The Blog

Matt & Michelle

Let them LOL is a story of many people, a community coming together to give hope to those experiencing unjust suffering.

Recently, Matt & Michelle were married. They decided  to use part of their wedding to do something for others. Here’s what they said:

“Michelle and I wanted to make a donation in lieu of giving a favor because we thought about other weddings we attended in the past and the objects the couple gave as favors for their guests.  We then thought about what we did with those favors a couple months later, we most likely tossed them out or put them somewhere never to be used again. The two of us didn’t want that. Instead we donated what we would have spent on favors to Let Them LOL and to Hospice Buffalo, two amazing ministries that we strongly believe in and know help further the lives of others.”

Matt & Michelle, we thank you on behalf of let them LOL for this gift of love to others! We wish you a wonderful marriage and many years of laughter!

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What is Endless Water?

“Many people in the world today are experiencing unjust suffering only because they lack the most basic resources to embrace a better future.”

Three years ago we came together to bring people clean water because we said “it’s not ok” that everyday 4,000 children die from water related disease. We met Baby Jonathan, and watched him die and said, never again, not on our watch.

It is an amazing thing to stop and realize that right now on the other side of the world, in small remote villages, thousands of people have had their lives directly impacted and made better because of the people of Western New York and beyond. The generosity of donors, the sacrifice of volunteers and the hard work of our Sierra Leone team has led to real change and given people new reason to hope once again.

45 let them LOL wells are now drilled and thousands of people have access to clean water! And this is real reason to stop and celebrate!

As let them LOL has grown, we have made a commitment to dig deep (pun intended) into a community in order to be a part of inciting real, lasting change. To help those who are unjustly suffering through giving them the basic resources and then to give them the tools & training to see those resources last for decades to come. It’s the idea of sustainability.

As we are growing, we are learning. We are looking to others who are years ahead in this type of work. We are making adjustments and always looking to improve. We strive to be more efficient, to listen to the communities and learn and grow together.

One thing we have discovered through research and our own experiences is that up to 60% of wells installed by organizations working in places like Africa will break down in 5 years or less.

This may alarm you as it did us at first, and we’ve once again said, this is not ok.

Then, when we stop and think about it more it makes sense. On average a village with a let them LOL well is 500 people. Imagine 500 people coming to your backyard hose to get their daily water, everyday. Water needed for drinking, cooking, cleaning and bathing. The mechanics of the well pump are not complicated, but anything that gets used will have wear and tear and will break down.

The saddest part about this is that the parts that are breaking only cost a few US dollars. It may be a simple bolt, or a seal that has cracked or broken. And, without these spare parts, and without the proper training, pumps sit broken for days, months even years. And now these villagers who are moms & dads, kids, with dreams and so much potential once again return to the dirty stream for water. And the awful cycle continues.

So we’ve asked ourselves as you may be asking yourself, what can be done? We have been introduced to an organization working in another part of Africa who has found an effective solution to this problem. We are convinced that the answer comes back to the core of let them LOL; “empowering those who are suffering”.

That’s where our Endless Water program comes in. Let them LOL’s complete water solution. It will involve not only drilling new wells, but also ongoing maintenance of those wells. We will look to find a US sponsor for each well site who will support the monthly maintenance and keep the water flowing. Wells will need sponsors for 5 years. After 5 years, the community will have been trained and will take over supporting their well’s maintenance.

We are very excited that we have already begun to start this program through a generous donor who gave the funds for our well maintenance truck. We had a team in Sierra Leone for the month of June go around to most of the LOL wells and place a smiley face identification plate on the pumps. During that visit they found LOL wells that were either broken completely or not functioning as well as they had in the past. Our Sierra Leone maintenance team was able to fix all of these pumps!

