It all started with a little girl. At age eleven, Abigail was selling herself on the streets of Liberia in exchange for clean drinking water. Then, she met Katie Meyler, who had left her hometown of New Jersey twelve years earlier to volunteer overseas for Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian international relief organization that supports children.
At the time, Meyler knew the challenges the country faced. A 14-year brutal civil war had left the country in shambles, including destroying over 80% of its schools. Young girls seemed to bear the brunt of the damage, with more than 40% of those aged 10-14 never attending school, and, many of them like Abigail, falling prey to violence.
Seeing Katie as a potential lifeline, Abigail begged her to help her get into school. Desperate to help, Katie turned to a friend she met in Monrovia, Erica Noelle Duncan, who was a business consultant and coach. Erica knew immediately that Katie’s passion and drive gave her the ability to do something concrete. Soon after, More Than Me was born.
More Than Me (MTM) works in partnership with the Liberian Ministry of Education to rebuild the education system, and ensure girls like Abigail have access to basic human rights. The objective is that every child will attend and graduate primary school prepared to take their next step in life, which in turn, will bring stability to the country and grow the economy.
Through the MTM Academy, K-8 girls attend a tuition-free school that provides high quality education and holistic services like healthcare, family planning, psychosocial support, and a feeding program for the most vulnerable girls in Monrovia. The Academy also serves as an incubator for innovation and features a research and development center to test initiatives that, if proven successful, will be implemented in schools across Liberia. More Than Me Academy continues to pay the girls school fees onward through high school.
In its first year, MTM was able to send 5 girls to school, but that quickly grew and by 2017 they were schooling 1,500 children. Their goal is to be educating nearly 250,000 kids by the year 2020.
Consider the impact. When a girl in the developing world receives 7 or more years of education, she marries 4 years later and has 2.2 fewer children.
An extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10-20%; an extra year of secondary school: 15-25%. When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90% of it into their families, much more so than men.
Katie’s vision and achievements have not gone unnoticed. In 2014, she was named a 2014 TIME Person of the Year for her efforts on the front lines of Ebola, and recognized among People Magazine’s 25 Women Changing the World—next to Sheryl Sandberg and Oprah.
After years of gaining trust from the Liberian community, government and high-network donors around the world, MTM has been able to create lasting change in Liberia, with hopes that their model will be replicated to make a difference in the rest of the developing world.
According to Katie, “I’d rather die at 30 years old living for what I really believe in—from head to toe and in every single way possible, than to live to be 90 years old and not really fulfill what I was born to do.”
For girls in Liberia like the third-grade student Marka, their lives have been changed forever, with long lasting impact for generations to come. She remembers the happiest moment of her life as being the day when Katie’s academy “came to rescue me”.
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