Back to top

JESSICA HILLTOUT in ASHEVILLE, North Carolina to talk about her project AMEN-Grassroots football in Africa.


The first time I heard from Chris Bean was in August 2010, it was the World Cup in South Africa.  I had just finished an 8 month photographic trip through 8 different African countries capturing people's passion for football on the continent. I had just self-published my book AMEN-grassroots football and was excited to be in Cape Town for my first solo exhibition.

Chris, based in Asheville, US, came across an article regarding my project in the Tampa Bay  Times, and he contacted me via email offering financial help should I return to Africa for the 2nd part of my trip. This was to give back to all those who had trusted me.   We have been in contact ever since.  

Without ever having met me in person, Chris gave his kind support by buying my air ticket back to Ghana for the ‘give back project’.  He also ordered a number of AMEN books as a coorporate gift for his clients.  Most touching of all, was Chris's financial support for Ganiyu Abubakari’s studies and family.  Ganiyu was a key person in my project in Ghana. He helped me explain the project to local people and was a  wonderfull traveling companion.  These contacts have formed lasting bonds - Chris, Ganiyu and I are still in contact today. 


Two years ago I was in New York where I shared my photographic project - AMEN-grassroots football.  Despite having few contacts there, supporters helped organize spontaneous talks in various informal places around the city for very different groups of people.  It was just amazing! The people I met and the exchanges we had were wonderful.  The trip was definitely the highlight of my year.

I am now planning another trip to talk about AMEN-grassroots football for Asheville, finally I will get to meet Chris in person! 

As my book was self-published distribution has been a challenge, so the best way to spread the word about the project is through talks…. Furthermore these talks are a wonderful way of exchanging thoughts about the world and meeting people.


I am more than happy to share my experience with groups of min 12-15 people.  The talks can be done anywhere granted there is electricity and a sheet or a white wall to project my images.  They are suitable for all age groups, for football lovers or non-football lovers, for people who have traveled or others who have never left their own country.   


The talks, accompanied by a slide show, last 50 minutes with time for questions.  I take the audience through my trip chronologically and share the many magical anecdotes I have of my 8 months on the road through various countries in Southern and Western Africa.  I talk about the planning of my trip, about the fears and challenges I faced, and my work methodology, which I discovered on the road.

I speak of the power of the ball and the beautiful game whether it be in professional clubs or small rural villages.  Here football is not just a game, it is the glue that binds village to village, team to team, tribe to tribe and people to people.  In my work I embrace Africa and everything that makes it unique for me.  To speak of the authenticity and sheer ingeniousness of a continent that manages to do so much with so little.  To capture people with simple needs and huge hearts.  To express football in its purest form.

When I got home after my 8 month journey my head and heart were full of life lessons and beautiful memories. This project continued to live inside me and still does.   I would love to share some of these moments with you.


After each talk Im happy to sign books for those who wish. 

The hard cover book sells for $60 ($5 are donated back to local football clubs in Africa).  Joy is round poster of balls $20.





 Christopher Bean or Jessica Hilltout





Back to top

LA GALERIE SANS NOM - EXPOSITION du 12 au 21 Octobre 2012


Depuis de nombreuses années, Sylvie van Lerberghe et Barbara Stas de Richelle investissent occasionnellement des lieux insolites et mythiques en cours de réhabilitation à Bruxelles pour y organiser un évènement artistique : une "grande exposition collective" autour d'un thème différent à chaque expo. Chaque exposition de la Galerie Sans Nom regroupe peintres et sculpteurs de talent dont le choix n'est guidé que par leurs coups de coeur et pour l'amour de l'art.

Présent lors de l'exposition d'art contemporain d'octobre 2012 à Bruxelles







Back to top

Part II of MY PROMISE ... back to Orlando ... the little boy of the cover of AMEN.


Its was Jan 2009 when I first started my project AMEN about football in Africa, here I am three years later and the heart of the project is still beating strongly, in fact I couldn't quite imagine my life without it.

