The Evolution of MTM

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Like any growing, expanding, and changing organization, More Than Me is comprised of numerous components. We have our board, supporters, volunteers, Liberia team, US team, and, most importantly, our students.

As we grow, we’re committed to remaining transparent. Right now is an especially exciting time of expansion for us. And you should know about it.

The girls have always been at the center of what we do (and will continue to be as we move forward); but after Ebola, we realized that if the entire education system doesn’t improve, the country will not have the skills necessary to handle another epidemic or crisis.

This summer, Liberia’s Minister of Education asked us to partner with him to rebuild the education infrastructure, starting with 30 government schools across Liberia. Using what we’ve learned at the More Than Me Academy and during Ebola, we will focus on technology, teacher training, healthcare and child protection as our pillars to impact 30,000 children over the next few years. And that is just the beginning!

re:Urgent

So what does rebuilding an education system look like? We think hearing from our team on the ground is the best way to show you. So we started a new blog on Medium to share updates, stories, and perspectives from the field.

This principal is eager to show off his school despite the empty classrooms lacking desks.

Students eager to learn. Even during their summer break. While a full classroom is wonderful, it’s hard to not notice the lack of girls.

Don’t worry, we’ll still have this blog to keep you updated on MTM’s big picture and the happenings at the More Than Me Academy, but the new blog, titled re:Urgent, will focus on in-the-field updates to document what it takes to rebuild an entire education system.

“The story was the same across the country. There were glimmers of hope along the way in the new Ministry of Education model schools being constructed, but the reality was, the majority of schools don’t have what you and I consider basic necessities.”

Laura Smith,  MTM Country Director

A site seen all too often. A piece of wood in place of a chalkboard. That same piece of wood is being used to divide a space meant for one class into a space for 2 classes.

A classroom located in one of the schools on the Ministry’s Liberia tour

We already have two blog posts from the field, one by Matt von Boecklin, our M&E Manager, and one by Laura Smith, our Country Director. Matt discusses meeting the Minister of Education and the minister’s promotion of More Than Me as an essential role in moving forward. Laura goes into detail about the conditions of public schools in Liberia – small classrooms without chairs, desks, and chalkboards or access to water or sanitation facilities.

Working Together for a Better Liberia

All children in Liberia deserve the right to an education.

Change is a long, hard road, but we know that with the right partnerships and resources, we can improve the Liberian education system. How amazing would it be if future leaders looked to Liberia as the quintessential model of education reform? We believe this can happen, and we hope that you will follow, support, and join us on our journey. #staytuned

For the girls and for Liberia,

The MTM Team

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Our Girls Are Spelling Bee Champs!

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More Than Me students participated in a spelling competition later week against 25 school in Monrovia. Our photographer, Thomas, cause the event live…

Practice Makes Perfect

During the school year, the staff and teachers at the More Than Me Academy would organize occasional quizzes on Fridays as a way to recap the previous week’s material and create a friendly competition as an incentive to learn. It was also a good way for one of our teachers, Chris, to evaluate the students and identify those who were really excelling.

The Spelling Bee

Lucky for the More Than Me Girls, all that quiz practice was put to good use on a rainy July 17th. Because it is during the summer break, a school in Monrovia took the initiative to organize a spelling competition to keep students’ skills sharp. That day, the More Than Me team, consisting of 10 students, attended the competition with the real intention to win!

All the schools gathered for the spelling competition.

At 9am a crowd of people, including school principals, teacher, parents, students, and friends gathered to support their teams. After waiting 30 minutes for people to sit  and settle down, the game started, and the More Than Me team  won the “qualifications” round with an impressive performance.

Chris, who is also the team manager, explained how he managed the team: “We have a total of 10 girls, and for each round we have 5 girls collaborating and thinking together before spelling the word. I want all the girls to play with everybody so I mix the team before each round!”

The Importance of Education

Here in Liberia, education is one of the public’s main concerns. This competition was well received because the community understood the importance of supporting an event like this, in hopes of emphasizing education. People attending the competition were very involved and wanted their team to win- and things got pretty intense!

