In Liberia, school costs average between $12 and $200 a year, but in a country where the average yearly income is less than $400 these fees are prohibitively expensive. School attendance is unfortunately not a given or a priority, especially for girls. As a result, the literacy rate for women between the ages of 15-24 hovers at around 37%. Liberian women have a greater chance of being married by the age of 18 than being able to read. At the More Than Me Academy in Monrovia, however, the education of girls and young women is high-quality, free, and encompasses more than what they learn in the classroom. Recognizing the need for its students to thrive outside of school hours, the K-6 school also provides healthcare, family planning, a feeding program, and psycho-social support. Read on for how this groundbreaking school is attempting to transform some of Monrovia’s most vulnerable girls into empowered young women who will impact their country’s future.
MTMA was started by Katie Meyler, an American who was shocked to learn how desperate young Liberian women were for basic necessities such as water. With life’s essentials being difficult to obtain for many people, education was an afterthought, especially since the quality of schools was inconsistent and learning opportunities entirely absent in some areas. 80% of schools were destroyed during Liberia’s 14 year civil war, and the educational system has continued to struggle mightily. Meyler knew that providing girls with a good education was essential to helping Liberia grow a brighter future, but she was also aware that they needed a more holistic model. As a result, the MTMA offers tutoring, computer education, two home-cooked meals each day, after school activities, home visits, health and well-being classes twice a week, family planning services (for alumni as well as current students), support for serious illness, guaranteed tuition through the 12th grade for MTMA grads, and more. MTMA even provides things like Western toilets and hand-washing stations that most of us take for granted, but which are still not standard in a country that was devastated by Liberia in 2014. MTMA also has a zero tolerance policy toward sexual violence and exploitation, which sadly sets the school apart: the most frequently reported crime in Liberia is rape although the perpetrators are rarely convicted.
The Academy’s academic outcomes have been so successful that the Liberian Ministry of Education has asked MTMA to participate in a pilot program to help other Liberian schools. MTMA tries to improve the community as well by hiring local teachers when possible, involving parents or guardians, and turning the school into a coalition to deal with the Ebola crisis with a contingency plan in place for any future outbreaks. Helping rebuild Liberia by starting with the promise of the next generation is an intelligent approach, especially considering that half of the country’s population is under the age of 18. MTMA’s holistic, comprehensive approach honors each of its students while simultaneously striving to improve the lives and future of the entire country. It’s a heavy weight for this young educational center to bear, but MTMA is making sure its enthusiastic staff and energetic young students are well taken care of both inside the classroom and out.
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