By Jennie Jasperson, Staff Writer
“Before I’m American, I am human, and no little girl, regardless of where she was born, should be forced to work the streets when her biggest dream is to go to school,” Katie Meyler writes on her More than Me website. She is the the founder of the More than Me Academy; a program dedicated to improve the lives of girls from the West Point Slum of Liberia.
With the Ebola crisis causing chaos and wreaking havoc all over West Africa, most people seem to forget about the hundreds and thousands of doctors, nurses, and health care workers administering aid to all those fighting the deadly virus. Although she may not be a certified doctor or nurse, Katie Meyler, from Bernardsville, New Jersey, is a leader devoted to changing the lives of girls in Liberia. She saw girls forced to sell their bodies at the age of eleven just to get a few dollars in order to afford clean water. She saw the destruction that poverty and lack of education brings. She decided to do something about it. The name of her organization, More Than Me, comes from the idea of thinking beyond yourself; of being part of something greater than just you. The purpose of More Than Me is to provide girls from the West Point slum in Liberia with education, health and social services to transform their lives. With the help of several different organizations, Meyler was able to open the More Than Me Academy in September of 2013; the very first tuition-free, all-girls school in Liberia.
But why girls in Liberia? Facts stated on the More Than Me website answers this question. More than 40% of Liberian girls ages 10-14 have never gone to school. Unfortunately, young girls fall victim to the most frequently reported crime in Liberia, rape. An extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10 to 20 percent. An extra year of secondary school: 15 to 25 percent. When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40 percent for a man. It is the hope of More Than Me to give girls endless opportunities, making it impossible for them to fail.
So how does Katie Meyler’s story and the More Than Me foundation have anything to do with Ebola? With the recent outbreak of the virus, Meyler has focused her attentions on putting the girls in Liberia out of risk of contracting the disease. In the past months, hundreds of children have lost their parents; leaving them as outcasts in their own communities and orphans with no where to go. The More Than Me Academy has closed temporarily in order to become a place of refuge for children who have lost their families. In addition, a quarantine center has also been created for girls and boys to be safely quarantined for twenty-one days to lower the chances of spreading Ebola.
Meyler risks has life everyday as she travels throughout West Point slum sending people with Ebola to hospitals, rescuing children with no place to go, finding children who are sick, and finding ways to provide food and water to struggling families.
Her story as well as the efforts of More Than Me to fight Ebola were recently featured on NBC. When asked about her own fears of getting Ebola Meyler responded, “Courage is not the absence of fear, it’s the ability to act in spite of it. And I feel like as long as my kids are here, they can’t leave, I’m not going anywhere either. I have the ability to go, but that doesn’t mean I should. I feel with everything inside of me that I’m supposed to be here fighting with everything I have.”
Day after day, Meyler fights for the lives of others and helps them in any way she can. She exemplifies the real meaning of a hero.