A Story of Hope…
Over the past several posts we have been reflecting on the stories and accounts of the kids currently enrolled in our program. Through interviews and first-hand testimonials, we’ve been able to hear how our work is giving hope back to kids in Liberia. We want to share these stories with you!
Tracy for example, a second year participant, was gracious enough to sit down with staff and talk through her experience being enrolled in the L.A.C.E.S. Program. When staff members in Liberia first spoke with her, her gentle demeanor and kind spirit made her stand out from among the crowd of children. At only 12 years old, she’s endured hardship and difficulties that no kid should ever be forced to face. Her exemplary attitude and joy after all she’s been through has shown us a lot about her character.
A difficult decision…
Tracy told us that when she was very young, her parents became unable to take care of her. The pressures that come with living in severe poverty became obstacles that they were unable to overcome. Out of love and concern for Tracy’s future, her parents made the very difficult decision to send her away to be raised by her auntie. This was done as a way for Tracey to be cared for, but was extremely hard on the entire family.
When Tracy first began living with her auntie, things improved tremendously. She missed her parents a great deal, but understood that this choice was made for her own benefit. For the first time in her life, she was able to attend school and receive the care that she needed from home. However, it wasn’t long before her auntie began struggling to keep up with the financial demands of feeding both herself and Tracy. Eventually, Tracy’s school fees became too expensive and she had to drop out. It was then that she started spending her days in the local market, working to sell assorted items as a means to receive a meager income.
Unfortunately, for many children in Liberia, this is the first step towards a long journey of hardship and instability. Without school and her family, Tracy’s life began to lack structure and the proper resources needed to help her grow and develop. The road ahead for her became unknown and the mounting pressures to survive began sinking in.
A program to help…
Thankfully, this all changed when Tracy became enrolled in the L.A.C.E.S. Program. Through our research-backed mentorship curriculum, active feeding program, and soccer league, she is regaining hope for the future. When we asked what her favorite part of being involved with L.A.C.E.S. was, she said, “my favorite part about LACES is that they can teach, give you food to eat, and lots of things.” She went on to say that at L.A.C.E.S., she is learning how to take care of herself and enjoying the chance to come and play soccer.
Give Hope, Today!
At L.A.C.E.S., we’re in the business of giving hope to hopeless children and showing them a brighter future is possible. When you choose to give to our mission, you are giving to the hope of a better life for a child in need. We know that Tracy’s story is not uncommon in Liberia. Because of this we rely on our supporters to increase our impact.
By giving to L.A.C.E.S., you can change all of it! When you donate, you will be giving towards children in need of our program. Every dollar you give will go into feeding hungry children, creating a safe space for at-risk youth, and inevitably inspiring hope. We hope you will join us in this endeavor. To donate to our campaign today, click the link here!
Week 3 and Going Strong!
Today is week three of our “It’s More Than A Game… It’s Hope” campaign and our entire organization is truly humbled and honored by the generosity of our faithful partners. For those of you who may be reading this and are new to our campaign, we’re happy you’re here. For those just learning about our organization for the very first time, allow us to introduce ourselves!
Our operation began in 2007 after the 14-year civil war in Liberia had ended. The need for a proactive service to help street kids was blatantly obvious, so our team went to work in establishing a program that could help. Today, we have had the privilege of serving more than 1,600 street children, Ebola orphans, and former child soldiers in Liberia. While we provide tangible resources to meet physical needs, we are also instilling in at-risk children the most precious tool available to them… hope.
A Hopeless Beginning…
In order to share how ‘hope’ is taking form in the lives of our program’s children, we’d like to tell you about Samson. Currently in his third year of the L.A.C.E.S. Program, Samson is a spirited boy whose life has been forever changed by our work…
When Samson first sat down to be interviewed by a L.A.C.E.S. staff member in Liberia, he was a bit stand-offish. It was explained to the staff member by Samson’s coach that his childhood was anything but stable. Throughout his years of living on the street, he had become jaded and overly protective of himself. It was a mindset that his coaches and mentors were helping him with at the L.A.C.E.S. program.
