One organization uses sports-based mentorships to help end and prevent the deadly virus
Affecting various parts of the world more recently, Ebola is a virus that continues to impact thousands of individuals, particularly those in the African nations of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.
One organization has joined the fight against the deadly virus by using a mentor-based sports program to raise awareness and increase prevention in Liberia. L.A.C.E.S. (Life And Change Experienced thru Sports), created by Seren Fryatt, consists of Liberian staff members who aim to build future leaders of the nation through sports. Fryatt was inspired to found the non-profit after volunteering for six months on a hospital ship on the shores of West Africa. She was recruited to play in Liberia’s Professional Women’s Soccer Division and connected with many natives, learning their stories and being impacted by those experiences—which ultimately changed her life forever.
“Reflecting on this experience, I realized that through soccer, God planted seeds in my heart that did not stop when I left Liberia,” Fryatt said. “After a year of planning, in August of 2007, I founded L.A.C.E.S., and what was an inspired idea became a reality. I finally returned back to Liberia with a plan to use sports as a tool for developing youth.”
Though the Liberian government has banned all sporting events in order to reduce the gathering of groups, L.A.C.E.S. has integrated a health curriculum that it shares with families of the program. Fryatt says that, while the sports aspect of the organization is not necessarily aiding in the fight against Ebola, it will always be something that continues to build relationships, and the program will still positively impact those involved.
“When we started L.A.C.E.S. seven years ago, we did not expect that we would be fighting Ebola,” she said. “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.”
L.A.C.E.S. coaches and staff members were trained in Ebola prevention and provided training for others on what the virus is, its symptoms, how it spreads, prevention information, and actions to take if one shows any symptoms. Fryatt says that she believes the L.A.C.E.S. communities have been able to remain Ebola-free because of the trust the families have in the Liberian staff members who have served as mentors and coaches to them.
“When your neighbor [whom] 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,” Fryatt said. “We believed 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.”
The program will continue to invest in the families in Liberia, even after the worries of Ebola are gone—which Fryatt believes will eventually happen one day. “Once Ebola has left, there will be many children who have been orphaned or will have experienced great loss,” she said. “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.”
Sports will maintain its role in L.A.C.E.S., as well, as Fryatt says they are what help change people’s lives. “Sports is the conduit for relationships to be built, values to be reinforced in a fun way, and reconciliation of broken relationships,” she said. “When we feel valued, we are able to believe in others and hope for a better future.”
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