This is where once again we look to the generosity of our community here. We have 5 of the 45 pumps sponsored. What an incredible opportunity we have to see these investments continue to save lives and be able to go on for decades. We can’t wait for the day when we step out of funding these wells and see these communities fully empowered! Then we can truly say we gave them something wonderful, we gave them endless water!

well for endless water

Trouble Maker #3

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When the team first arrived about a little over a month ago, we walked up to the home, the kids put on a little singing performance for us, and then we stayed a little longer to play with the kids.  I couldn’t help but notice that one of the kids had a severe burn on his foot that had destroyed all of his toes.  He is so young and it seemed extremely sad to me.  After watching him over the next couple of days, I noticed a few things.

First I noticed this kid was full of energy and that he loved running around and teasing the other kids.  He has 2 friends that help him to accomplish this.  Because of this, I was a little hesitant to get to know him because the little troublemakers always give me the hardest time to connect with.  Even when I would babysit in the states, I would try to keep my distance from the ones who never listened and give them something to distract them from being bad.

Another thing I noticed was that when the kids were eating, this child was more like a human garbage can than anything else.  He would always go to the other kids and try to get their leftovers, and when he couldn’t get them, he would bite them.  I thought it was a little funny I am not going to lie, but obviously he was punished because of it.  After seeing this, I had to know this kids story.  Where he came from, and why he is the way he is.

I learned his name was Justin.  In the home, he is known as troublemaker #3.  Mainly because of the things I have already shared.  He is 4 years old and before coming to the home has more of a story than most of us will probably ever have in our entire lives.  He was found living on the street begging for scraps and having to fend for himself.  Hopefully like me, this story does something inside you to let you know thats not right.  I did not know him then, but when he was brought into to home around March last year,  he never smiled, and would not interact with the other kids.  I guess if I was in his shoes I couldn’t really blame him.

It took a couple weeks, but one day I was sitting at the home and this little trouble maker managed to steal my heart.  There are times when at the home that I let the littler kids sit on my lap, and this wasn’t really one of those times, but Justin was siting next to me and we were making noises at each other (the true way to my heart is to be able to communicate with strange noises) and somehow he ended up on my lap.  It was innocent and cute, so I just went with it.  He kept looking into my eyes saying my name and giving that cute little kid giggle and I just fell in love.

Now when I see him and go to the home, he is almost always the first one to run up and give me a big hug.  When we walk to school he always wants to be right next to me and if the other kids in his school try to call me pumwey, he defends me and lets them know that my name is Jen!

I am sure that most of you have young kids in your life.  Whether its your own kids, nieces, nephews, siblings, or kids that you babysit.  I would like to ask out of love, what makes them any different from a kid like Justin?  Sure they probably have had a home to sleep in since they were born and didn’t have to live on the street and steal food from people, but its not his fault.  That is not the life he chose for himself, its just what he had to deal with before things could get better for him.  Like most 4 year olds, he is full of energy, loves playing with other kids and is obsessed with repeating everything you say.  Take some time today to pray for and remember kids like Justin who need an opportunity to become something great, even if they are a little mischievous.

As always, thanks for reading my post.  Everything is going really well here in Mokanji. I still need about $3,000 to be able to stay the full 2 years so if you want to help out with that I would greatly appreciate it!  The place that you can do that is ltlol.com/jenprevity. Thank you so much and if you wish to contact me, or have questions my email is jenprev1@gmail.com

Jen
Let them LOL
Sierra Leone, On the Ground Coordinator

 

Wearing Your Passion on Your Sleeve

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*these are my “africa” pants

Its been three weeks since I returned from my forth trip to Sierra Leone. It may seem counter-intuitive but going on the trips is the easy part. Let me explain: yes there’s the 24+ hours of travel just to get there, yes its really hot, yes you give up the many comforts of home, yes your are faced with heart wrenching poverty, yes you work all day, and sometimes stay up until 3am organizing the work for the next day. But the resolve of the people, the hope that is growing in your heart and theirs is invigorating. Knowing that you are able to be a part of change, and see the results in front of you is very exciting!

