The More Than Me (MTM) sexual exploitation scandal and the reported blind eye or complacency role played by its founder, Katie Meyler, is overshadowing news in country. Unfortunately, it is the latest scandal to hit the education sector after a ProPublica’s report.
Unprotected, as reported by a British reporter, is a chilling revelation about wanton abuse of schoolkids, some as young as ten years old, and the high level of secrecy with which the American NGO handled the situation.
But while many are currently looking at this ugly incident, a few but farsighted individuals have begun to look beyond the scandal in an effort to finding a holistic solution—ensuring that such a situation does not happen again—and that schools become safe havens.
It is out of this dream that a project, entitled, “Liberia-Girls Education: Advocacy and Research Capacity-building for civil society organizations (CSOs) in Gender-Responsive Education,” has been conceived.
The project is an initiative of Renewed Energy Serving Humanity (RESH), a local NGO that support victims, survivors and their families, caregivers communities and people with psycho-social problems, which is working in collaboration with the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office-Liberia and the University of Liberia (UL).
The project Technical Consultant, Jessi Hanson, said it focuses on gender-responsive and child-friendly schools resources.
Ms. Hanson, who spoke over the weekend in Paynesville, said the project is to develop CSOs’ technical capacity, implement and monitor gender-responsive education sector plans, policies and budgets.
“It also offers statistical and qualitative research findings to demonstrate how research can help understand advancement and remaining challenges in Liberia,” Ms. Hanson said. She is RESH Consultant and a PhD candidate at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.
The training is focused on exploring what gender-responsive and child-friendly schooling is, promoting the voices of CSOs in advocating gender-responsive education at community and district levels.
She added that research conducted so far indicates that many people don’t’ really know about the policies of protecting children, especially during school hours.
“Research also shows that many girls are being raped at a very young age that does not only exist in schools, but the society as a whole. We need to work with the youth to create more awareness around issues of human rights, sexual violence and exploitation. We can train them to be good citizens,” Ms. Hanson assured.
Ms. Hanson has been involved with not-for-profit works, mostly in education, for the past six years to also help the CSOs’ support monitoring and research in various schools to know whether these schools are gender friendly—the girl child and the boy child are receiving an equal and equitable access.
She fear that a lot of girls are getting pregnant at a very young age. And although some teachers are being reportedly involved in the act of impregnating these girls, much of the problem is with the older boys.
The last weekend event was the first of four workshops that will be held under the project with a total of 30 CSOs from religious, educational, youth groups and others. The project is anticipated to be a six-month initiative.
British Ambassador David Belgrove committed his government’s continued support to education, especially girls’ education, and the empowerment of girls and boys through gender responsive education. “These are invaluable to the forward march of the country.”
He indicated that the CSOs will help to investigate the quality and safety of schools for all children. “The research will be used to improve and advocate for resources for Liberian kids,” he said.
RESH founder and Executive Director Ernest Garnark-Smith lauded the participants for the turnout.