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.