“Can you tell me where you’re from?” the staff member asked. “I’m from the streets,” Samson replied sharply. This was a common response from boys and girls dealing with his circumstances. They’re often shy when answering personal questions about their background.
Life on the Streets
After a bit more inquiry, Samson went on to say that he has not always lived on the streets. In fact, he had made the choice for himself to run away from home years ago. When he left, he turned away from his chance for an education in school, cut ties with his parents and lost all sense of structure in his life.
People who first hear of street children choosing to live in homelessness are often unable to understand it. This is nearly always due to a lack of context. For Samson, the streets seemed like a more stable environment for him than staying at home with his family. In fact, he says that he still knows where his family lives and that they often see each other in town. “Don’t they want you to come back home?” he was asked. Samson shared that they do, but that there is no food for him at home. He says when he was at home, he had to sell cold water to help his family. He grew tired of it and refused to sell any longer.
As the interview continued, Samson mentioned that he and his friends often wash pans and do other chores as a means of providing themselves with food and essentials. It was sobering to learn that the L.A.C.E.S. program is the only place where he is guaranteed meals each week. He continued by saying that apart from doing chores, he began stealing from local community members. This is a common occurrence for street children and further creates tension and stigma between them and their communities.
While the conditions and choices of Samson’s past are difficult, the work he is putting in to change his life now is admirable beyond his years. L.A.C.E.S. has become a refuge for Samson and a safeguard from his old tendencies. Samson’s coaches shared that his entire demeanor and outlook on the world is changing because of his involvement with our program. When he comes to L.A.C.E.S., he’s given three hot meals each week, a chance to play soccer with his friends in a safe space, and is receiving mentorship through our research-backed curriculum. Samson is no longer stealing from those within his community and has learned that he has more worth and value than that. Samson began his journey with L.A.C.E.S. in a state of hopelessness. He now has hope in the better days ahead of him.
At L.A.C.E.S., we give the vital hope of a better future back to street children like Samson every day. We have committed ourselves to continue empowering at-risk children from all over the world. But we can’t do it without you! When you give to our ongoing “It’s More Than A Game… It’s Hope” Campaign, you can rest assured that the money you give will go towards improving the lives of children in need. If you would like to give today, you can do so by going to www.laces.org/donate.
A Father Figure for Emmanuel
Stories that Matter…
For over 12 years, we at L.A.C.E.S. have been leveraging the power of sport to mentor at-risk children from all over the world. The kids we work with have faced extraordinary struggles due to complex global issues. These issues include the ongoing refugee crisis, generational poverty, corrupt governments, war, disease, and much more. When we look at the larger picture, it can feel overwhelming at times and discouraging. However, when reminded of the intrinsic value that our program’s children have, we’re assured that every ounce of effort we put into helping them matters. We treat each child enrolled in the L.A.C.E.S. curriculum as a top priority and love when we’re able to tell their stories of healing and restoration with others.
Emmanuel for instance, has an incredible story that deeply inspires us. Now in his third year of our program, he has come a long way from when we first met him. Recently in Liberia, we were able to sit down with him and hear about his experience being with L.A.C.E.S. in an effort to better share it with our friends and supporters.
Born into poverty, Emmanuel’s earliest days were filled with brutal hardship. He shared with us that when he was two years old, his mother became really sick, unexpectedly. She went to visit a local witch doctor for treatment and died due to malpractice. By the age of six, Emmanuel had officially run away from any stability available to him and had begun living on the streets full time. He spent his days with some older friends, selling water and any other items they could get their hands on. This became their only means of earning enough money to buy food to eat.
By the age of 12, Emmanuel started using drugs as a way to escape and cope with his circumstances. Without any guidance or adult supervision in his life, his personal narrative was becoming one that was headed towards despair. The future was bleak… hopeless even, and without any intervention, would surely end in destruction. This all changed when Emmanuel met Armstrong, the L.A.C.E.S. Community Coordinator for our operation in Kakata.
