I have a passion to serve the poor. This passion has led me to the inner-city, where I lived in a condemned house and worked with neighborhood prostitutes. It has led me to youth shelters, where teenagers believed that selling drugs was their only option. It has led me to the homeless in New York City, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis. It has led me to New Orleans after families had their lives turned upside down by a storm. Eventually that passion led me across the United States' border to Bolivia, where I met a young boy named Carlito. I was never the same again.
In Bolivia I had an internship teaching in a little town outside of Santa Cruz. I met a 4-year-old boy who was crawling on his stomach in the dirt, playing with a broken glass bottle, and we quickly became friends. Little did I know the impact that a child who slept under a car at night to keep warm would have on my life. I have never stopped thinking about Carlito—when I met him, I immediately knew that I would spend my life working on behalf of him and others like him. Honestly, though, I didn't always think about these worlds and problems that seemed so far away—when I was growing up, I probably didn't care.
When I was 6 years old my young parents split up after years of abuse, police in our house, holes punched in our walls, and drugs and alcohol. My mom, now a single parent to three daughters, struggled, working the overnight shift at a Lipton Tea factory. She made little more than minimum wage. We were lucky to have Hefty bags of used clothes left on our front step, government food stamps, and free lunch at school. Although I grew up in one of the wealthiest counties in America, our family was one of the disadvantaged. Needless to say, I spent the majority of my childhood being made fun of. I was angry and confused as to why I got such a raw deal in life.
However, my perspective on life reversed when I started attending a new church. I related to the messages and found purpose in serving others, and graduated from high school with an unusually high number of service hours. I even got an award from President Bill Clinton and received some scholarship money to go to college. I was the first person in my family to go. After graduation I had an intense determination to make the biggest impact possible for children in developing countries, like my friend Carlito. In a way, I saw a part of myself in kids like him. I sent in my application to work with an organization that helps the poor around the world. They hired me and sent me to a West African village, Koryah, in post-war Liberia.
I lived at an orphanage with 86 children whose parents had all been brutally murdered in the war. These children had lost everything, but they somehow had more joy than I had ever seen. I took cold-bucket baths and used candles for light. The children helped me cook my meals on a fire, and I started to pick up some of the tribal language, Pele. My job was to run a literacy program for 80 adults who were learning how to read and write for the first time. I spent many sleepless nights holding as many orphans in my arms as I could. I lived in Koryah for seven months, and after my contract with the non-profit expired I moved to the capital city, Monrovia. I rented a room from missionaries and worked with a local group to help 150 returning refugee children find school scholarships. The stories of those children changed me.
One day I went for a walk with Liberian friends in a slum called West Point. I met an 8-year-old girl named Regina, who slept on a cement floor in a room infested with rats. Regina's dad had been killed in the civil war and Regina and her mom were struggling simply to survive. Although Regina had never gone to school before, that year she got to go and even got a more comfortable place to live. So did several other children like Elizabeth, James, Francis, and Thursday!
More Than Me was formed organically as a means to continue helping these children and many more get to school! Often when talking to children in countries where there is not free education for all, children tell me that their biggest dream is just to go to school. I do not think that is too much to ask. So their dream has become our mission.
Katie Meyler, founder
Visit our Get Inspired page to book Katie as a speaker.