While managing a literacy program in Liberia in 2006, Katie Meyler was relocated for safety reasons from her Red Cross residence to an orphanage housing 86 young girls whose parents were murdered during the country’s civil wars. The Bernardsville native made herself right at home. “Here I am, by myself, living in this village with these kids, no running water, no electricity, taking bucket baths, using candles, cooking my meals by the fire,” she says. “But I had such a connection with these kids.”
Meyler, who was 23 at the time, often would sit with villagers and ask them about their dreams. When it came to the children, “they would tell me all they wanted was to go to school,” she says. It turned out that in Liberia, 60 percent of kids do not attend school; 70 percent of those missing out on education are girls. Some of these girls become prostitutes to feed themselves and their families. Meyler wanted to help, so a friend suggested she start a foundation. “I’m not smart enough. I’m not pretty enough. I’m not a leader,” she told herself, until another friend bluntly responded, “Katie, get over yourself. It’s not about you.” This advice inspired the foundation’s name, More Than Me, which Meyler launched in August 2009.
Since its creation, More Than Me has raised enough money to send 100 girls to school. (In Liberia, it costs $350 a year for one student’s uniform, shoes, books, supplies, food and tuition.) Meyler spends about six months a year in Liberia directly working with the girls. “I’m so honest with them. I tell them not everyone in Liberia gets this opportunity,” she says. “I really push them hard.” Her tough-love tactics have worked. Ten of the girls are first in their class, and the organization has a sizeable waiting list.
Meyler’s next mission is to raise funds for a safe home with water and electricity where the girls can return after school and learn marketable skills like baking, hair braiding and sewing. “Everyone can agree that an 11-year-old girl should not be prostituting because she doesn’t have enough money to eat,” she says. The safe home, Meyler estimates, will cost about $100,000 to build and maintain for a year.
More Than Me’s next fund-raiser will be a June 2 barbecue with food and live music hosted by board members Skip and Katie Borghese at their Far Hills home. For information, e-mail [email protected].