From Teaching to Saving Lives

Posted on by More Than Me

by Emily Bell

Everything was ready. Rice in bags – check. Workbooks prepared – check. Informational handouts on Ebola prevention – check.  The More Than Me students and their families waited patiently to receive their care packages. School was closing, and we didn’t know when it would reopen.

“Power class! Form a single file line starting at the library.”

The girls were excited to be getting workbooks, food, basic medicine, Ebola prevention materials, and information about accessing healthcare while school was closed. But would these care packages really keep them occupied for very long? Would they keep the girls safe in the months to come?

Jumping over hurdles is something we at More Than Me are used to doing in Liberia. But I don’t think any of us imagined the extent of the obstacles we’d face to keep our girls not only safe, but alive.

How It All Started

Katie and Elizabeth, MTM’s first student.

In 2006, Katie Meyler, a 23-year old from New Jersey, got a job in Liberia teaching adult literacy. While she was there, she heard about West Point, one of the most notorious slums in the country. She started making friends with people there and, being a big kid herself, became friends with kids in the neighborhood. Over and over again, she’d ask them, “If you could have anything in the world, what would you want?” And over and over again, they’d say, “We just want to go to school!”

Katie posted their stories on her MySpace page, which was cool at the time, and friends and family started wiring her money. When she started sponsoring more kids in school, a lawyer friend encouraged her to start her own organization. She was afraid she wasn’t enough – smart enough, educated enough, pretty enough. But then her best friend looked her dead in the face and said, “Get over yourself. It’s not about you!” So she named the organization More Than Me.

Before and after photos of the More Than Me Academy

More Than Me became a 501c3 in 2009, and began as a scholarship program for the most vulnerable girls and young women in the West Point community of Monrovia, Liberia. Over the past five years, More Than Me has been committed to evolving to the needs of its students and their community, including the 2013 launch of Liberia’s first tuition-free, all girls school, the More Than Me Academy.

During our first full year of school, we provided 124 girls in grades K-4 with not just an education, but also two hearty meals per day, access to healthcare, access to a computer lab and library, and a robust afterschool program, ensuring the girls were off the street for the entire day from 7am to 5pm.

Then Ebola Hit

…and everything changed for us. We saw one of our students in the news about the riots in West Point (see above), and Katie knew she had to return and see how we could help. Katie went into the quarantine and spoke to community leaders, who More Than Me has worked with for many years, to figure out where the gaps in the Ebola response were so that More Than Me could work quickly and effectively to fill them.

Filling the Gaps to Create an Effective Ebola Response

We knew that as long as there was Ebola in Liberia, our girls were at risk. So we fought with everything we were made of to end this epidemic that terrorized our children and the communities in which they live. We did this by understanding the pulse of the local people, remaining flexible to respond rapidly to urgent needs, and supporting efforts that have the highest return.

We turned our school into a home base for our response, the Ebola Free West Point Coalition. Our library turned into a warehouse for supplies, the side yard where girls used to play at recess now served as a parking lot for our ambulances.

It worked. The government asked us to expand our model to five other communities in Monrovia. Our ambulance reduced pick up time from 3-4 days to 30 minutes. We supported Ebola orphans, many of whom are now attending school at the More Than Me Academy.

A Bright Light

As the epidemic became more under control, we shifted our work to reintegrating survivors and supporting clinics with resources, while waiting and hoping for schools to be allowed to reopen. When the announcement came earlier this year that schools would finally open again, we were ECSTATIC. Our students remained out of school for seven months, and we couldn’t wait to return to our original mission.

We reopened the Academy on March 2nd for 150 students, about 30 of whom were orphaned or abandoned by Ebola. But we cannot forget what we saw and experienced during the height of Ebola. When the world turned its back on Liberia, we went back in. We saw people die needlessly because of a lack of a coordinated response. We’ve been asking ourselves: Why did this happen? Did it have to happen? And, most importantly, how can we be a part of the solution so that something like this never happens in Liberia again?