When Armstrong first began working for L.A.C.E.S, part of his role was to go into the community as a way to reach street children in need of our services. He shared with us that during this time, he found Emmanuel sleeping alone in an abandoned car. Armstrong was immediately alarmed at the sight of the young boy and began convincing him to participate in the L.A.C.E.S. program. He told Emmanuel of all of the incredible benefits he would receive when he came to L.A.C.E.S. and showed him the soccer field where he could find us at. The very next day, Emmanuel showed up to the program and has been coming back ever since.
The Difference in His Life…
We asked Emmanuel what kinds of things he has had the chance to learn over the course of the past three years. He responded by saying “Oh! I have learned so many things at L.A.C.E.S.! Like if someone does something (bad) to you, it is good to forgive that person. Honesty, team work, self-esteem, working with your opponents when they start acting up on the field and telling them to calm down, and all sorts of things.”
Emmanuel stated that L.A.C.E.S. has in fact changed his life. Through our program, he has gained a community that cares for him, learned invaluable life lessons, has received structure and stability, is able to eat three additional meals every week, and has stopped using drugs.
While Emmanuel has benefited greatly from the positive changes mentioned above, he has found through L.A.C.E.S. something even more valuable…. a father figure. As Emmanuel was answering his final questions with us, he made a point to share how encouraged and valued he has felt from the personal investment of his coach, Armstrong. He says that although he never knew his own father, he felt that he has now found one and is very grateful. As he said all of these things, Armstrong reiterated every sentiment and agreed that he too sees Emmanuel as his own son.
We Need Your Help!
Through our research-backed mentorship curriculum, devoted staff, active feeding program, and competitive soccer leagues, L.A.C.E.S. leverages the power of sport to change lives. We love the work we do, but understand that none of it would be possible without the commitment of our faithful donors. As an organization, we hold ourselves accountable to use donated funding to the highest ethical standard possible. We treat every donation we receive with reverence and a deep responsibility. If you’re interested in donating to our life changing work today, you can do so by clicking the link here! If you’d like to know more about our specific programs and approach, you can do so here. At L.A.C.E.S., “It’s More than A Game…”
Encouragement In Resettlement
Around the world today, people are being forced to flee their homes due to numerous threats of danger. War, political unrest, and human rights violations are all responsible for the ongoing refugee crisis. Men and women, by no choice of their own, are having to pack up their families and everything they know in order to leave their homelands. Their motives in leaving? Survival. This experience can be traumatic for anyone but children are particularly at risk for suffering from the mental effects of forced relocation.
In the Unites States, political differences surrounding the issue often create a polarizing view with a lack of true awareness and empathy. At L.A.C.E.S., we are thankful for the different perspective we gain every day while working with refugee children who have been recently resettled into the U.S. Through our programming, we are able to interact personally with children from all over the world. The children we serve come from nations such as Afghanistan, Iraq, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, and more.
We decided to help…
When we launched our Refugee Program back in 2016, we had no idea what would come of it. Four years in, we have served hundreds of refugee children and have been greatly blessed because of it. Throughout this time, we have observed on a consistent basis that these kids are humble, kind, incredibly intelligent, and thoughtful. By conducting our numerous camps, mentorship curriculum, home visits and more, the impact we are able to have along with the relationships we are building are proving to be tremendously significant.
We love sharing with our donors, partners, and friends about the individual children we get to serve. When considering how much we are inspired by our refugee program participants in particular, Lara comes to mind. Born in Baghdad, Iraq, she and her family were doing well in her earliest days. Her father is a civil engineer and her mother has her doctorate degree in American History with China.
Forced to flee…
However, it wasn’t long into Lara’s childhood when she and her family were forced to flee Iraq, altogether. She shared with us that her family began receiving threats from strangers. We asked Lara what kinds of threats they were receiving and she told us that she was too young to remember. She says that her parents have several stories surrounding the threats but has no recollection of her own.
Lara mentioned that when she arrived in the United States for the first time, she had to have a serious surgery to correct a birth defect in her right leg. This added a lot to the stress to the resettlement process for both her and her family. Thankfully, Lara was able to receive the important medical care that she needed and made a full recovery.
