Street children exist throughout the world, including Liberia. These are children under the age of 18 for whom the street has become their home and/or source of livelihood. A recent report by Street Child of Liberia estimated that over 14,000 children existed on the streets of Monrovia, Liberia. Their lives are neither positive nor sustainable. Unable to meet their basic needs, these children are highly susceptible to violence, trafficking and sexual exploitation, and at risk for drug addiction, physical trauma, and trouble with the law; girls also run the risk of an unwanted pregnancy. Where did these children come from, and why are they here?
Politics has contributed to the problem. Liberia was plagued by a fourteen-year civil war (1989 – 2003), in which an estimated 270,000 people died while another 850,000 were displaced. During this war, over 10,000 children were recruited as child soldiers. After the war ended the children could return to civilian life, yet in many cases former child soldiers had no surviving relatives or could not locate their families post-conflict. Those that were reunited with their families often did not remain and chose a life on the street instead.
Social issues have played their part in the growth of street children. While attempting to rebuild, Liberia has suffered from war and disease which have, in turn, crippled the economy, destroyed the education system and devastated many communities. In 2014, Liberia was stuck by the Ebola virus, orphaning many as 7,500 children. By that time, most of the former child soldiers had grown up, but the massive fatality rate of Ebola in Liberia (as indicated by CDC – 45%) fostered a new generation of street children. In addition to losing entire families, the surviving children were subject to stigmatization and ostracization from their peers. Without families or caregivers and with no means of survival and no community support, orphaned children have to resort to street labor or prostitution to survive.
The lack of economic opportunities and the declining education system have also played a role in children migrating to the streets. The WHO estimates that 64 percent of Liberians live below the poverty line ($1.25/day), with 1.3 million living in extreme poverty. This poverty has prompted parents to force their children to work on the city streets for extra income. Destitute and desperate rural parents often send their children to the city with local businessmen who promise an education and more opportunity. Unfortunately once in the city, children are exploited for their labor. Even if they flee the situation, they remain living the city, where they resort to prostitution and selling in the street to survive.
There are many reasons as to why a child may be living on the street in Liberia, yet one thing remains clear: street children face significant risks and are exceptionally vulnerable to violence, abuse, neglect, child labor and sexual exploitation. Even so, many of these children have hope for a future. Street children present a complex challenge, yet we cannot give up hope on them because hope is all they have.
L.A.C.E.S. implemented its first Youth Basketball Camp for thirty refugee children April 17-21 at William Wirt Middle School in Riverdale, MD. Hosted by L.A.C.E.S staff and volunteers, the camp focused on learning basketball techniques and five values of L.A.C.E.S – Fair Play, Respect, Teamwork, Self-Esteem and Discipline. Each day the camp focused on a different value and awarded prizes to those kids who best exemplified the value of the day. Kids were taught new skills daily and were encouraged to practice them alongside L.A.C.E.S. values throughout scrimmages.
When refugee children aren’t in school, they have limited positive outlets and activities to be engaged in. L.A.C.E.S. basketball camp provided an opportunity for many children to play basketball for the first time in a fun and safe environment.
In addition to L.A.C.E.S. kids attending, twenty-four students from Atholton Academy joined the camp activities on Thursday. Atholton’s 6th Grade class supported the camp through various fundraisers and equipment donations. The goal of this partnership was to promote cross-cultural integration and tolerance for diversity.
Overall the Youth Basketball Camp was a success. L.A.C.E.S is grateful for the support of the community and Atholton Academy, which enables us to provide positive and fun experiences for refugee children in the Washington, D.C. metro area.
L.A.C.E.S. which stands for Life And Change Experienced thru Sports has been selected by D.C. United as the beneficiary of their Every Save Makes a Difference program for their home match on April 8, 2017. D.C. United will donate $500 of soccer equipment to L.A.C.E.S. for every save the team makes.
Through the Every Save Makes a Difference program, Major League Soccer, Allstate, and Univision partner to support local organizations that work with under-served youth. D.C. United will purchase soccer equipment on behalf of L.A.C.E.S. soccer program, which serves 450 youth year-round. The dollar amount of the donation is determined by D.C. United’s number of saves during the home match versus New York City FC.
Since its inception, the Every Save Makes a Difference program has delivered over $200,000 worth of soccer equipment across the nation and has impacted more than 25,000 youth.
L.A.C.E.S. refugee soccer program works with youth from 14 different countries in the Greater Washington D.C. area. The youth are excited about the opportunity to attend the game and meet players from D.C. United.
L.A.C.E.S. founder Seren Fryatt said “We are honored that D.C. United has selected us as a partner and welcoming our youth into the D.C. community. To meet a professional soccer player and attend a game is a dream come true for so many of our youth.”
Monrovia, November 29, 2016. On Thursday, December 1st, a selection of fifteen L.A.C.E.S. boys and girls, age 9-12, will play a friendly football match against the Monrovia Football Academy Team (MFA).
Hosted by MFA and the U.S. Embassy in Liberia, the match will coincide with the visit of Jill Ellis, U.S. Women’s National Team Coach and 2015 FIFA Coach of the Year, accompanied by Ashlyn Harris, goalkeeper for the U.S. Women’s National Team.
Ellis and Harris will be visiting Liberia under the U.S. State Department Sports Envoy. During their stay, they will advocate for leadership and women’s empowerment at several U.S. Embassy-led events in Monrovia.
The game will be a great opportunity to promote Sport as a powerful tool to resolve conflict and to improve at-risk children’s lives. L.A.C.E.S. team will have the chance to represent their 380 friends, fellow street children and ebola-survivors, who are also involved in L.A.C.E.S.’ program.