L.A.C.E.S. leveraging sport in the fight against the deadly Ebola virus.
Responding to the Ebola crisis changes every day. This requires consistent interaction with community members and more specifically to those in the L.A.C.E.S. network and families. We are continuing the essential components of our program while keeping the children safe, engaged, active, and preparing them for the end of Ebola. We are investing in our children now to avoid the long-term neglect and deficit in development this crisis threatens.
As the news of L.A.C.E.S. Ebola efforts begins to be more known, many questions have come in over the last few months. For this blog post we asked our founder Seren Fryatt to answer some of those questions.
Q: Why do you think the L.A.C.E.S. communities have been Ebola-free?
SF: One of the major challenges identified by the CDC when the outbreak first began was a lack of trust the locals had in the international organizations. From the local perspective, internationals were telling them about a terrifying disease that they did not understand and when someone became sick what the locals saw was their family members being taken into an isolation unit, where they are unable to see them, and when they did come out in the beginning 90% of the people were dying. From their perspective it was difficult to trust the very people they associated with their family member’s death. I think organizations like L.A.C.E.S. have been successful in the fight against Ebola because all our staff are Liberian. All of the coaches in the 4 communities we work in live in the same community as the children they mentor. So families already know these coaches, many of their children go to school together. So there is trust. When your neighbor who you have known for years and is from your same culture tells you about this terrifying disease their words hold more weight and allow people to hear the Ebola message.
We believed when we first started fighting Ebola that trust and education would save lives, and we are seeing proof of that. Although areas nearby have been quarantined in recent months, none of the communities L.A.C.E.S. works in have reported cases of Ebola.
Q: How do sports help fight the spread of Ebola?
SF: Currently the government of Liberia has banned all sporting events to reduce the gathering of groups. Therefore we are not able to carry out the sport aspect of the program. Instead we have integrated a health curriculum that we share with the families and do weekly check-ups with the children in our program. While the physical activity of sport is not specifically helping in the fight against Ebola, what sport has done and will always do is build relationships. When we started L.A.C.E.S. 7 years ago we did not expect that we would be fighting Ebola. However the values of empowerment, mentorship, and local leadership that are core to our organization have allowed our staff in Liberia to respond to the Ebola crisis quickly and effectively. This approach will continue to allow us in the future to respond to difficult times that Liberians will face.
Q: What other (if any) initiatives will be taken to ensure your communities you work with will continue to experience restoration and health?
SF: The route we are taking today to address Ebola is different than what it was 5 months ago. Five months ago we were doing house to house awareness and education, then we began giving out personal protective equipment, and now as Ebola has continued it is economically devastating the country. Many families are having a hard time getting one meal a day. So as funding becomes available we will begin a feeding program for all 500 of the children in our program along with their families. This is a challenging time for many in Liberia, but as Ebola evolves so must our approach on how to address the changing needs of the people.
Schools have been closed since August and will be indefinitely. Every week instead of playing soccer games our children are coming together to engage their minds through “Meet the Challenge”. Teams compete against each other by using brain teasers that ask fun questions about the ideas they learned that week while the coach visited their home. It keeps learning fun!
Ebola will leave Liberia one day, but it will leave a void in the lives of children. Once Ebola has left they estimate over 8,000 children will be orphaned, and we know many will experience great loss. We will be opening up a program in an area that was heavily devastated by Ebola. We do not want the children to face the same void they faced during Liberia’s 14 year civil war. By investing in them we can avoid the long term neglect and deficit in development this crisis threatens. We are working hard every day to keep our communities Ebola free while building the future of Liberia.
Q: What role do you feel the hope offered by sports plays in changing the lives of those involved with L.A.C.E.S. during this crisis?
SF: I believe sport is a tool for changing a person’s life. A coach becomes a leader in her community and has built confidence in her ability to lead, and teach. A child who was kicked out of his home at age 9 lives on the street, he sells drugs, and does not go to school, but because of the relationship he has built with his coach he now has someone who cares for him, believes in him, and advocates for him. A result of that transformational relationship is that the 9 year old boy has now been reconciled with his family, he no longer sells drugs, and attends school. Sport is the conduit for relationships to be built, values to be reinforced in a fun way, and reconciliation of broken relationships. When we feel valued we are able to believe in others, and hope for a better future.