To the Finals!

Regina spelling ‘International’

Flash forward to the Semi-Final, the fourth round for our students. Everybody is very focused, as it is the opponent’s turn to spell a word. “International. I.N.T.E.R.N.A.T.I.O.N.N.A.L. International.” More Than Me jumps up from happiness even before judges deliver their verdicts. “WRONG! More Than Me- Can you spell the word ‘International’?” One fast and correct spelling from our Power Class student, Regina, and we are going to the final!

All the More Than Me employees gather outside with the 5 girls that will fight for the title. “Girls, this competition is not about me, not about you, it is for more than me. Win for your fellow classmates!”

Mr. Jallah, our Vice Principal, adds, “Do not be overly confident, and listen carefully to the spelling, ask to repeat if needed!”

Champions!

The final teams are called into the speakers: everybody sits and watches each team quietly. A lot of complicated words (such as “squirrel” which for me, as a French man, is a word that often can cause me spelling nightmares) are spelled by both teams perfectly. The last word is coming: “dehydration.” A missing “h” on the word from the other team, and More Than Me wins the contest after 5 perfect rounds! Yeeha! 

I asked three of the students, “Did you know you will win?” Their reply? “Of course we knew it!”

Celebrating after the win! 

Proud. 

Regina accepting the winning plaque!

We are so proud of our girls and all that they accomplished. They are smart, powerful students who are learning to #FollowTheirDreams. Way to go More Than Me Academy- Congratulations on the win!

See more photos on our Facebook page! To support our talented spelling bee champs and their classmates, check out the I See You Fund.

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For a Better Liberia

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Your World, My World, Our World.

We love our girls, and we want to make sure that when they graduate they can decide what comes next. Knowing our students background and where they call home is essential to ensuring that we provide the best education and care we can. Most of our students come from the West Point slum in Monrovia. We have always been committed to helping the West Point community, but during Ebola our work and involvement with them increased even more. We want to involve the community as much as possible moving forward, because they are an essential component of Liberia’s future progress.

West Point is at the center of More Than Me’s mission, and through a new partnership with My World, The United Nations Global Survey for a Better World, we have the perfect opportunity to dive into the community, the people who live there, and the key issues they want to fix. Our partnership with My World is an opportunity to share in our commitment to supporting the development goals of people from West Point. See what My World is saying about West Point and our partnership here.

Priorities 

My World has given access to data, called My Analytics, that reveals each country’s rankings of their biggest problems in terms of different demographics.

The data shows that Liberians’ first priority is creating a stronger education system. After education, Liberians have prioritized a better healthcare system and creating more job opportunities- which will both improve after the foundation of a good education system is created.

Humans of West Point

One of the awesome parts of this collaboration with My World is that we get to highlight some individual stories in West Point. Our wonderful photographer, Thomas Lhomme, has been capturing amazing pictures of West Point citizens and talking to them about what they want to change in Liberia. Take a look, and please meet Maxwell, Tannie, Kummeh, James, and Esther.

Key Priority: Education access. “I am currently a student, and I want to do computer IT, but I am not sure I can afford this because all the schools are expensive. I am waiting to see what will happen after high school is over!” – Maxwell 23 years old

Key Priority: Job opportunities. “When I went to school, I learned about a lot of things but when it is over, you have no access to jobs because you have no training easy to access. I would like to be a driver but I have no money for a training and for a car. So now, I am selling chiken in the street! Do you want a piece of it?!”- Tannie 43 Years Old

Key Priority: More Local Associations. “See all those children? They are orphans from Ebola time, I made an association to help them. I have an office here but no money to care for them, I just want to help, why does the government do not help me?”-  Kummeh 51 years old

Key Priority: Free Education System. “See, this is the water I sell. I am 71 years old but I need to sell water if I want to make my family eating. School here is expensive, I am happy that we can find a NGO that makes school free, but it is not enough. Liberia should take care of this!”- James 71 years old

Key Priority: Job opportunities. “My son just finished high school. He cannot find a job and needs to go to school if he want a descent job… I want to give the best I can to my kids but I feel like I’m limited.”- Esther 62 years old

The Girls of MTM 

Thomas even asked some of the MTM girls for their opinions.

