Believing in education with all of my being

Posted on by More than Me

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.”

With love,

Miss M

Posted in More Than Me | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

15-YEAR-OLD CANCER SURVIVOR SENDS SIX AT-RISK LIBERIAN GIRLS TO SCHOOL THROUGH MAKE-A-WISH® NEW JERSEY

Posted on by More than Me

Chester, NJ – Sarah Stover isn’t your typical 15-year-old. When she was 12, she helped raise $10,000 to build a well and cistern in Haiti. She’s currently in her fifth year of studying Mandarin and recently decided to teach herself German. She loves to draw and ride horses.

So on August 14, 2012, when she woke with a huge mass in her throat and neck that had literally appeared overnight, Sarah and her family prepared for the worst.

Overcoming Adversity
Sarah was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, pediatric follicular lymphoma, and needed immediate surgery. Her type of cancer is normally found in people ages 55-60; only 25 children worldwide are diagnosed with this cancer every year. Despite her diagnosis, Sarah responded well to the 6-month, weekly chemo treatment; so much so that her data will be shared with medical teams around the world to help others recover from follicular lymphoma.

When Sarah’s social worker approached her about the opportunity to be granted a wish through Make-A-Wish® New Jersey, an organization that grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions between the ages of 2 ½ and 18, Sarah took time to reflect on what she would want.

“I thought, instead of giving me something to look forward to, why don’t I give six girls something to look forward to instead?” Sarah explained.

Sarah chose to give six at-risk girls a chance at an education and hope for a brighter future by sponsoring them for a year at the More Than Me Academy in Liberia, West Africa. More Than Me (MTM) gets girls off the street and into school in one of the poorest slums in the world. The MTM Academy, a free, all-girls primary school, opened its doors on September 7th with the support of Liberia’s President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

Katie Meyler, founder of MTM, grew up in New Jersey and overcame her own obstacles to get to where she is today. Her hope, and MTM’s vision, is to connect with vulnerable girls who are facing adversity and give them the power and knowledge to make choices about their future. Sarah met Katie at a local fundraising event and immediately felt connected to Katie and the girls MTM sponsors.

“I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Sarah’s renewed health than to pass this precious gift of hope onto others in the form of school scholarships to More Than Me,” said Sarah’s mother, Berit.

President and CEO of Make-A-Wish® New Jersey, Tom Weatherall said, “We will grant more than 400 wishes in New Jersey this year.  And like the other 7,500 wishes granted since 1983, every wish is unique and personal to each child and family.  These wishes motivate and inspire our volunteer base, carry deep fulfillment to our donors, and humble our board and staff on a daily basis.  Sarah’s wish surely captures all of these sentiments.”

A celebration of Sarah’s wish and her gift to More Than Me will take place at the Samuel & Josephine Plumeri Wishing Place, Make-A-Wish® New Jersey’s castle in Monroe Township, NJ on Friday, October 11th at 2pm ET.

For more information about More Than Me, contact [email protected] or visit www.morethanme.org.

 

Posted in More Than Me | Leave a comment

The School is Open, What’s Next?

Posted on by More than Me

Dear More Than Me Family,

This is the happiest I’ve EVER been! We just opened the school on my birthday; best bday gift in the world! The president cut the ribbon! When asked, “What is the #1 way people outside of Liberia can help?” She replied, “Support Katie Meyler and this initiative!” #OMG

We have an awesome LA event run by an amazing community happening tonight to celebrate the girls. Come!

The other day I bawled my eyes out. The purse I got for my birthday was stolen. In it; my iPhone, wallet, etc. The woman who stole it was a sex-worker who planned to sell the stuff for $800, but her friend convinced her to give it back. She knew about the Academy and literally brought the purse, with all its contents, back to our office. When our team member asked, “Why did you bring this back?” the friend replied, “If there was an Academy like this for us when we were younger, we wouldn’t have to do what we do now.”

Obviously, we have to keep this going, and going strong. And I need your help. I want to make a statement. I want the world to know how important Susan is. A little girl who comes to our school during the day, but is in danger at night (we are working on that).