A bright future ahead…
Today, Lara is an active member in the L.A.C.E.S. program. She loves her math classes and hopes to grow up to become a pediatrician one day. When we asked Lara why a pediatrician, she smiled and said that she really loves little kids. We know that her intelligence, enthusiasm towards life, and dedication to everything she’s involved in will make her a fantastic doctor.
Boys and girls like Lara have often experienced so much in their short lives. The global resettlement crisis happening around the world is concerning to say the least and the children involved are most affected. We are thankful that Lara is now growing up in a stable environment here in the United States. Through her involvement with our program, she receives mentorship, a constructive outlet to play, and community.
We need you!
At L.A.C.E.S. we work hard to provide a safe and constructive space for refugee children to come learn life lessons, soccer skills, and engage with their peers. We understand to our core that we are not simply offering a fun experience for these kids or an escape from boredom. Rather, we give them the opportunity to feel seen and welcomed. For many, the resettlement process can be brutal and the harsh affects that lie within the hearts and minds of those who go through it can be even more severe. Our organization is easing this struggle for those in our program and instilling in them the confidence they need to do it well.
We are passionate about our work, but we can’t do it without you! If would like to donate to our programs, click here! Your donation will go towards continuing our work with at-risk children here in the United States as well as those enrolled in our program in Liberia. We cherish every gift and are excited about partnering with you to make an important difference! At L.A.C.E.S., it’s more than a game!
One Lesson at a Time…
When asked to spell her name, she got flustered and looked down at the dirt defeated. While already 10 years old, Mamie had never been afforded the chance to attend school and therefore had never learned how to read or write. In fact, she hadn’t experienced a lot of things that 10-year-old girls normally had. She’d never known what it was like to be tucked into bed at night by her parents or gotten to spend a Christmas at home with her family.
Apart from these significant experiences, Mamie had also been neglected of some major developmental milestones. Lessons she’s needed to learn throughout her childhood were never taught to her. Without proper guidance and a stable support system, the future for Mamie was inevitably bleak. However, as a current L.A.C.E.S. program participant, everything that she had been robbed of throughout her life was slowly being returned to her, one lesson at a time.
During a recent staff trip to Liberia, our communications coordinator had the chance to sit down with Mamie and hear about her life and all she had been through. She stuck out among the crowd because of her small frame and willingness to jump into any activity the older kids were involved in. She put on a fearless face when interacting with her peers and was quick to hold her own on the soccer pitch. A bit bashful when she began her interview with us, she eventually became comfortable enough to show her true personality and contagious joy.
Most of the details surrounding Mamie’s early childhood are unknown. Her inability to recall much about her younger days is a testament to the incredible instability she’s endured. When we met with her in Liberia, she was being cared for by her friend’s family and seemed appreciative for the chance to be off of the streets. At night, she shared a room with her friend and was able to receive one meal a day that consisted mainly of rice. While this situation is anywhere from ideal, we at L.A.C.E.S. are thankful for the support that she has outside of our work. We are encouraged by the local community members who have taken her in as their own.
Knowing her worth…
“At L.A.C.E.S. I am learning so much,” Mamie told us. She shared that her favorite lesson so far in the program has been self-esteem. When asked what self-esteem meant, she confidently raised her head high and said “Self-esteem means I feel good about myself!” Mamie laughed as we all high-fived her on such a job well done. Knowing and believing good things about herself despite her difficult circumstances is no small accomplishment. Many young girls like her in Liberia are lacking this crucial knowledge regarding their own worth and suffer for it dearly as they get older.
Apart from the lessons she is learning, Mamie shared that she loves coming to L.A.C.E.S. and playing kickball. She’s fast and is always one of the most enthusiastic players on her team. During our time visiting Kakata, Mamie was able to kick a home run and was celebrated by all of her coaches and teammates. As far as her interests and dreams, she shared that she’s a big fan of the color purple and wants to become a school teacher one day! With her spunk, fearlessness, and kind spirit, we know that she would make for an incredible teacher for children in Liberia.
We need your help…
At L.A.C.E.S., we work hard to provide a space that is constructive, fun, safe, and beneficial to the at-risk children we serve. By allowing vulnerable kids to participate in our active feeding program, competitive soccer league, research backed-mentorship curriculum, and more, their lives are being changed forever.