Key Priority: Education. “I want to learn books, to be happy, then I’ll be able to work hard. Even for the people I am living with, if you are able to use books, you can work hard! I want to be a plane pilot, and then I’ll visit China.” – Entray, 10 years old

 

Key Priority: Money Issues. “I want to be a president then I can make my country good. To make my country good, I’ll buy everything for people to make them happy.” – Ruth, 8 years old.

Key Priority: Job opportunities. “I love, and I am good at math! I want to become an accountant in a bank because I want money for my family. Money comes from work, but there is no work for my family here.”- Phelimina, 15 years old.

Key Priority: Sanitary Issues. “I want to be a doctor because people here get sick fast. I want to go in America to learn, then work, get money, and come back here to help my family.”- Precious, 11 years old.

#LetsDoThis

These are humans of our shared world. Working together to fix Liberia’s, and other countries’, problems will make a better world for all of us. Our girls #KeepDreaming for a better Liberia, won’t you?

 

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Can I Hear You Say “More Than Me”?

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“Let’s Put Away Our Differences, Let’s Come Together and Save the World.”

Our girls have BIG dreams, and at MTM we believe that their education will enable them to achieve these dreams after they graduate.

Ruth believes in her dream to become a rapper, and her performance will make your heart sing. These girls face adversity and hardship everyday, but they are resilient, strong, and powerful. They show us what #GirlPower really is. Click on the photo below to join us in singing along in our first #MTMRap.

Meet Ruth! 

We also interviewed the star of the MTM rap, Ruth, A.K.A “Roota!” Click on the photo below and watch the interview to see Ruth rave about her love of rap. This is the epitome of the MTM Academy- supporting our girls’ talents and giving them a safe and healthy environment to fulfill them in. After we showed Ruth the final MTM Rap video, she came out of her classroom carrying a handmade Thank You card, with tears streaming down her face. This is what it is all about.

#GirlPower

Thank you for supporting Ruth’s talent, and all of our girls’ dreams and ambitions. They are amazing students, and we are so excited to see what they do next.

You can empower more girls like Ruth by joining the I See You Fund today and DOUBLE your impact! Thanks to a generous donor, your first month’s gift will be MATCHED 100%. Pretty cool, right?

SIGN UP TODAY! 

 

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A survivor story like no other

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Mothers will do anything for their children. We know you know this, but Dedee’s story has helped us understand this fact more deeply than ever before.

Deedee Urey, whose husband and 4-month-old baby died from Ebola in September, cried as she posed with her four surviving children in Monrovia. (Michel du Cille/The Washington Post)

“Life was normal.”

The Urey family lives next door to our staff house in the Capital Hill neighborhood of Monrovia. Before Ebola, Dedee, her husband, and their five children lived happily.

“Life was normal. Every day, I would take care of the house and family while my husband went to work,” Dedee said. She and her husband were well respected in the community and they spent time together every evening in the yard with their neighbors.

Then Ebola hit. Slowly at first, it seemed, then all at once. Ambulances started running 24/7 and sirens blared their ominous warnings all through the night. Everyone was terrified. When her family got sick, nobody knew what to do. Her husband got sick first, at a time when the Liberian healthcare system was completely overwhelmed. Even worse, Dedee, her husband, and their five children all shared one room. Dedee immediately called an ambulance, but it never came.

“He got serious and we put plastic on our hands and put him in the wheelbarrow and took him to JFK [hospital] but before reaching, he died. After my husband died, my four children and myself got sick and they took us to Island Clinic, and my baby died,” Dedee said.

Meeting More Than Me

It was after her husband died that Katie and More Than Me met Dedee and her family, who were neighbors of the MTM staff house. Our ambulance was already running in West Point, so it was easy to expand our service to our Capital Hill neighbors.

