Former President Sirleaf is well remembered for having once described Liberia’s education system as a “mess” but she is also well remembered for having done little or nothing to improve the messy condition of our educational system. Most of all she is well remembered for doing something unprecedented in the history of education in this country, something never ever done before by any President of this Republic including the semi-literate soldier whose government she once described as a government run by idiots.
Former President Sirleaf virtually turned over the country’s educational system to foreign private business interests whose sole motive, profit seeking, found receptive ears in the Harvard educated President. The Partnership Schools Liberia (PSL) project, under which government turned over public schools to be managed by private individuals but supported by public money. The idea was fatally flawed from the very start and despite condemnations of the scheme by the UN and other bodies including our own National Teachers Association, President Sirleaf persisted and a number of public schools were turned over to the PSL project.
But the President did not only stop there, she went a step further by turning over a number of public schools to be managed under the “More Than Me” project, a profit seeking venture run by a private US female citizen, Katie Meyler, under the guise of a charity organization run by highly unprincipled and unscrupulous individuals purporting to be “Good Samaritans”.
In 2016-2017, the Ministry of Education then under the leadership of perhaps the most incompetent and least educated “da book we will eat” Education Minister ever in the history of Liberia, George Werner, this charity (More Than Me) was awarded control of 19 public schools with an enrollment of over 4,000 students. Its aim was to take control of about 500 public schools in 2013. President Sirleaf, herself a leading advocate of privatizing public education, established a private organization which she aptly dubbed the Liberian Educational Trust (LET) to raise funds for the education of Liberian children.
President Sirleaf being apparently well pleased with the More Than Me initiative, offered for free, the use of a building situated on Ashmun Street, which once housed the Ministry of Justice, then known at the time as the Department of Justice. Ironically, here was More Than Me Academy, taking possession of an old haven of justice in order to provide justice and hope to girls who had been victims of sexual exploitation. Instead within those very walls, these girls received betrayal of justice, dressed up as hope.
She even expressed the wish to have Katie Meyler expand her operations throughout the country.
Having been given a virtual official carte blanche to raise funds to “support education” in Liberia, Katie Meyler, according to reliable accounts raised more than US$8 million with the US government dumping over half a million dollars into her “pepper bush”. She even appeared, along with the incompetent and inept Education Minister Werner at international educational fora where she firmly established her credentials as a true advocate for the education of Liberian girls.
In reality, Meyer was perfecting her skills in con artistry. Teaming up with a former child soldier, ex combatant and sexual predator, with whom she maintained an amorous relationship, Katie Meyler went on to recruit girls from impoverished families mainly from socially deprived communities especially West Point with promises of free and quality education but which came at a high cost.
Under the scheme, involving unequal power relationships, young girls some as young as age 10 were subjected to rape and other forms of sexual abuse by the co-founder of Meyler’s charity, an ex-combatant and sexual predator (now deceased) called Macintosh Johnson. Most girls are reported to have complained but their concerns went unheeded by Meyler until some girls became daring enough to report to the Police which eventually led to court trial of Johnson on rape charges.
The ironic twist to this saga is that the More Than Me Academy is situated on Ashmun Street in Monrovia, just a stone’s throw away from the now closed Obaa’s Girls School, for under privileged girls run at the time by veteran female musician, icon and social activist Miatta Fahnbulleh. The Ministry of Education could not even provide a single teacher — let alone provide subsidy — to that laudable initiative. Being financially unable to continue to entirely underwrite the school’s operation from her personal resources, Miatta was forced to shut its doors in 2017.
To the contrary, Katie Meyler was riding high on a crest wave of approval from President Sirleaf and other international institutions which contributed significantly and generously to her cause. During the outbreak of Ebola, she was one of a handful of expatriates who chose to stay in country during the Ebola crisis. And did so with gusto busying herself with support for Ebola patients. But it was during the crisis that Macintosh Johnson faced trial on rape charges, an event which went largely unnoticed principally because all attention was focused on efforts aimed at stemming the epidemic although, according to reports, nearly a dozen girls testified against him.
And Meyler, according to sources, being fully aware that her co-founder was engaged in illicit sexual predatory behavior towards young girls enrolled in her institution did nothing to stop Johnson’s predatory behavior, neither did she report the matter to the Police. She instead engaged in cover-up until her cover was blown by the watchdog ProPublica institution. But the damage has already been done. A number of girls are reported to have contracted the HIV from illicit sexual contact with Johnson who, according to reports has since died from the illness.
Their future now remains uncertain while Katie Meyler has virtually so far gotten away with “murder” and is going about her business freely without let or hindrance. This newspaper, the Daily Observer, strongly condemns the impunity which has attended Meyler’s action. In the opinion of this newspaper, Katie Meyler should be made to face trial for aiding and abetting her business partner in the commission of such crimes.
Her business enterprise should be shut down forthwith. Additionally, this newspaper will do all it can to encourage Class Action lawsuits against this unscrupulous business woman with the view to having her organization’s assets confiscated and auctioned and its proceeds go to the victims of their (Meyler’s and Johnson’s) crime. And the Liberian government should and must take the lead on this matter. Now is the time more than ever for Education authorities to begin cleaning up the “Mess” which President Sirleaf saw but did nothing about.