How? Well, Microsoft is giving away $100K – and we want to take it all. Here are the details:

THE BIGGEST THING we CANNOT miss is that these matching funds run out fast. We want to make sure that at noon EST, when the funds open, we take them ALL. So it’s like bang, money gone.

I’m so so so excited I feel like I’m going to explode out of my skin. Let’s do this.

A more beautiful world is happening,
It starts with us,

Katie

Posted in More Than Me | Leave a comment

NEW SCHOOL IN LIBERIA OPENING

Posted on by More than Me

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 founder Katie Meyler. 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, along with community leaders,  determined that West Point inhabitants wanted educational access for their girls, so Meyler identified 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.

Back in the US, Meyler 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, and other supporters, please contact Fiona Weeks at:[email protected]

Posted in More Than Me | Leave a comment

0% Pass University Exam: What More Than Me is Doing About It

Posted on by More than Me

Alveena the M&E fellow here! I wanted to give an update on our girls, our first full-fledged baseline survey, and our evaluation efforts so far. But first, I have to clear up some confusion. There’s a rumor going around that I’m the first Monitoring and Evaluation staffer More Than Me has had, but turns out that’s not the case.

More Than Me’s mission has always been to serve the most vulnerable girls of West Point in the most effective way possible. Katie Meyler started the endeavor being on the ground, talking to the individual beneficiaries, community leaders, and institutions in West Point, doing what I like to call a “grassroots” needs-assessment. It was out of these conversations that Katie determined that what the community wanted most was access to a quality education for their children.More Than Me started out paying school fees, but we were always concerned with evaluating the quality of the education our girls were receiving. During a visit from our staff to the school where our girls were being sponsored, we saw the reality of a typical school day: underfunded classrooms, unqualified teachers, and unchallenged students. This motivated us to pursue our own school and our own building, a dream that will become reality on September 7th!Of course, there is a lot of work going into the opening of our school. One of the most important tasks was doing a full baseline assessment of our girls, showing us strengths, needs, and grade levels. On August 17th, we gave the first assessment to our girls. This meant a lot of math and reading on a Saturday. Luckily, the girls love tests (weird, but true)!Because of our high standards, we were expecting to do some remediation. However, the results were more surprising than we expected: none of our girls are at grade level, and many do not have skills as basic as phonemic awareness and algebraic thinking. These results are in line with findings across Liberia. Recently, the BBC reported that out of 25,000 high school graduates taking the entrance exam to the University of Liberia, 100% failed. You read that right. 25,000 out of 25,000. You don’t need to be a statistics genius to know that something is desperately wrong with the education system here. And we’re ready to take on this challenge.We’re taking an innovative approach to bring the girls up to speed as much as possible, via an intensive math and literacy intervention. This curriculum will be accompanied by the beautiful new building, international and Liberian co-teachers in every classroom, a cutting-edge aquaponics garden (thanks, Sustainability without Borders!), health and nutrition classes, an extensive after-school program, access to a computer lab, and so much more!

School in Liberia is about to be back in session.

Posted in More Than Me | Leave a comment

Overhead, Impact and What It Means to Make a Difference

Posted on by More than Me

Here at More Than Me, we believe that effectiveness, impact and results are not solely based on the overhead costs of an organization. That’s why we are joining the campaign to end the overhead myth! This Letter to the Donors of America was written by the leaders of GuideStarCharity Navigator, and BBB Wise Giving Alliance.

The letter addresses the common misconception that low overhead indicates whether or not a nonprofit is good/worthy/innovative.  In fact, it challenges the perception that overhead means effectiveness stating that “In most cases, however, focusing on overhead without considering other critical dimensions of a charity’s financial and organizational performance can do more damage than good.”

The letter encourages donors to look at more than overhead – to look at ”transparency, governance, leadership, and results.”  And we stand with them in this and we ask you, as our community of supporters, to do the same.