The real work is when you are home. Its the long to-do list, its the many phone calls (sometimes from Africa at 5am), its the meetings with potential donors, its the stuffing envelopes late at night, etc. etc. None of whats happening there happens without the hard day in and day out non glamorous work.

This week I have faced challenges associated with the work we are doing, and it can be emotionally draining. Someone recently said to me, that many people would give up when faced with some of the challenges you face with our work.

This morning I woke up and decided I would wear my Africa clothes. What are my Africa clothes? I have what I call my “uniform” for when I travel to Sierra Leone. Its safari type pants, and a LOL tee. My Africa pants sit in my closet all year waiting for the next trip. Today I thought, if I wear my Africa clothes, I will be reminded and invigorated here to press on and work hard for LOL which is my heart’s passion. When I pulled the pants out of my closet they had that old familiar Africa smell (yes they are clean). It is a smell of Mokanji, a war-torn place that holds so much potential, a place where some of my truest friends live, a place that holds so much of my heart.

Looking at these pants I’m wearing, I remember these are the pants I wore as I sat next to a baby dying from water-related disease. The same pants that later saw clean water for the first time coming out of a LOL well. The same pants that held an orphaned child who now calls Hope’s Rising their home. And the same pants that traveled the dusty roads seeing village after village still needing clean water.

My heart is full when I think of the changes that have come to Mokanji, Sierra Leone already because so many people have given to those on the other side of the world so that they could have a chance, so they could dare to hope that tomorrow can be better than today.

Its amazing how doing something so simple as putting on my Africa clothes refreshes the fire of the passion to do that thing I believe I am called to do, and to press on with an even greater resolve.

Sometimes in the tasks to accomplish our passions, we can lose the heart of why we do what we do. Sometimes we can just get discouraged.  Maybe if we found ways to remind ourselves why we started in the first place we can be renewed to see it through to completion. Last year on a trip, the nationals gave me the name “Tiowa”-tie-Oh-wah (not sure on the spelling), it means to see it to completion. Today, I wear my Africa pants to encourage my heart to live up to that name.

What is your passion? What is that thing that you must do? I challenge all of us today to find ways to wear it on our sleeve.

Kate
let them LOL

 

A Whole New World

 

We drove 6 hours to the place that would be my home for the next two years. We waited on the outskirts for the rest of the team to pull in.  Everyone standing around was staring at our white skin and trying to see the people who have brought them so much hope over the past few years.  I was with the LOL director Kate and her old friends were coming to say hi.  Once everyone was there, we were able to go into Mokanji.  Wow what a beautiful place. We were greeted by many unfamiliar faces, al eager to help with the luggage.  We walked up the hill to where Hope Rising Children’s home is.  One of the kids saw us coming, screamed something to all of his friends, and ran dow the hill to greet us.  People from the team were crying because of how beautiful it was from the last time they had left it a year ago.  The house mom Aisha came to greet us all. She was beautiful!  The kids put a program on of singing, dancing and prayer.  They are all precious, they all have stories, and because of Hope Rising, they now all have dreams.  I will get into their story more later, but I want in this post to  focus on Mokanji.

The year is 1991.  There has been some talk that a war is going to start.  All of the people in Sierra Leone are scared.  They are worried.  They hear about the Rebels and that they are coming, but in Mokanji, life is thriving.  It is where the government officials live.  The people are well protected, well taken care of.  Finally the war starts, but for now Mokanji is safe.  There is a hospital that is the best in all of Sierra Leone.  It is the one that the president goes to when he needs medical care.  There are houses that have all the riches.  The people are thriving and may even go to the country club to play tennis or go for a swim.  Fast forward a few years to January 1st 1995.  The people have heard that the rebels are near.  They are starting to go into hiding.  They hide in the bush hoping that if the rebels attack, they will not be killed, taken for slaves or used in their war.  On the 18th of January all of the nightmares come true.  The rebels had come into Mokanji.  People ran, and hid.  They were scared and had no idea what to do.  Fortunately, the rebels did not see anything they wanted, they just passed through.  The worst was still to come.  People were getting paranoid. The ones who said they were fighting against the rebels started to turn on their own people and in 1997, they attacked and burnt down what was once a beautiful place.  Mokanji would be forever changed.

