At some point, in the City of Bedford, Texas, a person called Sydney S. received a neon-green backpack. Like most people who get free promotional backpacks, Sydney S. probably used it for a little while, at least enough to write his or her name on it, and then moved on to something new or different. If you have ever run a 5k, been to a blood drive, or attended community event sponsored by a radio station/bank/politician there is a chance you have received a bag like Sydney S.’s.
But what happened once Sydney S. didn’t want the bag anymore?
Well, the neon-green bag, along with pounds and pounds of clothes, shoes, backpacks, and other items that are donated to Goodwill, to clothes drives, and dropped off at thrift shops, eventually found its way to Liberia.
Last week, the More than Me team woke up early, went to the West Point Women’s office, and packed 100 backpacks with notebooks, pencils, pens, pencil sharpeners, underwear, socks, and crayons.
Packing the bags was as entertaining as it was invigorating; each bag seemed to have its own story, and each one of our girls was starting a new chapter in that tale.
Word travels fast in West Point: by the time we were ready to meet with our 100 girls and take some last minute information (we had already conducted a more thorough survey with the children and their parents or guardians), the street outside the West Point Women’s office was teeming with children and adults. People began selling goods in front of the office, hoping to cash in on the sudden crowd, and not even a brief rain stopped people from showing up.
We brought the girls in by twos, to avoid a backpack bumrush, and let them pick their own bags. 100 girls, 100 bags, and 100 different tastes and styles. Some girls went for the big, pink bags with pictures of Disney characters; others went for the old bags sporting logos for teams they likely had never heard of . And one of our girls, Bendu, dug through the pile and picked up a neon green bag from Bedford, Texas.
Forgotten items are building futures in West Point. Sydney S. probably never imagined that the free neon-green bag he or she had all those years ago would now be proudly worn every day by a girl going to school for the first time. Now, Bendu, and the other 100 girls, are equipped to not just attend school, but participate, take notes, and contribute.
More than Me loves to promote the fact that we are an organization of people coming together, with whatever skills we might have, to change lives. Sometimes, though, people are helping without even realizing it.
Last week, in West Point, Monrovia, a girl named Bendu received a neon-green bag that used to belong to someone named Sydney S. in Bedford, Texas. This is just the beginning of Bendu’s story.
When More than Me joined Global Giving just over one year ago we had a dream of 100 girls in Monrovia, Liberia in school. We didn't have a timeline, and we didn't know if it would be possible. In four weeks three US-based volunteers, including myself, will be traveling to Liberia and assisting in the enrollment of 70 more girls in school, which will bring our total amount of girls enrolled in school to 100.
We wouldn't be there without you.
More than Me is still primarily funded by individual donations. People who have reached out to the organization over the last year and stated their commitment to educational access through small and large donations. We have been amazed at the support from donors and our volunteers who reach out to their networks
More than Me never intended to change the world. We just wanted to change the world for 100 girls.
Now that we have reached our first goal, what is next? Our volunteer team is already discussing next steps; maintaining future schooling for our current students, expanding our program to include other educational initiatives including sexual education, nutrition, and disease transmission, and expanding into a Safe House for girls who are streetworkers or orphaned.
You can follow our trip to Liberia starting in August on our blog: http://morethanme.org/blog/
We would love to hear from you too. What do you think is important as we expand the services our program offers?
You can always continue to help our program by signing up for recurring donations or simply sharing our message.
We have our first promo video! An organizational friend offered to make us a free promotional video using some of the footage we had as well as an interview with Katie, MTM's founder.
Hear More than Me's story straight from the source, as well as see the energy of the kids in West Point that you have sent to school this year and some of the girls on our waitlist who will be in school in the fall. Your investment is making a dream come true.
March 8th, International Women's Day, a day dedicated to the history, challenges, progress, and achievements of women everywhere. As an organization dedicated to sending girls to school, we thought we'd ask the question, "why girls?"
How can we help the most people, make sure scholarships are being served to the children most in need, and lay the foundation for a more stable future for all Liberians?