We at More Than Me believe in best practice financial management, employing the best people so that our girls can achieve their goals and vision for their lives. Our measure of success is the girl who not only graduates high school, but goes on to college if she wants to and is able to pursue her own path on her own terms. We are 100% committed to making this happen in the most effective way possible. It’s what we live for.

If you ever have any questions about how we do things here, don’t hesitate to contact us! We’re more than happy to share how, through your support, we are walking with girls like Elizabeth, Blessing and Agnes as they pursue their dreams.

For the girls,

The More Than Me Team

Posted in More Than Me | Leave a comment

WIN A TRIP TO LIBERIA?! I’m in.

Posted on by More than Me

Dear More Than Me Family,

We have incredible news to share with you this August!

As we run toward the school opening, help her gain momentum, strength, power, and victory…Meet Her at the Finish Line! From August 1st-25th, More Than Me is hosting a fundraising contest through Causes.com, and whoever raises the most money will WIN A TRIP TO LIBERIA!!!

The WINNER will get to:

How do I start my campaign?

It’s easy! All you need is a Facebook account to register. Go to www.causes.com. Click on “Your Campaigns” and click “Start a new campaign.” Then fill in these details:

More Than Me (MTM) gets girls off the street and into school in one of the poorest slums in the world in Liberia, West Africa. The first-ever MTM Academy will open its doors on September 7th! Right now MTM sponsors 108 girls, but hopes to double that number by the end of the school year. These girls deserve the best education possible.

On August 25th, many of the MTM girls will be running the 10K as part of the Liberian Marathon. The girls have been training 3x a week and are gaining confidence, strength, speed, and self-respect. This is a HUGE deal for our girls. Will you help girls like Morrislene, Agnes, and Naomi go to school by sponsoring their 10K run? You can be the one to give them -

  • $25 = Respect
  • $50 = Power
  • $100 = Strength
  • $500 = Resilience
  • $1000 = Victory

Be a part of our Meet Her at the Finish Line campaign and sponsor girls like Evelyn as she starts school at the More Than Me Academy this September. Give her power, strength, and resilience so that she can conquer anything.

The Fine Print:

Posted in More Than Me | Leave a comment

Planning for Liberia: a list-maker’s tale

Posted on by More than Me

Celeste teaching in Nicaragua

About seven weeks ago, I sat down and planned out when I would quit my job, say goodbye to friends, switch banks, visit family, defer student loans, cancel utilities. I wrote up a packing list; I sat down and did the financial math on leaving my job; considered my career outlook a year from now. I weighed every option, considered the feasibility of my decision, and ultimately saw that I had no objections left, and that if I really, truly wanted to be working for More Than Me in Monrovia two months from now, I could be.

I formally accepted the More Than Me Fellowship that day, quit my job less than an hour later and started executing on that plan.

Two months later, transition has turned into preparation. And as that’s happened, I’ve had more time to reflect on what’s ahead. I’ve moved from packing and relocating to reading up on classroom management, culture and every teaching guidebook recommended to me, networking with everyone I know who knows anyone in Liberia, and tracking down new fundraising prospects. In the process, I’ve quickly realized how much I don’t know.

But, I’m also beginning to recognize that no matter when I leave, I’m never going to be 100% ready and will have to just sit back, adapt, and react on the fly. I’m confident that I will be successful at this because of the drive and motivation of the six other fellows, and the rest of the dedicated More Than Me team.

I’ll probably still be wishing there were extra hours in the day – and days in the week! – over the next year, but I’m very glad I can head into this challenge with such strong team members alongside me, and thrilled that I’ll soon be working with them to make the More Than Me Academy a success!

Excited for the future,

Celeste

Posted in More Than Me | Leave a comment

My Family’s Reaction to “I’m moving to Liberia!”

Posted on by More than Me

Maritza, in the center wearing green

I have been a teacher in the South Bronx for eight years. It has been rewarding, exciting, fun, super challenging, and just amazing. I love, love, love my students, and will miss them dearly. 

