"Being a bystander to suffering is not an option." — The words of Katie Meyler, founder of More Than Me and a member of our designedCOLLECTIVE community in Liberia fighting to end Ebola.
The foundation began in 2007, I believe? My understanding it that it sort of naturally began in Liberia after the war. Could you touch more on that and how you ended up there?
“I ended up in Liberia in 2006. I got my first job with Samaritan’s Purse after college and they sent me to Liberia. I knew nothing about all the complexities of post war Liberia — I thought I would be in the Middle East somewhere. Liberia has a very rich and interesting history, so I just took the plunge. Though the war was officially over in 2003, when I showed up I still saw a lot of displaced adults and children throughout Monrovia. There were people with missing limbs wondering the streets — it was a mess. I was running a literacy program in the bush. So I would come to the city to get supplies and would see children carrying water barrels on their heads, trying to make money, trying to get to school. I didn’t have much money on my salary, but I started paying tuition for some students and began telling people on Myspace, [which was cool at the time] about these children’s stories. I began to receive donations and advice from people who felt I should just begin a nonprofit.”
As an interior design firm, we also like to think of ourselves as a vessel for our clients — creating a home they thrive in, so they can beautifully manifest outwards into the world. Have you personally seen the impact of what a better home provides for your girls, their lives, their goals, and their ability to absorb education?
“We put them through school while partnering up with various leaders within their communities. These kids are pretty much homeless, they stay with relatives in houses made of garbage and tin, they usually sleep on cement floors. … Considering the conditions that they live in, you wonder how they can survive. But putting on a uniform gives them such a sense of pride, even though their school doesn’t have running water. At times some girls stay with me, and even though it’s just a painted cement building, I can just tell when there’s a clean spacious place for them, it makes them comfortable and confident. Bringing them back home is sometimes hard because they do not want to return. We’ve discussed providing a boarding situation, but we’re not quite there yet — we’re getting there though.”
It’s very refreshing to see such a vibrant group of people in your organization; Spain, Sierra Leone, San Francisco, New Jersey, New York, Liberia, New Zealand, and Korea are all represented by More Than Me’s team members. As a worldly woman yourself, do you think you naturally gravitate towards other worldly individuals?
" I work with all types of people, and there isn’t a particular type that I’d prefer to work with. It’s not just the tree-hugger in California, it’s also the republican in New Jersey [where she grew up], or the African American homeless man. It’s really about our humanity — bones and blood. Most want to be involved because they’ve somehow heard the story through me, or a friend. I actually met our web administrator Daniel on a train! I’m constantly talking about the girls. Wow, if these girls even knew that me talking about them is it’s actually what draws people… It is interesting at first when you get a team together, and they all dress differently, spend their free time differently. But there’s a deeper message for us and we live something bigger than ourselves, and get over our ego.”
Your childhood really resonates with me, growing up monetarily less fortunate, but persevering. How far has that taken you in your journey? Where do you think you differ than most people?
" I always have been a little of a strange person, even when I was younger. I never thought I wanted a house with a white picket fence. When I became a born again Christian at the age of 14, I knew I would serve the poor in some way, despite whether or not that was in the U.S.. I grew up in a very white and wealthy part of town, but I myself wasn't wealthy. I always knew that didn't define me. I loved worldy things and one of my best friend growing up was Paraguayan, I loved salsa dancing and I kind of knew that I wanted to live in Latin America or somewhere outside of the States. I had a good relationship with God and felt lucky to be who I was, living an unconventional life. But when I started More Than Me in the beginning, I sort of doubting myself, and my family and friends were also questioning my path. I was the first person in my family to attend college and they thought, 'Wow, you just graduated from college you’re going to be basically be homeless in Liberia?' But it knew it was something I had to just do."