For Katie Meyler, a 20-something volunteer doubting her ability to help impoverished girls in a war-ravaged African nation get schooling, the moment came as an epiphany.
“I got the best advice I ever got in my life from one of my good friends. ‘It’s not about you,’ she said,” Meyler told the audience at her Dec. 1 talk at Franklin & Marshall College.
Meyler, now 34, was named a TIME Magazine “Person of the Year” in 2014 for her work creating the first tuition-free all-girls school in Liberia. That led to her work trying to save lives during the Ebola outbreak, something she discussed during Common Hour, a community discussion that is open to the public and held at F&M every Thursday that classes are in session during the semester.
The New Jersey native and 2005 graduate of North Central University, a Bible-based school in Minnesota, started the “More Than Me” foundation in 2009 to help the most vulnerable girls from the West Point slum in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital. Girls were selling themselves for $1 to buy drinking water.
In 2013, Meyler, whose foundation won $1 million from Chase Bank's American Giving Award, stood with Nobel Laureate and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in a ceremony that opened the More Than Me Academy. Meyler has been lauded by publications around the world for her efforts.
“She dreams big and makes things happen,” said F&M sophomore Sophia Das, who introduced Meyler to the audience and shares the same hometown with her.
The More Than Me Academy, located in what was a rundown empty government building that Meyler repaired and refurbished, quickly began to see student success.
“The girls were leaping forward, two grade levels at a time,” Meyler said.
Then the Ebola outbreak hit and Meyler went to the local health officials to offer help. They needed an ambulance because the few ambulances available took hours to reach the disease-stricken. She provided an ambulance, which some of the fathers of her students took turns driving. Meyler became emotional as she shared the story.
“We saved a lot of lives,” she said.
For those who died, Meyler said she had a rule. “When there’s nothing else left to do – sing! Bring dignity to death.”
As much danger as she and her staff were in during the outbreak, Meyler said none of them contracted Ebola.
Meyler said the Ebola outbreak educated her not only to the systemic problems of poor African nations such as Liberia, which struggled because outside relief was either slow or non-existent, but also what it means to be a humanitarian.
“You find the thing you don’t like and you do something about it. There is nobody in the world coming to save our world. We are it. It’s up to us,” Meyler said. “I never learned that more than during Ebola when we were sitting and waiting for the experts to come. We are the experts.”