Now in Mokanji, there are still people who stayed for the whole time, some who went away for a time, and came back, and some who went away and stayed gone.  As you walk down what used to be a lit street, you know find deserted concrete silhouettes of buildings and no sign of life.  When you first walk into the complex, there are 3 buildings that have been restored by the people who work with Global Outreach Mission. If you ever get here and have the time, you should keep walking up the hill because what once was all overgrown brush and something that looked like it could never be anything again is now the home to 26 orphaned children who are now able to go to school and learn and be empowered to do something themselves for their own country.  That building was able to be put up by the supporters of a really cool organization called Let Them Laugh Out Loud!

I hope you have enjoyed the history of Mokanji and that you are changed by this.  Hopefully you are moved to make something out of nothing in your own home, or now have a new found appreciation for what you already have.

I also could really use your help!  I am honored to stay in this beautiful place for 2 years and give some leadership training and some knitting classes, along with hearing and telling peoples stories, but my trip is not yet fully funded.   If you would like to help with this you can go to ltlol.com/jenprevity

THANK YOU SO MUCH!

Jen
On the Ground Coordinator
Let them LOL

The Plastic Box

Saturday we welcomed two new orphaned boys Abdul (9) and Abraham (11) into our Hope’s Rising Children’s Home. These boys were living with their Aunt who regularly “flogged” them. They didn’t get much food, and they weren’t in school.

Abdul was so proud to show his friend (a missionary’s son) his new bed and plastic box. Did you read that right? He was excited to have a bed and plastic box. See, the children of Hope’s Rising each get one small plastic box. In that they keep ALL their belongings.

I can’t stop thinking about this. We have so much, and still are often unsatisfied, wanting more, waiting for our next material fix. And this precious little boy, without parents to love him, with little food, who was regularly beaten was filled with joy over a bed and a box!

The missionary’s son said that the boys were “lucky” because “now they didn’t have to worry about getting flogged, they would get plenty of food to eat, they have soft beds to sleep in, and they get to go to school.”

WOW

Ironically on Saturday (the same day the boys moved in) our family spent the day going through our basement purging of all the excess we have. We probably could do that every Saturday for the next few weeks and still have so much more than we need!

This is not meant to put a guilt trip on you, or tell you to go and sell everything you have. But maybe we can all learn a lesson from the plastic box. How much do we really need? What could we do without to help someone else? Someone who just needs the basic things: a bed, education, clean water and a small plastic box.

Kate

Thoughts from a Trip Team member

I was given two of the greatest gifts of my life in March of 2012.

The first was the chance to join LTLOL on a trip half way around the world to Sierra Leone, Africa in order to film the trip.

The second was a result of the first. It was a gift more life changing than I ever could have imagined. It was a gift of knowledge. Knowledge of my own selfishness. It hurt to receive. But I would never return it.

The people of Sierra Leone are beautiful. They are beautiful in their love because they love with all everything they are. They are beautiful in their charity because they give everything they have. They are beautiful in their spirit because they still smile and laugh and love in the face of hopelessness.

And yet, they are finding something to hope in. The hope they are finding is one that most of us have never needed. The hope of life. The hope of a life without Typhoid Fever or Yellow Fever or Malaria or starvation… And the list goes on and on and on. However, even with all of these potentially life ending scenarios that many of them face and fear, they remain true to their hope.

All of the hope that they have has started small, and grown over the past three years from one simple thing; being given the gift of clean water. Let Them Laugh Out Loud has invested hundreds of thousands of donated dollars into the Mokanji area of Sierra Leone for the sole purpose of giving life sustaining resources to those that do not have them.

