We're quite excited to announce our plans to start our very own school in Liberia, 'The More Than Me Girls' Academy. The Liberian government is donating a building for us to use as our new school! Now, we have the vision and the space but there's a tad bit of work to be done on it. ;) We figured we would use Wednesday June 13th, Global Giving's Match Day, as a place to start. 50% of all donations are being matched and the money we raise will go towards the renovations to turn this into a school. Our goal is to get 1000 people to donate $25! So, we really need your help-- pretty pleaseee! I promise it'll make Agnes and her friends REALLY happy!
Donate HERE: http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/morethanme-girls-academy/
Spread the word to all of your friends and help make this dream a reality!
One of our volunteers in Liberia, Marleen de Jong – Rothengatter, just sent along this message. Marleen assists with our social work and evaluation, although, really, she does so much more.
I spent yesterday afternoon with Macintosh in West Point to visit the families of the girls I work with. The 75,000 people here fight a daily battle against poverty and endemic problems, including overpopulation and diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis.
West Point is a big maze of alleys and super small houses about 1.5 meters by 2 meters that are made of corrugated iron and wood; they are built without any foundation. The farther you go inside the more you will be swallowed up by corrugated iron, waste, human feces and the smell that goes with it. Many people are ill with malaria and other infectious diseases.
In addition to disease and poverty, sexual abuse of women and children are the order of the day. The oppression and abuse of women, which was fed by the rebels during the civil war, continues even after the end of the war and despite the best efforts of the government.
I still haven’t found the words to describe my feelings, but I’m very proud of all the girls who are “trying small small” to make a living without money, social support, a place to sleep, and broken families.
Although overwhelmed with sadness and at a loss for words, a smile says it all. A smile? Yes!! While dancing, singing, and playing games, we smile and laugh and have a lot of fun. A smile can say more than a thousand words. There are smiles of love, happiness, comfort, friendship. Smiles of compassion, support, hope and they make us feel special and loved.
As a volunteer for More than Me on the ground in West Point, I don’t have the intention to change the world. But by giving counseling to the girls, I try to work on improving their self-esteem, social skills, help them cope with feelings, or sometimes I just listen and we smile or cry a bit. Some girls have behavioural problems and difficulties concentrating at school because of their home situation. One of the girls just moved to her grandmother’s house because her mother used to invite men into the little girl’s bedroom for a small fee.
In an ideal world, I would like to solve all of their problems. But that is, unfortunately, just impossible. Meanwhile, I’m just trying to increase their quality of life little by little, or “trying small” as they say here in Liberia. Some days, when I’m overwhelmed with feelings, I like to think that even a small ripple in the water can be far-reaching.
A child is born to illiterate parents in rural Liberia. When she is four or five, they decide to send her to live with friends in Monrovia, the capital, hoping she will have more opportunities there. The auntie she is sent to stay with puts her to work right away and rarely provides food for her, but the girl is clever and smart and manages to get by. One day, a community volunteer or maybe a social worker notices the girl selling peanuts or candy or fish; the girl stands out, she is clearly bright. The community volunteer or social worker makes a phone call, which leads to another phone call, which leads to a meeting, and eventually to an interview with the girl and her guardian or maybe even her parents. Six months later, the girl is in school for the first time.
This is a typical story for a lot of the children in More than Me’s program. It is part of our story as an organization- maybe you’ve heard us mention, “getting girls off the street and into school.” Not every child in our program has to deal with being separated from her family or friends, but all of them have grown up in an environment that constantly puts them at risk and where, because of cost, access, and accountability, they are denied an education. Often times, things are often more complicated than just “getting girls off the street”; there is more to the story.
We have written before about the hurdles facing the girls in our program, how success is measured in small increments, but sometimes the most difficult moments come months or even years after that first day of school.
One of the kids in our program was caught stealing. The child was doing well in school, has been with More than Me for almost as long as More than Me has been around, and has a warm relationship with all of us. This wasn’t the first time it happened, but instead of candy it involved money, electronics, and a shattering of trust. The child’s grades have started slipping. As the child approaches her teenage years, she has grown angry and less affable- who can blame her?- but we must do something. We know she can do well in school because we have seen it in the past.
What can we do? More than Me is different than most non-profits because we are founded on relationships. We are not a logo or a celebrity spokesperson or a provocative video. We have pooled together supporters through talks, social media, and small meetings. In Liberia, we know all of our girls personally. We have been to their houses, we know where their family is from, we know their parents or guardians, we know the children’s stories, their hopes and dreams. As an organization that wants to make the most of our generous donor’s support and run an efficient and accountable program, we know we cannot put money toward education if no education is being had. We also know what will happen if a girl is not in school, not working toward something more than selling peanuts or herself, and we know the potential of all of the children in our program.
This question, “what can we do?,” is one reason we are working to build a safe house. Still, that goal is almost a year away, so in the near-term we need something else.
All of the donations made to More than Me go toward a girl’s education. In some cases though, when a girl wants to go to school, but is not doing well and is having issues outside of school that affect her performance in the classroom, we look for creative ways to keep her off the street and make her future bright.
One of the most inspiring examples of this is Abigail, who after running away from home and struggling in class is now in a boarding school and at the top of her class. In other cases, like stealing, we have our field staff jump in. Daily visits have led to vocational training, a new place to stay, and a new direction.
Many of the girls More than Me works with have similar stories, but all of them are different, dynamic, and driven. We are not a cookie cutter non-profit, and we want to provide creative ways to help the girls of Liberia. So many people have given up on the girls in our program; they have been failed in so many ways. Our recruitment and vetting process is designed to avoid future difficulties in the classroom, but we know that our girls deserve a real chance.
Bad grades? Trouble with family? Anti-social behavior? Don’t call it failure. Each girl’s story is still being written. Work-training, boarding school, mentorships, daily visits. By coordinating with community members, our field staff, and parents and guardians, we are making sure that these girls really do get off the street and, yes, into school.