It always takes me a while to digest things.  Back from Mozambique after part II of my PROMISE and I'm just realizing how amazing this project has been.  Not only for me as an artist, but for my football friends who received equipment to keep playing the game they love, and not to forget all the people who have written to me because in some way they were touched by the project.

I want to share my struggles with you, as its often what I find interesting in other people's stories... and it gets things off my chest.

During the World Cup in South Africa FIFA ordered numerous copies of my book to give to the delegates.  They wrote a letter inside the book which basically adressed the rest of Africa, all those talented players who start with nothing.  It was often called Africa's cup, yet in my mind the whole continent was left out.  One could only buy tickets if one had a VISA card... imagine that.  They chose Shakira to sing at the opening ceremony when there are so many talented African artists.  And the list goes on.  Anyway my book was perfect for FIFA, as it spoke of all of the people that had been left out and forgotten.  They also jumped on the occasion to do a good deed... which was to fullfill my Promise (page 208 o AMEN book) to give back to all those in the book.  I was over the moon when I heard I would receive equipment.  I received from Adidas a very generous donation of 450 pairs of boots, shin pads and socks and 450 balls to distribute. 

Later, after the Cup was over and all the projectors were dimmed, the time came for me to get the equipment to the people.  I had always assumed they would help with the travel expenses and that in return I would provide them with a beautiful reportage of the emotional moments.  Silly naive me... they wouldn't participate in any costs.  In fact they didn't care.  It seemed like as far as they were concerned I could throw everything in the sea.  For them the importance was to look good during the World Cup.  I simply don't get it.  Multi million organizations who make a donation and just don't care if it gets into the hands of those that need it.  Its purely just to better their image.  To be honest it makes me furious, yet Im helpless.

So despite me struggling to make ends meet with this project, I managed to raise money for my travel expenses to deliver most of the equipment.  In Jan 2011  about 300 of those items were distributed in West Africa and  it has taken me until now to save up for my expenses to get back to Mozambique.  Sadly I didn't have enought money to get back to all the villages I worked in as it was just too far and petrol and the rental of a van were very expensive.  Maybe there will be a part III as I do have a little equipment remaining.

Here is the story of my travels with my little tribe.




see orlando

seb words

hand out


Back to top

AMEN Exhibition in Gap France (7 Mai to 2nd July)

Back to top


London expo

Back to top

The Story of the AMEN Promise

front page, promise succesful

It was February 2010 and we were putting the last bits of the AMEN book together. It seemed essential to write about all those whose faces adorn the AMEN book. Without them AMEN wouldn’t be what it is.

Deep inside I thought; ‘It’s amazing, people with little give so much and rarely expect anything in return. Many who do projects in third world countries say they will go back to give back, but they rarely do.’

I decided to write on the last page of the AMEN book

“I PROMISE, I HOPE. I hope to be able to go back with 450 balls, boots, shin pads and socks so they can keep playing the game. I left my van in Accra, Ghana for that very purpose. It’s waiting to be filled up, not just with petrol”.

Two weeks before the start of the World Cup FIFA approached us for an order of books. A letter was written in each book that spoke about Africa… ironically the forgotten continent of this ‘African’ World Cup.

The last line of the letter states

‘In AMEN Jessica Hilltout captures the imagination and energy of the African people and shares precious moments with us. She dreamt the dream and we are fulfilling it with her. The van she left in Accra will be filled up with balls, boots, socks and shin pads so that we can inspire renewed hope in these young players’.

letter fifa

Six months later Adidas had supplied the equipment that had been promised to me by FIFA. It seems simple, but it was far from that.

The equipment arrived in Accra and was kept in customs for close to three months. It was very difficult for me to understand how big companies like Adidas and FIFA couldn’t get a donation through customs. The money spent to pay customs storage was shocking and could have been spent much more wisely.

Anyway you live and learn.

