Hope, A Tangible Truth

We are well into our “It’s More Than A Game… It’s Hope!” campaign and are extremely grateful for the donations we’ve received thus far. We know that by collectively working together, we can meet our goal of raising $25,000 to give back the important gift of hope to at-risk boys and girls living in Liberia. When you give to our ongoing campaign, you’re giving the chance for a child to have hope for a better future!

At L.A.C.E.S., we approach our programming from a holistic mindset, working hard to not only improve the lives of our at-risk street kids, but also bring healing and restoration to the communities they live in. We made the decision long ago to hire local coaches who can help engage with the participants in our program best. By successfully implementing our research-backed mentorship curriculum, investing into their lives, and assisting them on and off the soccer pitch, our coaches are the rock stars of our organization. We’ve seen this method work wonders in helping us give back the gift of hope to boys and girls who otherwise would have none. Without the passion and dedication of our coaches, nothing that we do would possible.

Hope, a Tangible Truth

When considering our incredible staff and passionate coaches, Boima comes to mind. As a local pastor in the community we work in, he has given his entire life to bettering and empowering those around him. Whether he’s mentoring L.A.C.E.S. children or in the church ministering to his congregation, he takes his roles seriously. During a recent staff trip to Liberia, Boima was gracious enough to sit down and share about his experience with L.A.C.E.S. and the transformation he’s witnessed because of it.

“Three years ago, many of the street children were very disrespectful, disobedient. Since L.A.C.E.S. has come to Kakata, they have helped reduce the stress from the community by improving the behavior of the children,” Boima said. He was passionate when he spoke about the program. Boima shared that several children he has coached in his years with the L.A.C.E.S. program were not orphans, but rather had chosen to simply run away from home. He says that in his time, he’s seen many children return back to their parents after learning to do so through the L.A.C.E.S. program. Now they are off of the streets and have been reunited with their families.

Trust within the community…

Boima is active in his role within the community as a pastor, so we asked him what their opinion of the L.A.C.E.S. program was. He shared that street children in Kakata carry with them a very negative stigma. Local community members often fear them because of their reckless tendencies and desperation. He said that because of this, community members were skeptical as to why L.A.C.E.S. would choose to invest time and energy into these children. After some time, he recalls their perceptions of our organization changed as they recognized the kids enrolled in the curriculum bettering themselves. He mentioned that L.A.C.E.S. has gained the trust and respect of this community and that our work was making an impact for everyone in Kakata.

Boima loves the L.A.C.E.S. program and shared enthusiastically about the long-term effects he is seeing take place. Little by little, he has had the chance to witness hope restored in the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable children and shares his inspiration as he watches them grow.

 

We need your help…

 

At L.A.C.E.S., hope isn’t just a catchphrase or vague idea. Hope is the tangible truth that change is possible and that better days are ahead. For the kids enrolled in our program, life has been anything but easy. The effects of war, disease, neglect, abuse, and much more have been plagues that have scarred their childhoods. Without a loving family to train and care for them, these children often end up heading towards a difficult future.

However, none of that is inevitable. By giving to L.A.C.E.S., you can change all of it! When you donate to our “It’s More Than A Game… It’s Hope!” campaign, you will be empowering local leaders like Boima to continue his work of giving hope back to lives of street children in need. Every dollar you give will go into expanding our programming, 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!

It’s More Than A Game… It’s Hope!

Today is a big day as we at L.A.C.E.S. officially launch our “It’s More Than A Game… It’s Hope” campaign! For over a decade, we have worked tirelessly to serve some of the most vulnerable children in the world. In Liberia, we have done this by providing meals, a research-backed mentorship curriculum, and a competitive soccer league for at-risk youth. Through these efforts we’ve established a support system for more than 1,500 street children, Ebola orphans, and former child soldiers. Even more importantly than all of that… we’ve provided hope.

