Life And Change Experienced thru Sports has helped kids cope with war and now an epidemic.
KAMPALA, Uganda — A non-profit organization working with children in Liberia is using sports to educate children on the prevention of Ebola.
Life And Change Experienced thru Sports (L.A.C.E.S.) is an organization that uses mentorship-based sports leagues as an avenue to teach children morals and values based on biblical principles.
“We use the playing fields to teach teamwork, respect, and self-esteem to combat the various effects of spiritually and physically impoverished upbringings suffered by too many Liberian kids,” according to part of an introductory letter the organization sent to Aleteia.
Throughout the ongoing epidemic, L.A.C.E.S. has used coach-to-player relationships to educate children on prevention of Ebola. And according to the organization, this has been very effective in curbing the spread of the disease even beyond the youth population, and many lives have been spared.
As the Ebola infections continued to climb in West African countries, children have become some of the biggest victims of the disease. And until recently, Liberia had the highest infection rates out of the five West African countries that were initially hit by the epidemic.
With the escalation of the infection rates, West Africa’s entire healthcare infrastructure has been stretched to the breaking point. In Liberia, it is reported that the virus claimed entire families and even small communities in some cases.
St. Joseph Catholic Hospital in Monrovia, considered to be one of Liberia’s best health facilities in the country, was forced to close in August. The closure followed the tragic Ebola-related deaths of the hospital’s director, nuns, nurses, and a priest from Spain, all working at the facility. Several other health facilities in the country followed suit and closed down.
Today Ebola has not only devastated the medical system, but it has disrupted the educational system and is now causing economic hardships on families.
With the present scenario in place, there has been limited medical care. Many people, including children, are dying from treatable diseases like malaria and yellow fever because hospitals are not accepting patients who have symptoms similar to that of Ebola.
In an effort to contain the disease, governments in the affected countries have quarantined entire villages and in some cases counties. This has caused price hikes on food items, causing suffering, especially for the children.
As well, schools have been shut down. In Liberia, schools closed down in August, in an attempt to reduce infection rates, and there are no signs of them opening any time soon.
Prior to the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, the country was recovering from a 14-year-old civil war that left behind social issues like homelessness, poverty, tribal distrust, poor health and educational system, and orphans.
But over the last 10 years, the country has been on a steady path of recovery, rebuilding infrastructures and investing in the future. Liberian children were finding new hope through increased educational opportunities and other social services.
For its program, L.A.C.E.S. enlists children between the ages of 10-14 years, and the recruitment is done by coaches in collaboration with community members and staff who select children who they think are most vulnerable in their community.
In so doing, they take into account the situation children are faced with in a given community. And once this is done, they decide the kind of sports enjoyed by the community. But on the whole, soccer and kickball are the main sports activities the children are involved in.
In addition to sports, the children are also involved in other activities such as hygiene and sanitation, mentoring and counseling and bible studies.