Currently, we are impacting the lives of hundreds of children every day! Throughout our 12 years of operation, we have been honored and privileged to help bring restorative healing to the lives of more than 1,500 refugees, Ebola orphans, former child soldiers, and street children.
While we as an organization are excited about the progress we are seeing in our work, we know that none of it would be possible without our faithful donors and supporters. Without the generosity of our monthly and one-time givers, nothing we’ve accomplished so far would be possible. If you would be willing to consider donating to help vulnerable children around the world, you can do so today, here!
Local Mentors for the Next Generation
A Long-term Strategy…
Throughout the past 12 years of conducting our work in Liberia, L.A.C.E.S. has been adamant about recruiting and hiring local community members to mentor and coach the children enrolled in our program. This decision was not made carelessly, but in fact remains one of the most vital and beneficial strategies we use in our efforts to create lasting change for at-risk youth. The reason? It’s simple. According to industry experts, “The importance of sourcing and managing local staff has become increasingly crucial to the success of nongovernmental organizations and consultancies working in development cooperation.” At L.A.C.E.S., we care deeply about the long-term effectiveness of our program and believe that enlisting local community members to lead our initiatives overseas is the only way to achieve this. To see holistic healing and transformation occur in the areas we work, local men and women have to be engaged and leading the efforts.
We are proud to acknowledge how blessed we’ve been to be gifted with such caring and incredible staff working for L.A.C.E.S. throughout the years. In over a decade of facilitating our program in different communities throughout Liberia, we’ve had the privilege of hiring more than 300 local staff members and have empowered them to serve as coaches, mentors, operations coordinators, and national directors. Today, L.A.C.E.S. has 24 staff through our operation in Kakata, Liberia. Among them is our boys’ head coach, Allen, who was gracious enough to share about his experience working with L.A.C.E.S.
From Death to Life…
Allen has been serving with L.A.C.E.S. for the past three years in Kakata and has become one of the most influential and caring coaches we’ve had to date. During our recent staff interview with him, he became emotional as he described the brutal circumstances that street children in Liberia are up against. “Most of the children’s parents are not living. So they depend on us to coach. Liberia is a very hard country, so we are trying to be a substitute to them for life,” Allen explained. He went on to say that, “they are facing so much difficulties when it comes to peer pressures, care taking, etc. Only at L.A.C.E.S. do they feel good.” When discussing where Allen believes the L.A.C.E.S. children would be without our program, he went on to say, “most of the children would be dead by now.” While his perspective is sobering, it’s one that is needed to be heard by many of us who are unaware of the issues street children face.
We asked Allen what some of his favorite aspects of his job are as the boys’ head coach. He smiled and took his time trying to articulate the fulfillment he receives while working with our vulnerable children. He finally responded by saying, “The most rewarding part of this job, as a human, is seeing our kids living the life that God wants them to live and seeing them getting on track day by day. I am seeing that they are changing… leaving from death to life.” Allen went on to inform us that he has a son of his own named Joseph. Each day when Allen goes home, he’s greeted by Joseph and thinks of how his own son could have just as easily been orphaned or abandoned. This has given him a powerful perspective of our mission and encourages him to work diligently each day.
We asked Allen what he believes has been the biggest accomplishment for the work L.A.C.E.S. is doing in Kakata. He said that, “for now the biggest success is that these children are getting to know who they should be in life. As time goes by, with the help of God and their companions, we will see it. I believe we will succeed.”
More In Store…
We at L.A.C.E.S. love working with Allen and value his commitment to our mission and vision to serve at-risk kids from all over the world. While the circumstances surrounding the communities we serve appear bleak and even hopeless at times, we know that there is more in store for the future. By hiring local community leaders to facilitate the work needed to be done, we are seeing not only individual children being transformed, but entire communities. At L.A.C.E.S., we take our commitment to the long-term healing and restoration of the people we serve seriously, and will continue to hire and empower local staff members to facilitate change.
