An acclaimed American charity said it was saving some of the world’s most vulnerable girls from sexual exploitation. But from the very beginning, girls were being raped.
She was a dervish of hugs, laughter, even tears. Her name was Katie Meyler. It was her 31st birthday and, she would later say, the best day of her life. The More Than Me Academy was opening.
The building had been a war-ruined shell people used as a toilet, festering so long a tree had grown through its walls. Now, with the Liberian president having given Meyler free use, it shone, improbably rebuilt into a school. A slogan ran step by step up a staircase: “I – promise – to – make – my – dream – come – true.” A sense of possibility infused the day, for Liberia and for the girls whose lives Meyler was transforming.
In matching neckerchiefs, some sang, some danced. One, 15 years old but betraying no nerves, gave a speech: “There is a saying in Liberia. Nothing good can ever come out of West Point.” Their home was an infamous sandy limb protruding from the city out into the sea, where over 70,000 of the world’s poorest people lived in a labyrinth of zinc-topped houses. The girl spoke of friends her age with multiple babies, friends forced to sell their bodies. “I could have been one of these girls, but I am not. I am not, because More Than Me believed in me.”
Meyler wanted to save these girls from sexual exploitation. She wanted to educate them, empower them, keep them safe. That’s why she had founded a charity called More Than Me. When the Liberian president, who had won a Nobel Peace Prize for her fight for women’s safety, was asked that day what she wanted from those keen to help her country, she answered, “To expand Katie Meyler’s initiative to as many communities as possible.”