“The MTM ambulance took me and my entire family to the ETU once we got sick, and even provided juice and toys to my children while they were in the ETU,” Dedee explained. Miatta, Dedee’s daughter, was the only child not to get sick when the rest of the family did.

Taking care of Miatta

No one wanted to take Miatta in because she could show Ebola symptoms at any moment. So we hired a caretaker and took her in at our interim care center, HOPE21, hoping that she wouldn’t show symptoms. But two days later, she did. Luckily we caught the symptoms early and transferred her to the Island Clinic Treatment Unit where the rest of her family was.

My heart is in pieces. Hopefully because we caught them soon enough she has a fighting chance. Man, this doesn’t get more devastating. This situation must improve now, not in a week, not in a month. Doctors, nurses, please step up. – @katiemeyler

Katie and Dedee talked about what would happen to her kids if she didn’t make it. Who did she want to raise the children? Dedee told Katie she wanted her to help.

“I told her, I can’t. I asked her what family would do it, but she said they all abandoned her. I told her if that happens, I will find the best home ever for her children and make sure they are treated very well. I told her if she and her kids live, I’ll get them a special gift, anything they want. Hope helps people live,” Katie said.

Hoping for a Miracle

Amazingly, Dedee and her three sons SURVIVED Ebola. (!!!)

Shortly after, Miatta was announced Ebola-free too, and she was reunited with her family.

“I’m so happy my daughter is out today; I never thought this day would come. I lost my baby and I could not bear the thought of losing Miatta, who was my only girl left,” Dedee said.

A second chance at life

Through all she has lost, Dedee is BEYOND GRATEFUL that her other children survived. Dedee lives for her children, and she’s incredibly happy that she gets to see them every day. She even feels proud that she and her children were able to beat a disease that killed so many people.

“My children don’t realize how fortunate they are, they still think they just got sick and went to the hospital.”

Like many survivors, Dedee and her family came back to a very different life. Possessions had to be destroyed for safety reasons, and without Dedee’s husband, the family had zero income to support themselves. More Than Me provided clothing and food to start replacing what they’d lost. We also gave the kids that gift we’d promised them. :)

James beat Ebola and wanted his cycle and he got it! Same with Prince, his brother, and Miatta too! Long live the Urey children!! – @katiemeyler

Though her kids were happy (who doesn’t love bikes?), Dedee still desperately needed a job. We helped her sell coal in the market and gave her a job taking care of the HOPE21 Guest House for some time. But once the MTM Academy reopened, we found the PERFECT FIT for Dedee to be involved at the school: as a security guard! And not just any security guard, but as our first-ever FEMALE security guard. Pretty cool.

“This job makes me happy and gives me the chance to work with MTM as a part of the family,” Dedee said. It also allows Dedee to make money for school fees for her other children and to feel useful in a time of stigma as a survivor.

Dedee enjoys being a security guard at the MTM Academy and getting to see Miatta every day!

Back in School!

And Miatta is healthier than ever and attends school at the MTM Academy! She’s one of 30+ new students who’ve been directly affected by Ebola.

“Miatta is so very excited every morning to go to school, she even wants to go on Saturdays and Sundays! The school she went to last year did nothing to capture Miatta’s interest, but MTM has really changed Miatta for the better,” Dedee explained.

“I thank God every day for my children. They are my source of strength and happiness in life,” Dedee said. “I am so grateful to the MTM organization and all that they have done for me. MTM saved us and continues to save us every day.”

Dedee’s commitment to her children is never-ending. This Mother’s Day, say thank you to the women in your life who’ve made it possible for you to get to where you are today. Say thank you by committing to a monthly gift for girls like Miatta, and dedicate it to your mom. (We’ll even send her an awesome Mother’s Day e-card.)

Show the world that Miatta Matters.

Make your commitment today! 

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From Teaching to Saving Lives

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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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mtm girls in school

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