One thing is for sure, I was deeply grateful for what I had received. I would make sure it was distributed in the best possible way. Thank you Adidas.

the boxes

I also received smaller donations from individuals who were touched by the project and spontaneously contacted me wanting to help. I was deeply moved by their efforts. One can receive heaps of equipment from multinational companies who don’t seem to care emotionally and be very thankful but not necessarily emotionally moved. Or one can receive 50 balls and 4 pumps from America where the Caplan family motivated a school to raise money to buy balls and ship them. These individuals went out of their way to help in anyway they could. It makes me deeply emotional.

Below is a list of the people who spontaneously contributed to the AMEN Promise in their own way.

Sarah Caplan and her sons donated 50 balls and 4pumps through their school.

Chris Bean president of Alltec Corporation supported the Promise by paying for my air ticket to Ghana.

Reni Witt donated some money that enabled me to buy 8 pumps.

Alain Lempol’s football team in Belgium collected about 10 pairs of second hand boots and other bits and bobs.

I thank you all deeply.

spontaneous donation

I arrived in Accra and my great friend Ganiyu from Tamale came to join me. We were to accomplish this mission together.

After a week of waiting in Accra going through all sorts of emotions the equipment was released and we had exactly 2 weeks to cover over 3000km to get to 8 teams / clubs / villages in Ghana, 4 villages in Burkina Faso and 3 teams in Togo to distribute more than 700kg of equipment.

I didn’t yet realise it, but there was no way I was going to be able to cover all of the above in the little time I had.

Ivory Coast was unfortunately not going to be possible given the political situation.

Equipment for Mozambique and Malawi will be distributed next year as I was 6 months pregnant and the roads in those countries were not suitable in my condition.


My plan for distribution was to give most of the boots, shin pads and socks to two clubs in which two human beings had deeply touched me. I knew that I was giving the equipment to people that would cherish it and use it judiciously. These two clubs together represent over 350 kids.

Anokye Stars FC run by Sani Pollux and Great Eagles FC run by Ganiyu Abubakari are two juvenile football clubs of which there are thousands in Africa.

These clubs give young children a better life through football. Most of the famous African players start in these types of places. These clubs survive with very little means and a lot of belief, solidarity, discipline, pride and dedication.

These clubs are run by a handful of unpaid people. They are devoted to the club purely out of passion for the game and in the belief that it benefits people, families and communities. Their relationships to the children often go far beyond that of a football club. These little clubs are like schools of life. They often play a bigger role in the children’s upbringing than parents who don’t have much time as they are struggle with other priorities.

Anokye StarsGreat Eagles

There were no words to describe the emotion when the equipment arrived in both clubs. Sani was holding his tears back, Ganiyu’s beautiful white smile jumped out of his dark face. I could see that to them it was some kind of miracle fallen from the sky, they couldn’t quite believe it. We opened the first box of boots. Each was individually wrapped in a shoe box (you rarely see that here). The smell of new, untouched leather flooded the room. The shin pads were also individually wrapped in plastic, as were the socks. Everything was new, brand spanking new! It was all quite surreal. Silence filled the room. Then there was the footballs, real Jabulani balls, from the World Cup in South Africa, also all wrapped in plastic. ‘These balls you can’t get them here in Ghana, only the fake made in China ones’ said Sani.


Sani said the biggest donation the club ever received was 30 pairs of ‘home-used’ (second hand) boots.

I was slowly starting to realise that me, little Jessi, had actually done something quite big for these 2 clubs.

Next came the task of going through everything and finding out how they envisaged the distribution to the children. I had imagined over the last months this moment, I had created somewhat clichéd images in my mind of this great moment of joy when kids try on boots and run all over the field crazy with joy. I had imagined the photographs I could take.

Needless to say things weren’t as I had expected, but they taught me a lesson that was deeply touching.

