Preying on the Poor

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By Lekpele M. Nyamalon

Monrovia–  I was invited to read poetry at a fundraiser organized by the partnership of schools and the Ministry of Education in 2017 and met a young lady, she handed me her card and introduced herself as Katie Myler, the head of ‘More than me’. I liked the name, ‘More than me’. It sounded enticing, almost mesmerizing.  More Than Me is a non-profit headed by Katie Myler, an American, with the objective to provide education for vulnerable young girls, most of who were recruited from West Point, one of Liberia’s largest slums. Katie asked me to help teach her ‘kids’ poetry. I was elated — anything for Liberia.

We never met again, time and schedule clashed.  ‘Hundreds of young girls signed up and became students of ‘More than Me Academy’. Down the road, ‘More than me’ became a partner to the Johnson-Sirleaf led government partnership for school program in its pilot phase.  There were signs of hope, it seemed.

Katie walked on world stages receiving millions of US dollars on behalf of the girls and stood in some of the most prestigious halls around the world, supposedly speaking for the poor and vulnerable. In one of her award ceremonies where she received a million dollars award, Katie and members of her team painted their faces with the inscription, ‘I am Abigail’.  The face of Abigail may never see the carpets of fame but her face gave Katie and others the stage.

However, in a bizarre display of negligence, ‘More than me’ is being accused of the indiscriminate raping of scores of underage girls, occurring right under its watch by one of its senior staff- an irony of the very tenets the school professes. The story reportedly broke a few years back but details remained hushed for possibly safeguarding the school from the public backlash, including the end to donor funding. It took Pro Publica — an American non-profit and investigative journalism team that breaks news for the public interest — to produce a documentary of systematic rape and abuse with interviews from the victims themselves. The documentary, dubbed Unprotected, is a chilling account of the horrors of hell at More than me. As a father of a girl child, emotions took over and it took me several days, at the urging of my sister, to finally sit and watch the documentary.

‘More than me’ has this on its website:

‘The safety of the children we serve is our number one priority. More Than Me has a zero tolerance policy for sexual violence and exploitation.’

This statement stands as an Irony in the face of massive rape and sexual abuse happening under its watch and scores of underage girls reportedly infected with HIV as a result of rape by one of its key staff and recruiter, Mcintosh Johnson.

Reading of the broken shield that exposed those Angels — young girls — to the doorsteps of death, breaks my heart. Running from evil is liberating, but running to a monster that creeps on you at night to drive the last dagger is almost suicidal. They were left to face a cold blooded rapist and serial predator.

We can point to all the cracks in the walls, the whys, the whos, and cry together in unison, on each other, with no one to comfort us. Let’s dry up our tears and hit the drawing board:

1. The system failed those Angels
We trusted the morality and empathy of those in whose care they were entrusted. One crack uncovered, presumed morality doesn’t cut it, inherent suspicion keeps the guards alert.
2. Monitoring and Evaluation
Periodic monitoring of the activities at MTM and interviews with the Angels would have busted an underground evil, perhaps sooner.
3. Struggle with conscience
We tend to easily look the other way if it doesn’t stink so close. It was morally imperative that those who came close to the facts had a duty to ring the bell for the greater good. However, it took Pro-Publica to uncover ‘unprotected’ from afar and we woke up smelling the stench of reality in a broken, stinking kitchen. Now, we’re awake, let’s not go back to bed and wake up, trigger happy for the next hunting game. All feet to the fire.

The case of ‘More Than Me’ is a classic example of NGOs from the West flooding to Africa in the name of the poor. These NGOs return home after its work with little or no measurable impact. Additionally, most African Governments would open its space to roaming NGOs collecting millions and gracing world stages all in the name of Africa’s poor who only feed off the crumbs of those millions collected our names. This has to stop. The iceberg of tons of vices occurring across the length and breadth of Africa by fly-by-night  NGOs with little or no expertise in the areas they intend to operate makes Africa a dumping ground for remnants, predators and poorly trained hustlers looking for a living in the name of the poor.

Monrovia was a scene of series of demonstrations on Thursday by different movements presenting position statements to different government and International bodies of the carnage done under the watch of ‘More than Me’ The hastags: #morethanrape, #morethansad coined by a Liberian banker, blogger and child rights activist became a social media movement that helped to heap fire on the pressure of More than me.

As movements like #morethanrape gain steam, it’s unequivocal that Katie Meyler should be held accountable for gross negligence and a comprehensive investigation be launched to uncover, in totality, the extent of damage and let the laws flex its sword. More Than Me is an emblem of the dangers of systemic failures and remains a scar on our memories. Katie should own up to the responsibilities arising thereof.

May those Angels rise up, as Ambassadors, telling their own stories. It’s more than money, it’s more than fame and certainly, as the social media team sums it in the hashtag, it’s #morethanrape.

Let’s save them, next time.

Lekpele M. Nyamalon is a Liberian Poet, Author, Speaker and a Mandela Washington Fellow. He can be reached at [email protected].

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