2 September 2015

Liberia: More Than Me Back to the Rescue

On August 14- 19, 2015, the Minister of Education, More Than Me (MTM) and Shelter for Life International went on a five day scoping tour to visit some of the Liberian schools tucked away in remote locations.

The trip covered 10 of Liberia's 15 counties and enabled representatives from the Ministry of Education, MTM and its tour partners to see for themselves the conditions of over more than 12 schools in Grand Bassa, Sinoe, Grand Kru, Maryland, River Gee, Grand Gedeh, Nimba, Bong, Margibi and Montserrado Counties.

"I hope the world sees the emergency that Liberia's education state is in and I hope that I can help bring attention and real change to it," Katie Meyler remarked. "Liberia needs as much help as possible. Until Liberia builds their education system, how can we re-build any other part of the country?"

Katie Meyler, founder of MTM, is no stranger to Liberia's school sector. Since 2009, Katie has with strong determination and passion, changed the future and lives of scores of girls living in West Point. To date, more than 150 girls living in and around WestPoint, including 11 orphans are being impacted by MTM's higher learning program.

"We provide full services to our children which includes a social working department, clinic in and outside of the school and also a feeding program," stated Laura Smith, Principle and country director of MTM.

During the uproar and heat of the Ebola outbreak, MTM stepped in with services that helped quarantined homes receive the necessities that would allow them to stay put. The Ebola task forces in most of the communities were given allowances and training to help them effectively track and trace those infected; not to mention the aid that was given to the Liberian government by MTM.

This time around, Katie feels highly connected and eager in seeing the best for Liberia and its pupils.

"I hope to be as much of support to the Minister of Education as possible. MTM wants to work with him. We're not coming on our own to do anything but rather to see how we can be most supportive," Katie noted.

For the meantime, Laura Smith, MTM's principal says that their interest in making such a trip was to see for themselves the needs of other schools around Liberia. During the visit, in most of the schools visited, there were leaking roofs, lack of infrastructure, broken or no chairs at all, as well as the issue of the lack of school text books.

"We're at the very beginning stages to get a general idea of what's going on in the counties. We will be able to go back and talk with each other, other organizations and talk about these needs and how we can all come together and help," Laura shared.

During the visitation at the government schools, Sam Herring, MTM's Special Projects Program Manager was there with a mobile phone mapping all of the schools. It is a mapping system that he says will enable MTM to visit the schools individually, a second time.

"We're conducting a community survey as well as a survey of school administrators and that includes the GPS. We're mapping all the schools we may possibly work with to know exactly where they are, how we can access them and what the challenges are," he stated.

"The GPS will give us directions and show us the location of the school whether a structured building is there or not. Google has done well for us with its Google Earth Search Software. It won't be 100% accurate especially in the rural areas,but we've been using it. I'm capturing the GPS coordinates and when you put the latitude and longitude, Google will let us know exactly where these schools are," he shared.

According to Sam, such a tour or interest by MTM does not mean that the organization wants to be in the forefront, but rather just an extra hand.

"It's not a hostile take over. We want to know what are the needs, what they are doing well that could be used in other schools as well and what MTM can bring to the table," he assured.

Meanwhile, representatives working closely along the Minister of Education say MTM's program in itself is 'good' and the government has talked about possible partnerships with the award-winning academy.

"We met with MTM in New York and met a lot of donors. Katie has the platform and credibility to get money on our behalf and put it into our schools. The idea is to identify some schools that the government can replicate into MTM," stated a rep from the Ministry.

"Shelter for Life International has access within the US department of agriculture, which has about US$50 million in food aid. If they were to put together a good program with Liberia, they could give us that amount because the World Food Program has been lobbying the Ministry of Education," they further added.

In as much, Katie knows that she can help in yet another fight; a fight that involves infrastructure, fixing broken pieces that have caused the education sector to be troubling sector.

"What we've been good at in the short amount of years we've existed is getting things done. Understanding and listening to the people and communicating with others out there are our strengthening points. Hopefully we'll use what we're good at and be a part of the community to come together and support the ministry of education. I don't like a lot of talking because I want to see action. There's some things we don't need to talk about like the fact that there's basic human rights for people, some of which we hope we can gather funding around," she added.

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