does more harm than good. 50 years ago, many African countries had booming textile industries. Most of those have completely collapsed because they can't compete with the flood of donated second-hand clothes from the west. Our good intentions have been ultimately harmful.
Your argument seems to be that since footballs don't contribute to development, then this project won't do any long term harm or good. That just seems like a great shame to me - if we're going to invest all this money and effort, can't we find something to do that brings long term good? And something that won't perpetuate the common western view of places like Africa of hungry kids needing handouts.
But you're right that asking won't always yield the best solutions - let's say then you should spend sometime getting to know the place you want to help. Not convinced that has happened with this project.