How You Can Help…
Through our research-backed mentorship curriculum, devoted staff, active feeding program, and competitive soccer leagues, L.A.C.E.S. leverages the power of sport to change lives. We love the work we do, but understand that none of it would be possible without the commitment of our faithful donors. As an organization, we hold ourselves accountable to use donated funding to the highest ethical standard possible and ensure that any donation we receive is treated with reverence. If you’re interested in donating to our life changing work today, you can do so by clicking the link here! If you’d like to know more about our specific programs and approach, you can do so here. At L.A.C.E.S., “It’s More than A Game…”
Last year, the Founder and Executive Director Seren Fryatt shared her vision to expand the impact of L.A.C.E.S. to other countries. “We have been looking at several countries where we can start a new chapter for L.A.C.E.S.” Fryatt explained, “We are exploring ways we can reach more children who are at risk.”
The success of L.A.C.E.S. has been well recognized by the international community. “We have been in Liberia for eleven years,” Seren Fryatt explained from her office in Takoma Park in Maryland. Fryatt just returned from a trip to Liberia to review the in-country operations. “We have seen extraordinary results through the approach of mentoring children through sports.” Because of the success, L.A.C.E.S. has experienced, there has been a crucial demand to expand our role to other countries.
This week, a small group of L.A.C.E.S.’s staff from Liberia embarked on an exploratory trip to the Northwest neighbouring country of Sierra Leone. The short distance of 361 kilometres (224 miles) from Monrovia in Liberia to Freetown, Sierra Leone could allow the organization to strategically grow organically.
Sierra Leone is often called the “little jewel” in West Africa, because of its natural beauty coupled with mountainous landscapes and rich minerals. Similar to Liberia, the country has had a bloody history of a long eleven-year civil war that began in the year 1991. Over 500,000 people were displaced and over 50,000 were killed, in a country of fewer than 4 million people. As you can imagine, it is the children from this small West African nation that have been witnesses to this turmoil.
With 70% of the population living under the poverty line, children are often the most vulnerable of all. In addition, there have been many injustices which include female genital mutilation, lack of education, and forced labour, which have all contributed to human rights’ challenges that face children in this country.
“We have a proven model that is very successful,” explained Fryatt, “Now, we want to expand and reach out to more young people through our sports mentoring program.” As L..A.C.E.S. begins to grow its international scope, the goal to bring hope to many children who live on the streets will continue to expand.
Did you know:
- 38% of girls 15 years of age and older are literate
- 29% of school-age children are out of school
- 37% of children are engaged in child labour
- 70% of people live in poverty
Source: Save the Children Federation
Read more about Sierra Leone
One of the benefits of participating in L.A.C.E.S. soccer program is receiving a fresh meal. “Most of the Liberian children in our program live on the street,” explained Seren Fryatt, founder and executive director of L.A.C.E.S., an international sports program that provides mentoring and a safe place for children to play. “These kids, many of who were orphaned due to the war, are trying to survive. They need to provide for themselves at a young age, which means finding a job.” Jobs are hard to come by. Many times, the children turn to prostitution and stealing.
The children who participate in the sports programs are provided fully nutritious meals, three times a week. Food not only gives the kids physical energy, but it also lowers their stress levels, because they are less worried about finding their next meal.
Providing meals for 300 kids, three times a week could be expensive. However, L.A.C.E.S. has found a unique solution, The company, J.U.S.T, formerly known as Hampton Creek, was once called by Bill Gates, “the future of food.” It created a stir among the international community by developing a food product called, “Power Gari”, which looks and feels like porridge. This nutritional product is made from cassava, red palm oil, sugar, salt, and a soy protein concentrate. It contains high concentrations of vitamins, A, D, B6, and B12, plus iron, zinc, and12 grams of protein. Most interestingly, it is created in Liberia.
In a Washington Post article, the company’s founder, Joshua Tetrick said, “I want to make Liberia a big success — success defined by solving the micronutrition problem there and making sure kids have dignity in what they eat,” he said.
“I am so happy that we can provide a meal that the kids and coaches enjoy, and give them a safe outlet to play and build leadership skills, said L.A.C.E.S., founder, Fryatt, who recently returned from a site visit in Liberia. “This food source is tasty and satisfying to the children. These kids are now healthier more than ever.”