What’s Next

Today, we understand more deeply how critical it is that Liberia’s children receive a strong education NOW so that they grow up with the knowledge and capacity needed to handle their country’s challenges head on, and to protect their most vulnerable citizens.

We’re excited to keep you updated and encourage you to subscribe to our newsletter to stay informed.

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School is open!

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The MTM Academy opened March 2nd.

Let the learning begin!

The girls are so excited to be back in school after a 6 month hiatus. Our school staff has taken every precaution to ensure our students’ safety, from constructing a hand-washing station to enforcing new health and safety rules in the classroom. We can’t wait to see the progress this year will bring.

Thank you for standing by our girls through these tough times – we couldn’t do our work without you! Now more than ever, our girls need your encouragement and support.

The girls are excited about their new lunch boxes!

And brand new back packs from State Bags!

Support her dreams.

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How we fought Ebola.

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And we are still fighting Ebola, with a special focus on reintegrating survivors back into their communities. We’ve added 30 new students to the MTM Academy, most of whom are Ebola orphans. School reopens next week and the girls are excited. We are too. Let the learning begin!

Want to fundraise for More Than Me? Get creative for the girls!

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More Than Me Academy Reopening February 16th!

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*The school opening was pushed back to March 2nd, but it’s open now!!

Before Ebola, we had a school. We had just opened the More Than Me Academy, in fact. And exactly one year ago, we opened our library. It looked like this:

When the library opened, it looked like this.

The girls enjoyed reading new books during and after school!

Then Ebola hit, and the library changed..

The library during Ebola – filled with life-saving resources, and acting as our Ebola-Free Coalition home base.

Similarly, our classrooms went from safe places for learning math and spelling, to meeting and training spaces for Ebola fighters in the community.

Several months before, the same wall looked like this:

The girls wrote out their dreams for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day last year.

Now, after what seems like longer than 6 months, we are finally able to reopen the school and return it to its original purpose – educating these incredible girls! Here’s what the re-school-ification (yes, this is a made-up word) process looks like:

Bringing shelves back to the library.Putting the books back on the shelves.

The shelves are stocked!

These girls lost their parents to Ebola. They had nowhere to go when we met them. Now, they are starting school at More Than Me later this month!

Back-to-school PTA meeting!

The chalkboards need some love too.

Regina, our school president from last year, imagining being in class again soon.

Evelyn, a new MTM student, taking an entrance exam. She is ready for school to begin!

This is what a chalkboard should look like. Filled with students’ names and their class assignment. :)

 We can’t wait for classes to start again on February 16th! These girls deserve it. <3

 

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Happy New (School) Year from More Than Me!

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Thanks to you, we raised $194,930 for the Top Gift of 2014 campaign! AMAZING.

As if that wasn’t enough good news, President Sirleaf just announced that schools are allowed to reopen in February! We are SO EXCITED for our girls. We have lots of work to do this month to reopen the More Than Me Academy, but we can’t wait to get our girls back in school! It starts with shifting our Ebola response program headquarters from the school to our guest house so that we can disinfect and fully prepare the More Than Me Academy for a new school year to begin!

THANK YOU for all your help – we seriously couldn’t do this without you.

With love for Liberia and a brighter future in 2015,
Emily and the More Than Me Team

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I cannot get Liberia off my mind.

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Dear More Than Me Family,

I just left Liberia, but cannot and will not let this country leave my mind. Fighting Ebola is fighting an invisible enemy. An enemy that sneaks in and takes anyone in its path. Every day is a new day and I have quickly learned that it is best to be ready for anything and remain agile to meet the daily needs of the community.

The other day, like most days, started by reaching for my cell to make sure that all was ok through the night. Missed call, number unknown. I returned the call and was soon receiving the most unbelievable news: TIME’s Person of the Year! WHAT?!!! I am so unbelievably grateful that the work of all Ebola Fighters is being recognized and am humbled to be amongst those honored and acknowledged.

These past four months fighting Ebola have been the most important of my life. I have always believed that life isn’t worth living if you haven’t found something worth dying for. Even when I had a close call, sitting in a treatment unit for nine hours watching people around me die while waiting for my test results, I knew that no matter the outcome of the results, that I did the right thing. There was no regret.