And I got to, and get to continue to be involved. I get to go and see these changes first hand. And that’s why I go. Not for myself, but so that I can capture these changes. So that I can record the despair, the love, the need, the joy, and mostly, the hope that LTLOL is giving. Then bring that footage back so that those back home can know and understand that it is a worthwhile investment. And for those that have yet to see the need, that they will understand and join in the mission to help.

I couldn’t be happier to be a part of it. I couldn’t be happier to be going back. And I couldn’t have been shown in a more uncompromising manner how selfish I am. And I’m thankful.

Click here to sponsor Nick’s trip or another team member

Nick Thompson
2012 & 2013 Let them LOL trip team member

A LOVE Perspective

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The last few months have challenged my heart. Working to help those in extreme poverty sounds romantic.
It will get you a pat on the back. People will think you are something special.

But those things can not be the motive because they will not sustain you.
They wont sustain the countless hours that so many volunteer behind the scenes.
They wont sustain you when you have to make the hard decisions.
They wont sustain you when in order to do the greatest good and the right thing, you have to let your heart break once again.

What does sustain is LOVE.
A love to go on even when its hard.
A love that holds on to the hope that you are making a real difference, even if its not always obvious.
A love that continues to give even when it hurts.

It is a pure divine love, one that transcends time and is greater than anything we may face.

The amazing thing is that through our trials, that love is perfected, and our resolve remains. We continue to empower those experiencing unjust suffering by providing them with the basic resources.

Why? Because that’s what love asks of us.

Kate
Let them LOL

“If you want a love message to be heard, it has got to be sent out. To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it.” Mother Teresea

Thoughts from our Yard Sale Coordinator


I have had a few conversations lately about why I would choose to help people so far away from me (Sierra Leone Africa) instead of people right here in America. It is on my heart.. and it might help someone else make a decision to do something about what is on their heart.. so here it goes:

When I hear the words “every 20 seconds someone dies from water related illness”.. it grips my heart in a helpless way that I can’t explain. I picture my Natalie, Christopher, Emilie, Nathan, Bobby, or Kati having diseases that can be cured as simple as having a well to produce clean water, and I get ANGRY! I think of all the clean water we use.. to water plants, to clean dishes… and worst of all.. to flush our toilets. It is a problem that cannot be ignored.. I can not just sit back and say the problem is too big, so I will do nothing!

It happens to be that Sierra Leone is the world’s poorest country… and from the mouths of my friends that have visited over the past few years.. they will attest that there is a legitimate crisis for clean water! In the villages, they can’t go down the street and find a store to get a drink out of a water fountain. They can’t go to the local hospital and get an I-V because they are dehydrated. They walk miles every day to collect water that is contaminated. They usually don’t even understand that it is making them sick. I have a dr. friend that has visited 2 years in a row now and he said the best thing we can do is get the water wells dug. It is vital to the survival of the people. The difference is measurable in the villages that they revisit after the well has been dug… no water related illness there the next year!!!!!!

I have been asked, why do that instead of doing something local.
If that WAS all I was involved with, is that REALLY a BAD thing?

Each one of us has gifts… passions for different things. Circumstances in our lives that make us more sensitive to certain needs in our communities. Can you imagine how our world would look if we didn’t have people who cared about animals? or crops? or the environment? etc. We are lucky to have so many educated people in our communities that care about these things, and are working hard for us to enjoy the beauty, the food, the health care, the scientific discovery, and on and on. We have so much, so the responsibility is on us to find ways to share our wealth of knowledge and resources.

An opportunity came across my path when I first moved to Buffalo, to become a part of an organization who was trying to make a difference in this water crisis. Just a comment… “Have you ever thought about doing a yard sale?” turned into a life changing event for me. It became a way for me, someone who didn’t think she had much else to give financially, to become involved in something that my heart cries out to fix!

