Where do I begin? Being the principal of the More Than Me Academy has been extremely challenging, but the good kind of challenging. The kind that reminds you why you’re alive. The kind that reminds you that you’re human and not infallible.
Today is the International Day of the Girl Child and this year’s theme is “Innovating for Girls Education.” The More Than Me Academy has been innovating since Day 1. We have a co-teaching system, a state-of-the-art computer lab, and amazing after-school programs. When the odds are stacked against you, every accomplishment, no matter its size, feels HUGE. And I’m grateful for that.I have spent the past four weeks working with some of the most energetic, passionate, determined, and bright young girls in the world. They have a fire inside of them, but they have been deprived of the basic education needed to open the kinds of doors that should be opened to them. And that is why I am here, why the other fellows are here, why the six Liberian co-teachers are here, and why there are countless volunteers working around the clock who are willing to do anything that is asked of them. It blows my mind.
I loved my job in the South Bronx. It, too, was challenging. The students there were also disadvantaged and amazing, and I also had some fantastic co-workers. But at More Than Me, every single person working on that campus is there because they believe in the mission of More Than Me. They believe that the beautiful and talented girls of that school can be the leaders of the country. You won’t find another organization like it in the world. I promise you.There are also harsh realities. I teach the oldest group of girls. There is a 15-year-old girl in my class who has a child and cannot read words other than the ones she knows through the rote memorization practiced here in Liberia. When I read stories to her in class, she is so quick. Her answers are the most thoughtful, insightful. But still, she cannot read. How am I supposed to help her become a leader of her country? The first step is believing in her, and when I realize that I’m not the only person working hard to ensure her success, the load becomes lighter.
Perhaps I am sugarcoating everything. This organization is not perfect and my job is really hard. I work between 10 and 12 hours each day. I am teaching for four of the hours and acting as principal for the rest of the time. The teaching part consists of lesson planning, grading and more lesson planning. The principal part consists of meeting with students, staff, visitors to the campus, parents who want us to take their children in, making sure my staff has what they need, and finding out where to get things when my staff doesn’t have what they need. A walk in the park, right?!
What else makes this job hard? I have never taught a 16-year-old how to read. I have never taught anyone how to read. I have never been a principal before. I have never really been anyone’s boss before. All of it can get frustrating, and sometimes when I’m in it, I don’t know if I will make it. At the end of the day though, when a parent comes to pick up her child and promises to send some plantains for me next week (she’s waiting for them to ripen so that I can enjoy them), I regain the passion and energy to do it all again the next day. Not because I love plantains, although I do, but because this parent, who can hardly care for herself and her children, will not take no for an answer. She will give me the plantains and she will thank me a hundred times each time she sees me. She too believes in this school’s mission with all of her being.
I leave you with some lyrics to the song our girls sing every morning at devotion:
“Girls of Liberia, we need to be educated…we can do what men can do, just give us the opportunity. Give us a chance to learn. Give us a chance to learn. We are important. We are the songs of Liberia.”