In Liberia, and around the world, girls are often victims to domestic and sexual violence, women are the least likely to have access to power, and girls are more likely to be left behind their male peers. For example, two thirds of illiterate adults are women. This is incredible for a world-wide statistic. More incredible, this statistic has not changed in 20 years.
graphic by More than Me volunteer Elizabeth Erickson
The challenges are clear. Women have to deal with being ignored by education systems, with potentially dangerous child births, and with disease. These are huge problems to overcome and many of them result from systemic inequities that are themselves due to large issues that can not be easily solved. There is one way to help improve the lives of girls and women and their communities. It is proven, effective, and, as mentioned before, somewhat cost effective: education.
Women reinvest 90 percent of their income in their families versus 30 to 40 percent for men. In fact, the World Bank has stated that, "Low investment in female education also reduces a country's overall output." Educating women is an efficient use of charitable dollars. While working for the World Bank, Harvard professor Larry Summers, wrote, "Investment in girls’ education may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world."
Of course, educating girls is good for the girls themselves. The Council on Foreign Relations, found that, "An extra year of a woman’s education has been shown to reduce the risk that her children will die in infancy by 5 – 10 percent." UNESCO reports that in Liberia, women with secondary school education are more than 20 percent more likely to give their children vaccinations.
Why girls? More than Me focuses on giving scholarships to the girls of West Point, one of the worst slums in Liberia, because it means more than just learning how to read and write. For girls like Abigail and Esther, Grace and Elizabeth, an education is not just a way to get off the street and avoid the dangers this presents. Education is a way to help their families, their futures, and their country.
Spread the word on International Women's Day. Post the above infographic to your Twitter and Facebook pages. Post links in the comments of this blog about events and stories you find. Education is not just about sending girls to school, but also learning something along the way.
This is Abigail. She’s 14 years old. I met her one day while I was taking photos around West Point, one of Liberia’s worst slums. She liked posing and wanted me to take her picture.
We formed a friendship, and I made it a habit of seeking her every time I visited West Point, Liberia. Eventually, I found out she was not in school. Because she was always happy and had a big smile on her face, it was hard to tell that there were any major problems in her life. In reality, girls like Abigail are at high risk for prostitution. In West Point, there are few opportunities for anyone, but girls are particularly vulnerable.
One rainy day, I saw her selling goods with another young girl and went to take her picture. Suddenly, an older woman came over and smacked Abigail in the face. Abigail didn’t flinch; it was like she was expecting it, like it was normal. The older woman was the mother of the girl with Abigail. She was angry because I was taking a picture with her daughter in it, and she took her anger out on Abigail. I calmed the tense mother by assuring her that her daughter was not in any of my pictures.
After the tension lifted, Abigail and I talked about her life in West Point. She asked us to send her and her friends to school, telling us how much she wants to learn and how much she loves to play and dance. Eventually, excited by the prospect of the future, we walked towards some music coming from a radio on the street and danced with her neighbors and friends on the dirt road. Eventually, Abigail had to return to work. I hugged her and promised that she would be one of the next girls we put in school.
Since leaving Liberia, I talk to Macintosh, our field volunteer, a couple of times a week to check up on the kids. I told him about Abigail and her living situation, and he expressed his concern for her. I don’t know why, but she had really made an impression on me. In that moment, I knew that we needed to do whatever necessary to get her in school. I told Macintosh to get her in school, get her everything she needs, to buy her a treat, and tell her we love her.
Nothing in the entire world feels more important to me than Abigail. It is incomprehensible to me that at age 14, I was dancing around in church, while Abigail, at the same age, is struggling. It makes me sick. All I can do is work harder, tell more people, and do everything in my power to make sure it gets better. Abigail is only one girl who I feel strongly about, but I know that West Point is flooded with girls just like her. There is no higher privilege than devoting my life to help more of these girls achieve their full potential.
More than Me is not perfect, but it’s something. Once these girls are in school, they are no longer on the street being raped or bought for four dollars a night. It’s a start, and I believe that it will only get better from here.
February is a month commonly associated with love. This month, More than Me is kicking off a “Love for Abigail” campaign. Throughout the month of February, all individual donations up to $1000 will go directly into an account for Abigail’s education. This means we can guarantee Abigail four years of education, an opportunity that so many children in this world are still denied. Instead of buying chocolates that will be forgotten tomorrow or flowers that will wilt within a week, pledge this February to reach out and love someone in a way that will change their life.
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