So here I am, enamored by this beautiful country ravaged by Ebola, and holding onto the promise of a brighter future. If we are going to build a more stable and resilient future, we cannot stand still. We must continue to build stamina and strengthen our most valuable asset: the youth. More than half of Liberia’s population is under the age of 14 and today, none of them are in school. Healthy minds, filled with potential, sit untouched, unmoved and unmotivated.
But I am ready; we are ready, with our arms open wide to embrace Liberia’s future. MTM has exciting plans underway to open the first MTM Boarding School. Here, on a scenic patch of untouched coastline, we will create an environment that broadens our mission to unlock and nurture the unique potential, leadership skills, vision and compassion that our students hold. When one of our students graduates, not only will she decide what comes next for her future, but she will also be prepared to stand strong and carry on in the face of adversity.

I often garner the most attention because I’m in the spotlight, but MTM thrives because of the ambulance attendants, the nurse aids, the teachers and social workers, the administrative assistants. We thrive because thousands of you have said YES to living for something bigger than yourselves. I cannot and never have been able to do this alone. There is no More Than Me without YOU.

It’s the end of the year now, the time when people are the most generous with their money, and I hope you too will consider giving. Donations, small or large, make a huge difference. In 2015 we plan to push past our limitations and DREAM BIG for our girls’ and their future. There is work to be done, and I’m calling you to the front lines with us to make it happen.

Donations are doubled through the end of the year. Help us start 2015 strong!

Dreaming for her,
Katie

Donate now.

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Happy Holidays From More Than Me!

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What a year it’s been! When 2014 started, none of us here at More Than Me knew what it would end up looking like or that we would restructure our mission to fight Ebola. While the Ebola crisis isn’t over, we can say we’ve had a hand in helping stop the spread of the virus with our community-based coalition.

Our ambulance.

We’re also really happy that Pearlina is with family members again after losing her mother, that Esther has found family AND survived Ebola, and of course that Baby Kate continues to bring us smiles. We also couldn’t be more grateful to our staff members, ambulance team, and our supporters who’ve helped us every step of the way!

In the spirit of Black Friday, I took a half day and then went shopping with Esther, baby Katie and Patience. One of my favorite things to do! #Liberia #Survivor

This holiday season, we wish you the best and can’t wait to keep updating you on all our adventures in 2015!

Right now until the end of the year, donations are matched 100%. Will you help us start 2015 strong?

DONATE HERE.

We’re always in this together.

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More Than Me’s “A Brighter Future” Campaign Is Extended

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As we see less and less Ebola cases in Liberia, we are shifting our gears once again as an organization. Instead of focusing all our efforts toward fighting Ebola, we are moving to reintegrating and supporting Ebola survivors and re-opening our academy for our students and those abandoned or orphaned by Ebola.

You see smiles and bush, I see lots of classrooms and children with their hands in the air asking questions instead of selling from buckets in their head. I see a generation of young women rising up to turn the tables for #Liberia. #togetherwecan double your donation this holiday season, we are counting on you!

You’ve read our story for months — how our on-the-ground staff has dealt with Ebola, the ambulance drivers who risk their lives, and much more. We’ve also shared with you the heartbreaking stories of Pearlina and Esther, who after much time, are back with family members. Since schools have been closed in August, we want to open our academy so these kids have somewhere to go and learn again. Education is still a priority deep in our hearts and minds.

That’s why we’ve created our “A Brighter Future” campaign, to raise $200,000 to make the academy a real possibility, as well as help with counseling Ebola survivors and orphans.

You can help and donate to us here. Every donation up to $100,000 is matched at 100% until December 31st! This means you can make a donation into a Christmas gift and write it off for your taxes.

Help us end 2014 on a high note and donate to us today! We couldn’t be more grateful for your continued support.

Happy Holidays, from our family to yours!

