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After the war: peace, Ebola and football in Liberia

Our photographer from Liberia is 12-year old James Tambah, who plays football with L.A.C.E.S., a Christian football mentoring and coaching organisation. Set up in 2007, L.A.C.E.S. uses sports to rehabilitate children from the lingering effects of Liberia's 15-year civil war. An estimated 15,000 children fought in this war and children in Liberia face severe social challenges growing up in broken and poverty-stricken communities. Recently L.A.C.E.S. helped the country confront a new threat, Ebola. We spoke with James and also the L.A.C.E.S. National Program Director James Moore.

After the war: peace, Ebola and football in Liberia

Our photographer from Liberia is 12-year old James Tambah, who plays football with L.A.C.E.S., a Christian football mentoring and coaching organisation. Set up in 2007, L.A.C.E.S. uses sports to rehabilitate children from the lingering effects of Liberia's 15-year civil war. An estimated 15,000 children fought in this war and children in Liberia face severe social challenges growing up in broken and poverty-stricken communities. Recently L.A.C.E.S. helped the country confront a new threat, Ebola. We spoke with James and also the L.A.C.E.S. National Program Director James Moore.

For a nation like Liberia that is still recovering from a 15-year civil war that brought a huge tribal divide amongst it 16 tribes, football brings another thing - unity.
— James Moore, L.A.C.E.S. National Program Director

Interview with James Moore

Why is football so important for Liberia?

Football is one of the most lucrative industries in the world. This sport is bringing in millions of dollars to the economies of many nations around the world. These countries have their citizens playing for multi-million dollars teams like Chelsea, Real Madrid and Manchester United. This is important, but for a nation like Liberia that is still recovering from a 15-year civil war that brought a huge tribal divide amongst it 16 tribes, football brings another thing - unity.

Football is undoubtedly one of the most unifying sports in the world and is very important for the recovery of Liberia. It helps set the pace for national unity and nation building. This is proven by the national county meet carried out every year that brings together thousands of Liberians. Football is by far the greatest sport played and loved in Liberia. When the nation’s team (The Lone Stars) is playing, Liberians lay aside their differences and cheer for their team.

How did football and L.A.C.E.S. help during the Ebola Crisis?

Football has created a platform for peace, health and unity. When the deadly Ebola Virus came to Liberia, though very challenging, it was easy for us to reach out to the people of Liberia with the Ebola education materials and some Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). In short, football played a leading role in helping L.A.C.E.S. carry out its safety responsibilities during the Ebola Crisis. Not a single one of the 15,000 people we spoke to contracted the deadly virus.

How does football and L.A.C.E.S. help Liberians come together after the experience of war?

Football is the most unifying tool in Liberia. As a result of the Liberian civil war, many children were separated from their parents. Some families found themselves in places with high level of tribal distrust. The need for reintegration, peace building and conflict resolution amongst children was very high. Using football as a tool to unify the children of Liberia. L.A.C.E.S. engaged the children in three ways - peace building, conflict resolution and reintegration. The program takes in kids from the two different ethnic groups that were in conflict for many years. As a result of L.A.C.E.S. program, conflict between the two ethnic groups is greatly minimised.

Interview with James Tambah

Who is in the photos?

I took photos of L.A.C.E.S. players and some of their parents at L.A.C.E.S. field in Cotton Tree.

What did you try to show with the photos? Was there any wider meaning with the photos?

I was trying to show self-esteem, fair play, and teamwork. Football brings people together and creates unity in Liberia.

How did football and L.A.C.E.S. help during the Ebola crisis?

During the Ebola crisis football brought a lot of teamwork. L.A.C.E.S. told people about the bad things of Ebola and what people can do to not get Ebola. L.A.C.E.S. also shared buckets and Clorox to help fight Ebola, as well as providing food.

What does football mean to you? 

I started playing football when I was nine. Football means so many good things to me. It makes me to obey rules, and have good behavior toward my friends. My ambition in football is to be like Messi.