However, I am ready for this new opportunity. I love traveling and I love helping people. I am so thrilled that MTM has given me the opportunity to satisfy both of these passions. I’m not sure my family is as ready as I am though. Coming from a Cuban and Dominican background, my spontaneity and adventure-seeking have always been a cause of concern for my family. In short, they think I’m kinda nuts.

I spent time in Miami recently to say farewell to some family that I haven’t seen in a while. It was so interesting to watch how they dealt with this decision of mine. My very religious grandmother vowed to pray every night to my “guardian angel.” My uncle and cousin, who are militant atheists, gave me a practical list of things to do and buy before I left. I must get a sun shower, water purifying tablets, a solar charger for my electronics, and the list goes on.

Back here in New York City, most of my family members are in denial. My mother wants me to leave some clothes for her. My sister has planned her visit to Liberia for the new year. My youngest brother doesn’t mention it, and my older brother gets teary-eyed whenever we talk about it. You’d think I was moving for the rest of my life to some remote jungle. Don’t get me wrong, they think I rock, and they are happy for me, but we’re very close. It’s hard for them to see me go.

I will miss them too, but I am sooo ready!!! I am ready to bring my years of experience in the South Bronx to Liberia. I can’t wait to meet the girls. It’s all I think about. Anyway, enough yapping. Stay tuned.

-Maritza

Posted in More Than Me | Leave a comment

A Letter From Katie

Posted on by More than Me

Hi Friends, Family, & People I don’t know but I can Feel,

I have to stop for a few minutes and just process all that has been going on. Every day feels like history is happening, I have goosebumps half the time.

Robert leading gym class with the girls

Last night I went for my daily run at 5 pm with the girls all around Monrovia. We pump our arms in the air and we shout different things as we run like, “I respect myself” and we laugh, we always laugh. We’re preparing for the 10k in August; the girls are so excited! Morgana runs things on the ground in Liberia now since I split my time between Liberia and the US; she’s incredible. She made friends with Robert, a US Marine who now runs our 1st-ever gym class!
This morning I woke up with butterflies in my stomach. Thanks to my friend Saran from FACE AFRICA, we are now officially partnering with Arik Airlines and will have a bunch of donated flights and 45% off for MTM staff! Then I got WhatsApp (get the App, so we can talk) and this guy from UAE who I never met covered a couple flights for the fellows!

Robert and Morgana training with the girls

One of my favorite moments was one early morning when 20 or so of the older girls came to the office and we had this long talk about starting a movement and how you’re never too young to lead one. I shared the story of Harriet Tubman and Leymah Gbowee (Liberian hero/Nobel Peace Laureate who helped stop the war) and they got really excited! Regina, one of our top students, wanted to meet Leymah so we went and met her; it was incredibly special.
I could go on and on with the bureaucracy of opening a school. Getting electricity, setting up taxes, getting a shipping container into the country, finishing construction, etc, but it’s really been the in-between movements that make me feel so alive. Being on the back of a motorbike making friends with the driver who is hustling to make enough money to pay his way through a broken college system, or sitting in my new friend Nancy’s hair salon as she braids my hair and tells me, “You don’t pay, this is for friendship.” There are dozens of hairdressers now who said they will be “Aunties” to the girls!I hate to tell sad stories, but those are very real too. I often struggle with how to share those. My heart breaks and I tear up as I write this, but just a few days ago in West Point during our sports program a little girl grabbed my arm and whispered in my ear, “Take me away.” She lives in one of the brothel areas here. Her home life is very bad and everyone knows it. She’s not in school, and it’s obvious that she’s being abused in some way. We went to the police; we hope to get her out of there.

I have so much to say, but I know this is getting long. Basically I just wanted to let you know what’s been going on here and say Thank You for being on this journey with us. We are all in this together; we really are wrapped up in each other. Before we are American. Liberian. European. We are human. And together we really can leave a beautiful mark on our world.

I love each one of you; I feel beyond grateful.

Together We Can,
Katie

Posted in More Than Me | Leave a comment

124

mtm girls in school

464,112

Global Supporters

106

countries represented