While we are thankful to meet some immediate needs of our children, we understand that we are fighting to resolve much deeper issues. Hunger, trauma, and severe poverty are all at the forefront of what  L.A.C.E.S. children battle every day. After years of seeing their lives go from bad to worse, they struggle to see beyond their circumstances. The history of abuse throughout their childhoods becomes an omen in their minds forcing hope to become lost in them. At L.A.C.E.S., we’re changing that!

As an non-profit striving to create an avenue of restoration and healing, we’re not only in the business of providing for needs today, but instilling hope for a brighter tomorrow! Through this year’s “It’s More Than a Game… It’s Hope Campaign,” we are looking to raise $25,000 in September in order to help more children in need. We are approaching this endeavor with an “all hands on deck” mentality and hope that you’ll consider joining us!

When considering how hope can transform a child’s life, we think of Blessing. As a young boy that has been with L.A.C.E.S. for three years, his story is one that inspires us.

In 2014, when the Ebola outbreak wreaked havoc in his hometown, Blessing witnessed death and chaos in ways that no child ever should. “I used to wear long sleeves to protect myself,” Blessing told us. “It was very bad.” Blessing, like nearly everyone around him, became terrified of contracting the disease. Paranoia and a lack of knowledge surrounding the epidemic caused him to live with a daily fear of losing his life at any moment.

Blessing became somber when we asked him about the affect Ebola had on his family. He shared that his mother, a Liberian nurse, worked hard to help her patients during the outbreak. Each night before his mother would go to work at the local clinic, she would come to his bed side and they would say a prayer together as he fell asleep. He never imagined that this late night prayer with his mother would serve as their last conversation together.

Pictured above, Blessing observes some younger children in the L.A.C.E.S. program beginning their soccer practice.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what it did. His mother contracted Ebola while working with sick patients and died shortly thereafter. Soon after Blessing’s mother passed away, his father began showing symptoms of the disease as well. A high fever and lack of energy became the first signs of what Blessing had been fearing most. Within a matter of weeks, his father died and Blessing was left with no one. It was a catastrophic experience that lead to him living as an orphan on the streets of Liberia.

 

Blessing inevitably went on to learn the harsh lesson that life on the street was no easy life to live. Ebola had ended, but the rubble that became of his life stood as an enormous mountain. He had lost the hope of ever climbing it. However, this all changed when Blessing heard of a program that would feed him and let him play soccer.

Pictured above, Blessing and his favorite L.A.C.E.S. coach pose for a photo

“L.A.C.E.S. took me from the streets and talk with me every day. I listen to them,” Blessing said when being interviewed about his time at L.A.C.E.S. He assumed we would simply give him some rice and let him use our soccer equipment. Blessing had no idea that the lessons he would learn while attending would change his entire outlook on life.  Currently, he’s enrolled in our leadership development program where he is spending his time as an assistant coach. Blessing is also now teaching our new program attendees the lessons that he’s gained over the past three years from his coaches. The hope that our program has given him has shown him that life beyond the streets is possible. Blessing is now happy, active, and working hard to become a leader in his community.

You Can Help!

At L.A.C.E.S., we’re in the business of giving hope and showing them a brighter future is possible. When you choose to give to our “It’s More Than A Game… It’s Hope” campaign, you are giving to the hope of a better life for a child in need. We know that Blessing’s story is not uncommon in Liberia. Because of this we rely heavily on our donors to increase our impact.

The money you give will not only go to providing nutritious meals, mentorship for children without parents, and the facilitation of our sports programs, but will also create a lasting impact that can change the trajectory of a child’s life forever. Will you give here today and change a child’s life? We look forward to partnering with you and are excited for what this campaign brings!

Local Mentors for the Next Generation

Local Mentors for the Next Generation

 

Pictured above, L.A.C.E.S. Boys’ Head Coach, Allen, makes a child laugh when having their photograph taken in Liberia

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.

Pictured above, Allen facilitates a L.A.C.E.S. boys’ soccer practice

From Death to Life…

Allen poses for a photograph during his recent interview with international L.A.C.E.S. staff

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.

Pictured above, Allen conducts a practice for the boys in the L.A.C.E.S. Program

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.

