More Than Me started in 2009 helping girls get off the street and into school by providing scholarships, free meals and supplies, and an after school program. We realized the girls were learning more after school than during class and decided to start our own school. The President of Liberia heard about our work and gave us a building. In December 2012, MTM won a million dollars through the CHASE American Giving Awards, a Facebook voting contest where the winners were announced on national TV.
We converted the building into the first tuition-free girls school, the More Than Me Academy, and opened the doors in September 2013. After successfully running the school for a year, Ebola hit and our students were in the middle of the crisis. We knew we had to help, and decided to give everything we had to fight for them. After six months on the front lines, running ambulance services and home healthcare teams, and taking in Ebola orphans, MTM was recognized as a TIME Person of the Year.
After Ebola, we reopened our school in March 2015, but we knew we had to do more. Our girls will never be safe, they will never be able to truly thrive, until Liberia does.
The first step to rebuilding Liberia is education for all. A generation of students lost out on an education during the civil war, and schools were closed for most of the last academic year due to Ebola. We must act now to stop another generation losing out on an education.
The Minister of Education asked us to help him rebuild Liberia's education system in three ways: first, to use the MTM Academy as a Research & Development center to implement interventions and test the impact of our holistic services like healthcare, social work services, child protection policies, sexual and reproductive health, and schools meals. Second, replicate our model in up to 30 schools, two schools in every county, over the next two years; and third, to help build capacity within the Ministry of Education to support them in achieving their priorities. We said yes, of course!
We are committed to supporting these projects until this generation of students graduates and becomes Liberia's future leaders.
Liberia, West Africa has a population of about 4 million people. The official language is English - the name Liberia derives from "Liberty" meaning freedom. Liberia's current president (and Nobel Laureate) Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the first female head of state in Africa! A 14-year brutal civil war left the country in shambles, including destroying over 80% of its schools. The recent Ebola epidemic further weakened Liberia's infrastructure.
Liberia's education system is in a state of emergency.
According to GirlUp, more than 40% of Liberian girls ages 10-14 have never gone to school. Unfortunately, young girls fall victim to the most frequently reported crime in Liberia, rape. But investing in girls has huge rewards:
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 to 20 percent. An extra year of secondary school: 15 to 25 percent.
When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40 percent for a man.
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 three and 14, yet less than one percent of perpetrators were convicted.
In June 2014, one of our students confided to the school nurse that our community liaison male staff member had sexually assaulted her. Upon hearing that news, the nurse informed the school administration staff who contacted Liberian police and the suspect was arrested two days later. His trial began in September 2015, with a case being brought by the Government of Liberia. Our response gave other girls who claimed abuse the trust to come forward. In cooperation with their parents and the Ministry of Gender, Children & Social Protection, we pay for housing, a full-time social worker, and schooling for the girls in a safe house, with its location only known to select personnel.
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:
The safety of the children we serve is our number one priority. More Than Me has a zero tolerance policy for sexual violence.
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.
More info coming soon.