WHO WE ARE
More Than Me (MTM) uses education as a catalyst for transformative social change for every girl in Liberia.
Every girl empowered.
It all started with a girl. At 11 years old, she was selling herself for clean drinking water, when all she really wanted was to go to school. More Than Me was founded to meet her needs. We opened a school, the MTM Academy, for 150 girls and saw major progress. Then Ebola hit. The world didn’t act quickly enough, and we knew we had to fight to save her life. After spending six months on the front lines fighting Ebola and seeing three students lose their families (and many other children lose their own lives), we realized that our girls would never be safe, never truly thrive, until Liberia does. The first step to rebuilding Liberia is education for all.
Liberia’s education system is a mess. 65% of primary school age children are out of school, and only 20% of students enrolled in Grade 1, enroll in Grade 12.
With just 4 million people and 1.5 million children, Liberia has tremendous potential. The Ministry of Education has asked us to partner with them to replicate our model in Liberian schools and add capacity to the ministry to meet their priorities. We are committed to maintaining a center of excellence at our Academy while also scaling our successes into pilot government schools across the country.
More Than Me exists because we believe:
Liberia is a beautiful country that’s been through hell and is ready for real change.
Investing in girls is the best thing you can do.
GBV will only end if we take a strong stance against it.
Our Stance on Gender Based Violence(GBV)
Why We Started
More Than Me has a zero tolerance policy for abuse. When our founder, Katie Meyler, met girls who were forced to give oral sex for clean drinking water, she knew she had to do something. More Than Me was founded because we believe that no young girl should have to sell themselves to meet their basic needs.
Unfortunately, these girls’ stories are not unique in Liberia, as rape and child rape continue to be huge problems. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has denounced the country’s epidemic of child rape, calling it one of Liberia’s “biggest challenges” and “a growing concern”. According to Liberia’s Ministry of Gender, two-thirds of all rape victims in 2013 were between the ages of 3 and 14, yet less than one percent of perpetrators were convicted.
65% of the 1,002 cases reported in 2013 concerned victims aged between 3 and 14, yet just 137 cases came to court and only 49 rapists were convicted.
Liberia’s rape laws, which only came into effect in 2006, classify rape as intentional penetration of a penis, another body part, or an object into the vagina or anus of another person, without that person’s consent, or sexual intercourse between a person who is over 18 years of age and a person who is not yet 18 years of age, even if the younger person agreed to the act or was not forced into it. The punishment is life imprisonment, though it is rarely enforced.
Liberia established Criminal Court E in 2008, a special court where sexual and gender-based violence cases are tried. Despite these efforts, the court has only completed 18 trials in the past four years, with just a handful of convictions. In 2012 only five trials were completed, and 93 percent of the cases were dismissed.
Our Worst Nightmare
On June 12, 2014, our school nurse told our senior management that a student had confided to her that an important member of our team, Macintosh Johnson, a Program Coordinator and Community Liaison, had sexually assaulted her. Once our senior management team heard this horrific news, Liberian police were contacted and the suspect was arrested days later. His trial began in September 2015 with a case brought by the Government of Liberia. The courage of the first student to come forward gave 9 other girls the confidence to come forward, too. After a mistrial in 2016, the defendant passed away from an undisclosed illness.
Actions Taken to Ensure Safety
This incident increased our vigilance over personal safety. We want our stance to be heard loud and clear that we have a ZERO TOLERANCE policy for abuse. We’ve since taken the following actions to ensure the safety of our students:
- We re-evaluated our ratio of male and female staff and have made every effort possible to hire qualified female teachers as they interact with our students the most. We continue to monitor all of our staff, regardless of gender, to ensure there is no abuse of any kind.
- Under no circumstance are girls left alone on campus or in vehicles with males.
- We have a schedule that is followed and we know where every single child is at any time during the day. The schedule allows no time for students to be alone with anyone in the building except with the nurse or social worker.
- We revised our child protection policy and code of conduct which all staff signed.
- We conduct reference checks for every staff member.
- We created and implemented a whistleblower protection policy.
- We created systems for anonymous complaints and formally documented complaints to further build a culture of trust among students and staff.
- We implemented sexual and reproductive health classes that include age appropriate awareness education on assault and abuse so students can recognize inappropriate behavior.
- We conduct parent trainings on Gender Based Violence to spread awareness to families and the community
The safety of the children we serve is our number one priority. More Than Me has a zero tolerance policy for sexual violence and exploitation.
Standing with our Students
We are extremely proud of our students for speaking out when rape and transactional sex are all too commonly accepted, and victims are expected to stay silent. Our students proved that they can stand up and advocate for themselves, and that’s HUGE. Creating a culture of trust and safe space for children to share what is happening with them is a vital first step to systemic change, and a step we hope more schools and communities will strive for.
We refuse to stay silent. As we work to rebuild Liberia’s education system alongside the Ministry of Education, we are committed to making child protection one of the key pillars of these reforms.
MTM is committed to transparency and acting as a resource for other organizations and communities. We’re compiling a list of our own resources and outside resources that have helped shape our actions along the way. If you’d like to talk to someone from our team about an issue at your school or in your community, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.