Pictured above, Allen leads the L.A.C.E.S. weekly Coaches Meeting.

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…”

Accepted

Accepted

Pictured above, L.A.C.E.S. founder Seren Fryatt poses with a child named Rachel within the L.A.C.E.S. program

It was ‘game day’ for our L.A.C.E.S. children living in Kakata, Liberia and the excitement surrounding the afternoon could be felt throughout all of Margibi County. Local kids swarmed the dusty soccer pitch that sat only a few minutes away from the town’s main road. One by one they began frantically grabbing for jerseys and dividing themselves up into their assigned teams. Meanwhile, adult community members who serve as our coaches worked hard to gain order over the seemingly chaotic moment. This is a weekly occurrence, but by the way the children were behaving, an outsider would have assumed it was nothing short of an important holiday or special occasion.

Pictured above, girls in the L.A.C.E.S. program cheer after a game

Active in Liberia

Every week, we at L.A.C.E.S. facilitate four soccer practices for at-risk boys and girls living within this community in West Africa. More importantly, we incorporate a research-backed, mentorship curriculum that focuses on values like self-esteem and respect. Along with the practices and mentorship components, two days of the week are dedicated to competitive ‘game days’ followed by a hot meal.

The children that take part in the work we are doing are some of the most vulnerable in the entire world. Most of the time, they claim “the streets” as their home within this post-war community. Runaways, Ebola orphans, and former child soldiers are all normal descriptors for the kids within the league. Oftentimes, the children who show up to play have been forced to turn tricks and steal throughout the week leading up to our time together. But when given the opportunity to come to the L.A.C.E.S. program, these same children are able to gain back a crucial part of their childhoods and are seen as valuable and worthy to be there.

A Kickoff to Remember

Pictured above, girls in the L.A.C.E.S. program line up and prepare for the first kick of the game

The girl’s game, which happens to be a modified version of kickball, was about to begin and the energy around the moment was electric. The outfielders began yelling back and forth to one another while the team at bat lined up for the first pitch. The hot sun continued to scorch the dirt playing field and added an appropriate intensity to the moment.

The girl chosen to kick off the game, Rachel, stepped up to home plate and got into position. As the anticipation of the moment began to build, one of our local coaches quickly ran onto the field and brought the start of the game to a halt.

Seren Fryatt, L.A.C.E.S. founder and executive director, along with another international staff member were observing the program on this particular day in Liberia. Their goal in being there was to gather content for promotional endeavors. It was Seren who had initially asked the opening kickoff to be postponed upon noticing that Rachel, the eager first kicker, was pregnant.

In Liberia, the negative stigma behind an unplanned pregnancy can greatly affect the mother’s quality of life by damaging her own sense of worth. For 13-year-old Rachel, her young age, impoverished living conditions, and reputation as a street child made her particularly vulnerable. While her circumstances appeared bleak, she had found that her time at L.A.C.E.S. was a refuge away from her troubles. As excited as Rachel was to be the first kicker on ‘game day’, it was apparent to everyone that her pregnancy had progressed too far to allow her to run the bases.

Impactful Beyond What is Seen

“I can run for her!” suggested Seren. “She can still participate and I’ll just run the bases for her.” After some discussion with the coaches and Rachel, it was decided. Rachel was elated to be able to still participate and even kicked a home run with Seren as her new partner.  As Seren slid into home plate, the entire crowd cheered and celebrated. It was momentous and impactful far beyond what could even be seen.

“How did you feel when Seren offered to run for you?” a staff member asked Rachel after the game. She gave off a slight giggle and expressed that it made her very happy.

Rachel smiles for the camera a few days after her kickball game with Seren

Currently, Rachel has gone back to live with her grandmother in preparation for her child to be born in August.  The baby’s father is not in the picture and Rachel understands that she cannot remain living on the streets once she gives birth. When asked what she was most concerned with in regards to having a child at such a young age, she responded by saying she is “not ready for it.” Unfortunately, her story is far from uncommon within developing communities like Kakata.

