MONROVIA, LIBERIA: In a post-conflict Liberia, many institutions are still struggling to get on their feet, made clear by the recent news that 100% of students seeking entrance to the University of Liberia failed the exam.
Filling the gaps in Liberian education is often left to members of the community, local and global. On September 7th, the More Than Me Academy will be opening in Monrovia as one attempt to bridge this gap.
The launch of the More Than Me Academy, which will serve up to 240 girls, comes after a long journey by founders Katie Meyler and Macintosh Johnson. Meyler, a native of Bernardsville, New Jersey, had first visited Liberia in 2006. She was shocked to learn that young girls in Monrovia, Liberia had virtually no opportunities to sustain themselves except to turn to prostitution. It was on the ground in the slum of West Point in Monrovia that Meyler met Macintosh Johnson, a former child soldier looking for opportunities to serve the community.
After Meyler and Johnson determined that West Point inhabitants wanted educational access for their girls, Johnson went to work with community leaders, identifying which girls were the most vulnerable.
“The opening will be the proudest day of my life. Finally the children society forgot about will have the same opportunities as those that have privilege. In Africa we don’t just have our own children, all of the children belong to us. I can’t wait to see what they will do with what they are given,” said Johnson.
While Johnson worked in Liberia, Meyler, back in the US, would find any way she could to sponsor her girls, including subbing in kindergarten classrooms, cleaning gutters for a roofing company, waitressing, and public speaking, all while living on friend’s couches and occasionally sleeping on park benches. Today, Meyler has no regrets. In December, More Than Me inspired enough people around the world to win $1 million, against organizations with 20 times their budget.
“I did it all for the girls. My hope for these girls is that they are no longer a slave to the poverty they’ve been born into. They will have a choice now — a choice to go to college if they want, a choice to start their own business, a choice to be a senator and create laws that change the way this society treats those who come from the slums,” Meyler said. The school will be opening on Meyler’s birthday.
The school building, donated by the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was destroyed during the war. The building has since been entirely renovated. The opening also marks the introduction of Liberian teachers teaching alongside international teaching fellows, including a former teacher from the South Bronx and a Liberian repatriating after the war. The curriculum includes girls’ empowerment, technology, health, the arts, and academics.
“This whole thing feels like a crazy dream, but a really beautiful one,” said Meyler.
To arrange an interview with Meyler, Johnson, and other supporters, please contact Fiona Weeks at:[email protected]