Bye bye sani

I had imagined each child would receive a pair of boots and that they would then belong to him. Sani and Ganiyu looked quite bewildered by my suggestion. They proceeded to explain that the donation they had received was so great that they wanted to use the equipment in the most judicious and long lasting way possible. They said; ‘The children aren’t responsible enough to own the boots, if we give them each a pair in 6 months they will be spoiled. They will wear them all the time, even to go to school’. The plan was that the boots belong and are run by the clubs in the best interest of the boys. Each pair will be numbered. They will generally be used on Thursdays and Fridays before matches that take place on weekends where they will also use them. So it’s a little bit like a special dress one only wears for church on Sunday. This means the 150 pairs given to each club could last them more than 5 years.

An official ceremony was organised. A table was placed under a tree on the field. Boots, shin pads, socks and balls were neatly placed on the table in their wrapping. The local photographer was present to record this great moment. The children and key members of the club and I all sat in a circle. The equipment was handed over in true World Cup fashion with the handshake and the posed photograph to go with it. I received a traditional Ashanti Garment as a thank you.

official ceremony


So things were not quite as I had expected in the sense that capturing the euphoria was not going to happen, but it was better. Their joy and appreciation was going to be one that will last many years, and my memories of the moment were in my heart and not on film.

Once the bulk had been given to the clubs I headed on with Ganiyu to get to all the small villages I had worked in. In these villages the plan was to give back balls only. In these villages football is played in a more informal manner. They play the game to distract themselves after a long day farming in the bush. Here giving boots would have created mayhem. Especially since I only worked with a few teams and that in each village there are over 20 teams.

It was amazing how the landscape had changed; we were now in the dry season called Hamatan.

Once a sunny green-grassed village was now a dry, dust ridden hazy lit desert landscape. Harvesting was over and the real heat was arriving.


Reactions in all villages were a little different, and again sometimes not quite what I expected. People were generally very surprised to see me. I showed the AMEN book and explained that my project had touched many people deeply. I said I had come back to thank them for their trust and give them footballs. People were happy and surprised to see me yet they were also looking at me in bewilderment trying to get their head around the idea that I had actually come back to distribute footballs. I’m giggling thinking back to those moments. . To be honest I think they all thought I was mad. Standing there 6 months pregnant without my husband driving around villages distributing balls. Stunned is the word.

This had to be the work of God. AMEN.

Anyway, in each village we elected someone that would be responsible for the footballs and a pump. Someone who would make sure they weren’t sold, someone who would make sure they were used preciously. One of the boys came up to me and showed me the ball I had given them last year, there was not much left of it. So we calculated that the 25 footballs should enable them to unite each evening after farming to play the game they love for another 20 years. We pumped all the balls just for a moment to rejoice. It was surreal, balls all over the place, people running in all directions. Then one was kept pumped, the rest were deflated and carefully placed back in their plastic wrapping and into the box.


alain lempool’s team



And off we drove. As we left people would say see you next year, and please bring some boots next time! I smiled and giggled to myself at the craziness of the whole situation. It was the completely opposite to the daily realities that we face. I had fought for a year to get this equipment to these people to simply say ‘thank you for your trust’. They appreciated it but how could they possibly understand it. They fight day to day just for food and other basic things to survive. So yes they were happy to receive balls, but if I hadn’t come they would also have been happy because they just get on with life. I wasn't able to get to Burkina Faso or Togo due to lack of time. But I arranged for the equipment to be delivered and I know it got there safely. My friend Atsou in Togo recently sent me some pictures.


I though back to the words written in my introduction.

“The people have simple needs and huge hearts. They accept their lot in life with a supreme calmness. This continent accepts its fate with elegance and grace, head held high.

On the road back I was reflecting on the village experience, in a sense I felt like I had contributed to the clichéd image of the white man who gives his small slice to Africa, enhancing the contrived image that Africans have of us which is “White people are all rich and they should all give to us”. I shared my feelings with Ganiyu with whom I had lived all these moments. He simply said

“Jessi, we kept our promise. We have put smiles on people’s faces. We have served humanity in our own little way.

I feel completely fulfilled. I’m so happy to have been a part of this project”.