While children like Rachel are often made to feel shamed and ostracized by their communities, we at L.A.C.E.S. are committed to welcoming them with open arms. By accepting children into our program with severe and complicated histories, we are able to show them that their value and worth does not lie within their circumstances. Children like Rachel and so many others are able to show up to our games, learn critical life values, reclaim their childhoods and have some of their most pressing needs met. While girls like Rachel in Kakata may struggle through stigma and shaming, they know that at L.A.C.E.S., they are accepted.

Every Day: Make Their Journey Yours

No one wants to live homeless, alone and afraid; but that’s the reality for our street children. Come walk in the shoes of an eleven-year old street child by going to www.laces.org/journey, where you can spend time looking through the eyes of a homeless child in Liberia, facing his/her choices and deciding their journey for the day. At the end of the journey you will have the opportunity to make an anonymous reflection about your experience.

As you consider gift your to our children, we hope these experiences have given you a deeper understanding of the impact of our program and the opportunity you have to support the L.A.C.E.S. family.

Halloween Party for Refugees

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On October 29th 2016, L.A.C.E.S. hosted a Halloween party for refugees. Over 175 people showed up to the Center for Educational Partnership in Riverdale, Maryland, where it was held. We had an amazing turnout of over 30 volunteers, who were all extremely eager to get involved and help with every aspect of the party. It would not have been a success without them.

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Children poured in throughout the morning, and many brought along their parents, grandparents, and other family members. It truly ended up being a party for all ages! The kids had a blast with all the games we had set up, we had corn hole, pumpkin sweep, and balloon catch, just to name a few. Our wonderful volunteers also helped facilitate and execute face painting, pumpkin painting, popcorn making, and a photo booth with props that lead to some amazing pictures for the kids and their families.

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A nutritious snack table at the back provided fuel for the kids to stay active all morning long, especially when we ventured outside to play some soccer. Coaches from our soccer camp and other volunteers came out to lead games for the kids and get in on the action. At the end of the day when it was time to say goodbye, all the kids received a goody bag filled with snacks to go home with. We received plenty of positive feedback on the event with one dad saying,

“I wish there could be more events like this bringing so many people together from different cultures.”

There are not many opportunities for the refugees in our area to get together like this, and we couldn’t have been happier to make it possible. It was our true pleasure to give these families a time to relax and meet others in their community. We now look forward to having the kids participate in our upcoming winter indoor soccer league, spring basketball camp, and summer soccer camp, where they can make more friends, more memories, and stay active!

 

 

7 GREAT FILMS ABOUT THE CURRENT REFUGEE CRISIS

When talking about migration, too often we forget that behind numbers and statistics we have human beings. Reporting the focus on humanity is the first step to start solving the current refugee crisis. Here’s a list of great recent movies and documentaries who can help us understand what is like to be forced to leave our homes and our countries, with nowhere to go.

 

AFTER SPRING (2016)

With the Syrian conflict now in its sixth year, millions of people continue to be displaced. “After Spring” is the story of what happens next. By following two refugee families in transition and aid workers fighting to keep the camp running, viewers will experience what it is like to live in Zaatari, the largest camp for Syrian refugees. With no end in sight for the conflict or this refugee crisis, everyone must decide if they can rebuild their lives in a place that was never meant to be permanent.
Trailer: www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQQmBU_rBpM

 

THE RESETTLED (2016)

Tzu Chi USA produced a documentary calling attention to the international refugee crisis. “The Resettled” presents the dramatic stories of refugees who are building new lives in America, and forces us to question: How willing are we to put out the welcome mat for foreigners from a distant land?
Full episodes: www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQQmBU_rBpM

 

FIRE AT SEA (2016)

The film is shot on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa during the European migrant crisis, and sets the migrants’ dangerous Mediterranean crossing against a background of the ordinary life of the islanders. The main characters are a twelve-year-old boy from a local fishing family and a doctor who treats the migrants on their arrival
Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8Kc5wy0Rxg