So why partner with “Let them LOL?” There are other organizations to partner with in this way… YES!!! fortunately there are. It is encouraging that there are more organizations doing the same type thing… but I happen to live around the corner from the couple who started this one.. and because of that, my heart is more connected with this group at this time. I am also drawn to the fact that at this time, LOL is managed 100% by volunteers, so I feel really good about the money I give being used for what it is collected for. But to be honest, even if up to half of it was going towards the projects… so that someone was paid to take care of the organization… my heart would still be very happy about it. It takes so much work to run something of this magnitude.

I am excited to find a way to help people here… and people far away. My heart is to NOT ignore the needs of the people around me… but to find ways to meet both!

We live in a land of stuff. Our trash is better than MANY countries best.
Many of us have so much stuff we have to rent storage sheds, add on rooms, and build garages to hold it all. We have more clothes than we want to mess with, and more toys than our children will ever play with. We have dishes and other household items that are in great shape, but we just don’t want to use them anymore because they don’t match the color scheme we are changing to. We have clothes that we just bought last month that our kids grew out of and they don’t even looked worn! We have some stuff with tags still on it, sitting in our closets and drawers.. forgotten and not being used. All of these things add up to many usable items that could be someone else’s “just what I was looking for!”
Not everyone in America is like that though. There have been a few years of my life, that if it weren’t for yard sales, I don’t know how I could have clothed and found shoes for my 6 kids. I know the joy I experience in finding just what I need at thrift stores and yard sales and clearance racks, to make my budget meet the needs of my family. I am thankful my children are being teachable and willing to wear gently used items and spend their money wisely. They love it when they find a pair of American Eagle jeans for a $1!

The LOL Yard Sales have turned into an amazing event for me. I have watched now for the past 3 years and seen over and over again, local families purchasing items that they need, want, and have been looking for, at a fraction of the cost they would at a store… and the money they spend on it go to help a family across the ocean receive a clean water well. I have seen families with obvious financial needs take home grocery bags full of shoes, clothing, and household items and giant smiles on their faces. I have seen a man rejoice openly when he found the double stroller they have been looking for… at a price he could afford. I have watched young children say, “this is the best day of my life” as they spend a few dollars and go home with toys that would have cost $100 in the store.

Helping people here in our community while we are helping others is a BEAUTIFUL thing to be a part of. With no extra effort, we are doing two things at once. Each shopper, those that donate time, energy, items, and money, all have a part in making a difference in this water crisis! Every dollar raised is bringing a well closer to reality to a village in desperate need. As I help organize the sales each year, I am overwhelmed with the chance I have to be a part of a beautiful community here in Western New York, who is willing to look into the closets, attics, basements, and storage bins of their comfortable homes, weed through their stuff and be generous as they turn their extras into water wells!

Jen Burns
LOL Yard Sale Coordinator

TWO homes, ONE heart


These sweet faces are the children of let them LOL’s Hope’s Rising Children’s Home. Children who were once orphaned or extremly impoverished are now a part of a family and have a new hope for a better future. Yesterday as I was at the park enjoying watching my children practice baseball and softball and play on a playground, I couldn’t help but think of the children of Hope’s Rising, and wonder what they were up to. So I called Aisha, one of our house moms. We talked about how they were doing in school, their health, etc. In the background I heard the sounds of children playing. I couldn’t help but see in my mind their infectious smiles, and my heart longed to be there. Then, I looked at the joy on my children’s faces and I didn’t want to leave.

This is the constant dichotomy i find myself living in. The joy of the home I have here, and the pull of my home there. It is an uncomfortable, unsettled feeling that I live with each day. But I think that is ok. I believe we aren’t called to a life of comfort, but a life of stretching, of heart break, of giving, of growth. As my heart longs to hold the children of Hope’s Rising, it grows bigger and bigger in love. I hold and kiss, and love and appreciate my children here even more.

I may feel divided, like I have two homes, but I have one heart that grows bigger everyday!

Kate
let them LOL

Below is a Blessing a friend recently sent me:

May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.
May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.
May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.
May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really CAN make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

by Sr. Ruth Fox, OSB (1985)