Esther survived Ebola, her family didn’t. Josephine lost her mom and uncle. They met through @morethanmeorg and now they’re best friends. It’s pretty incredible. #thingsthatwarmtheheart

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More Than Me Nurse, Iris Martor, Part of TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year Profile

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We’re still so excited and proud that Katie Meyler was named one of TIME Magazine’s Persons of the Year. But, she wasn’t the only one from More Than Me to be named an Ebola Fighter — Iris Martor, our More Than Me Academy nurse, was also profiled in TIME.

Iris’ story is part of “The Nurses” section for TIME’s Persons of the Year. In her own words, Iris admits that she was initially scared to join the fight against Ebola. At one point, her daughter fell ill and she feared it was Ebola, wondering if her work was worth the danger she was putting herself and her family in. But, she knew that it was — saving the lives of her fellow Liberians was definitely worth risking her own. As she told TIME, “If someone from America comes to help my people, then why can’t I?”

Her profile explores Liberia’s initial reaction to Ebola and what that means now in trying to end the spread of the virus. As part of the home healthcare team at More Than Me, Iris explains the precautions she must take when doing a home visit and just how dangerous it can be. Regardless, Iris is happy and proud to do the work she’s doing.

Iris Martor, one of TIME Magazine’s Persons of the Year and the More Than Me Academy’s nurse.

Looking to the future, Iris knows that this not the end of Ebola — nor the end of another possible health crisis. She said, “Policymakers should be able to look at this experience and really plan for the future. Because tomorrow it may not be Ebola, it may be some other things.”

This morning IRC HQ came to our, “I Love West Point” meeting. This is Iris our nurse, Ms. Massoqui our social worker, Cassandra who runs our guest/staff house.

Ebola isn’t over in Liberia — support More Than Me here to get your donation matched from now until December 25th. You can help us re-open our school and continue to provide health care to communities until Ebola is truly gone.

Double Your Holiday Gift

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Katie Meyler named an Ebola Fighter and TIME Person of the Year

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Jackie Nickerson for TIME

NEW JERSEY – Katie Meyler, Founder of More Than Me, joins the Ebola Fighters named  TIME’s Persons of the Year with her work highlighted in the Ebola Caregivers list. Meyler and the Ebola Fighters group join a list that in the past has recognized Winston Churchill, Ghandi, Pope Francis, and President Obama.

“The past few months have been filled with some of the most intense moments of my life, but they’ve also been some of the proudest. I’m honored to be listed next to these truly inspiring people and want to take this time to recognize everyone, on this list or not, who has helped fight Ebola on the front lines,” Meyler said.

This recognition comes out of great tragedy, but is a reminder of the need to continue the fight against Ebola until there are no new cases – and to move forward and rebuild as the epidemic ends. The mission of More Than Me has always been to expand educational opportunities for the most vulnerable girls from the West Point slum in Monrovia; but unable to stand by while their students were at risk, the organization shifted to rapid Ebola response programs in August. As Meyler puts it, “We don’t have an organization if we don’t have students who are alive.”

The tremendous efforts of Iris Martor, More Than Me’s school nurse turned Ebola Fighter, are also mentioned. While working in the community leading trainings to keep staff safe and coaching nurses, Martor’s 8-month-old girl became ill and she feared it was Ebola. When her daughter tested negative and recovered, Martor momentarily questioned the risk she was taking, but ultimately thought, “If someone from America comes to help my people, and someone from Uganda, then why can’t I? This is my country. I should take the first step.”

More Than Me is committed to caring for Monrovia communities that have been deeply affected by this outbreak. More Than Me’s team hopes to reopen their school and resume regular programming in early 2015, but is also committed to long-term support of survivors and the families of those affected by Ebola in their students’ communities. Next year, Meyler hopes to open a boarding school to offer a greater number of children an education including many Ebola orphans. Donations to support More Than Me’s work are matched until December 25th. Learn more here.

The TIME editors’ selection is based on “who best represents the news of the year,” spotlighting leaders who showcase “both a snapshot of where the world is and a picture of where it’s going.”

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More Than Me is a 501c3 nonprofit based in Monrovia, Liberia. For more information, contact Emily Bell, [email protected] or go to www.morethanme.org.

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mtm girls in school

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