 

 

REFUGEE REPUBLIC (Interactive documentary – 2016)

Camp Domiz is a Syrian refugee camp in northern Iraq. Around 64 thousand predominantly Kurdish-Syrian refugees have sought shelter here. As the number of refugees grew, the camp gradually transformed from a temporary refuge to a makeshift town, where people live and work, go to school, start a business, get married, argue and have fun. Visual artist Jan Rothuizen, journalist Martijn van Tol, and photographer Dirk Jan Visser explored Camp Domiz from A to Z. They bring to life its inhabitants and places in a multidimensional mix of sound, drawings, photo and film.
Website: http://refugeerepublic.submarinechannel.com/intro_en.php?o

 

SALAM NEIGHBOR (2015)

Two Americans head to the edge of war, just seven miles from the Syrian border, to live among 85,000 uprooted refugees in Jordan’s Za’atari camp.
Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6SxPSZVD9o

 

THE LAND BETWEEN (2014)

“The Land Between” offers an intimate insight into the hidden and desperate lives of Sub-Saharan African migrants living in the mountains of northern Morocco. For most, their dream is to enter Europe by jumping a highly-militarised barrier into Melilla, a Spanish enclave on the African continent. With unique and unprecedented access, this film documents the everyday life of these migrants trapped in limbo, as well as the extreme violence and constant mistreatment they face from both the Moroccan and Spanish authorities. It also explores many universal questions, including how and why people are prepared to risk everything, including their life, to leave their country, their family and friends, in search of a new and better life.
Full Movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vf4N_lHOWEA

 

THE GOLDEN DREAM (2013)

Juan, Sara and Samuel, three teenagers from the slums of Guatemala, travel to the US in search of a better life. On their journey through Mexico, they meet Chauk, an indian from Chiapas who doesn’t speak Spanish. Travelling together in cargo trains, walking on the railroad tracks, they soon have to face a harsh reality.
Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GBBNmC2JWGU

Elia Gandolfi: L.A.C.E.S. Refugee Program Intern

We are excited to introduce Elia Gandolfi, L.A.C.E.S. new Refugee Program Intern. He graduated in March 2016 from Bologna University, Italy, earning a Master’s Degree in International Relations.  Elia joined our team in June 2016 to help launch L.A.C.E.S. first ever Refugee Youth Soccer Camp.

Tell us about your international experience.
When I was 18, I went to Brazil for three months to join Partlihar, an NGO that helps orphans and street children in a small rural community. That experience literally changed my life, and I decided to get a Master’s in International Relations. Since then, I have collaborated with several NGOs both in Brazil and Italy that specifically work with children, homelessness and those suffering from drug addictions. In April 2016, as soon as I graduated I went to Greece to help with the current refugee crisis. I spent almost two months working in refugee camps helping manage children’s sports and gardening programs, and running a camp kitchen in a huge informal refugee camp. Anyone who lives in a camp for at least one day will never look at the refugee crisis in the same way again.

What made you apply for L.A.C.E.S. internship?
The experience in Greece made me decide to commit to refugee issues and I decided to look for an internship in this field. At the same time, I was also looking for something innovative, which could also stimulate my personal interests. As soon as I found L.A.C.E.S. job posting, I decided to apply right away. I am a great soccer fan and I strongly believe in sports power in promoting integration and solidarity. L.A.C.E.S. commitment both in Liberia and the U.S. clearly embodies this idea.

What do you aim to acquire through this experience?
I think the responsibility of launching and managing the Refugee Youth Soccer Program will deeply improve my personal organizational and administrative skills. Those are qualities you need to develop if you want to work in the International Development field. Moreover, I think the soccer camp will be a great opportunity to facilitate social integration for the refugee children of the D.C. metro area and of course I really want to have a lot of fun!

What is your first impression about living in D.C.?
DC is great! A lot of parks, green areas, cool people, concerts, museums and so many things going on and unexpectedly, a lot of soccer! I will definitely enjoy my stay.