Several Students and Parents of the “More Than Me” School today took to the streets of Monrovia protesting the innocent of the School’s Owner, US Educator Katie Meyler in the wake of reports of sexual abuse at the institutions.
The news of sexual abuse of young girls at the “More Than Me” school took the airwaves through a report from an international news outlet ProPublica.
The report highlighted several cases of sexual abuse on students at the institution from ages 11 to 15 years, implicating an administrator named Mcintosh Johnson. In 2014, the case was tried and had a hung jury, which led the suspect to jail and subsequently died in 2016.
To date, Katie Meyler has stepped aside, a decision by the “More Than Me” board to ensure transparent investigation on the issue. Young Women and Rights groups protested justice for the victims of the alleged rape and subsequent closure of the institution which will foster stronger occurrence of injustice and violence against young women and girls in Liberia.
The protesters argued that rape as one of the heinous crimes perpetrated against women in Liberia needs to stop and strong measures taken to ensure a safe environment for women and girls across Liberia.
As though the women and Rights groups’ advocacy came as a mistake, some residents of WestPoint including parents and Students of “More Than Me” condemned last Thursday’s protesters request over the closure of the school and subsequent removal of the school’s owner Katie Meyler.
The More than Me Students, all of whom are young women between the ages of 11-18years, distanced themselves from the women and rights groups advocacy, terming it as mere fantasies and only intended to draw attention to them in a negative way
“Those people who were marching in our name of last Thursday do not mean well for us because More Than Me and Katie Meyler mean everything to us and let them stop endangering our future over “they say news” a student said during the protest.
The students accompanied by their parents, gathered in front of the Foreign Ministry which houses the executive mansion to draw President Weah’s attention to their issue. Dressed in their uniforms, the students marched withheld placards from their school campus on Ashmun Street to the President’s Office on Capitol chanting slogans in the interest of Katie Meyler’s stay at the institution and school opening.
“’WestPoint loves Katie Meyler’, ‘Katie Meyler is our Hero’, among others.
Angeline Nyonnoh, age 31 was among several of the parents in the protest today. Angeline contended that the documentary and protests have raised huge stigma and discrimination against their children, which she stated has created more harm for their learning.
“Our children are being stigmatized because of the lies they are spreading that the children have HIV so none of the keh-keh (bike riders) boys want to take the children to school anymore from WestPoint”, she stated angrily.
Angeline pointed out that there is a need for government to further investigate the alleged rape and sexual abuse saga at the More than Me to enable a society free of stigma against their children.
“Since my daughter been in that school I have not heard of anything until now that the noise is all over that our children got raped and even have AIDS”.
Recently, the government of Liberia constituted a ministerial investigation team to probe the matter in a way to solidifies the documentary claims in the ProPublica report. The Ministry of Gender, Youth and Sports, Justice, Health, Education among others are members of the team.
“Asking Katie Meyler to step aside will not help us in this case because when we never had anyone to help our parents she came and rescued us from the street in WestPoint and give us education”, Cecelia Freeman age 14,, Vice President, More Than Me Academy Student Council Government.
Cecelia indicated that McIntosh Johnson should be made to pay for crimes he committed and not Katie Meyler, the proprietor stating that the shutting down of the institution places a dark cloud over advancing their education.
“Katie had trust in McIntosh and she believed he would have protected the girls (us) from all forms of abuse because he was the avenue for which Katie brought us to the school, but it turned out the other way around so she should not be held liable for someone else’s crime”, she said.
Cecelia disclosed that there were policies in place at the institution after the 2014 report of rape and sexual abuses on the More than Me campus to ensure that the girls were safe from further harm,
“The policy was no female student and male teacher should be seen together alone or even in the corner so everyone knew about it on campus and since then we have been moving on fine”.
“We are here today to appeal to President Weah not to allow our school to close down and also to bring Katie Meyler back to the school because she came to our aid many years ago when we had no one to help us in WestPoint and moreover she loves and care for us we cannot afford to lose her at this time of our educational journey”, she stated.
Also speaking, the school’s Student Council President Abigail David furthered that their protest march is an affront in discouraging stigma and discrimination against students of the institution and appeal to the government for an investigation into the matter as a means to help the students.
Abigail argue that the government is yet to provide proof of their alleged abuser being infected with HIV which she said makes it difficult for their peers who felt victims to regain self-confidence.
“Our friends whom McIntosh abused are now having a psychological problem especially hearing that he was having HIV and AIDS”.
She doubts the government’s ability to take up the responsibility of continuing the girls’ education in the wake of the serious financial crisis facing the country, urging that the school remain open to help girls achieve their dreams.
Additionally, Abigail pointed out that the government’s investigation should be void of sentiments from rights groups and ensures that the future of the girls in the More than Me Academy serves as a priority in the process.
A parent who chose not to be named stated that the current hardship in the country has threatened the survival of their kids and ensure the pursuant of quality education.
She argued that Katie’s initiative of helping disadvantaged girls has lessened the burden of struggling parents in WestPoint and other areas so as to help better the kids future
“To find cup of rice money its very hard, Katie School is very free including socks, books and everything so we want the school to remain open so our children can learn”.
As part of the Government’s Private Partnership Program on education, Katie Meyler’s More Than Me foundation currently run 19 schools across Liberia as a means to strengthen the country’s educational system. The More Than Me Academy hosted over 100 students mainly girls mostly teenagers.
The Ministerial investigation team at a recent press conference stated that their mandate is to ensure Ms. Meyler is not allowed to have access to and view any documents relating to the More Than Me while she steps aside; Meyler does not get paid; makes no contact with the affected girls or any of the girls or sponsored student, Liberian Advisory, Board of Directors unless as allowed by the investigation team.
In furtherance, the committee stated that all financial transaction of the More Than Me Foundation/Academy is placed under a Financial Manager to be named by the Special Investigative Team and that the Ministry of Education ensures a restriction of the PPP schools under More Than Me Foundation.
The committee stressed that the More Than Me be made to make a full declaration of Assets and its financial transaction be reviewed with the intent to establish salary and benefits received by the alleged perpetrator of the heinous acts so as to confirm or dismiss any appearance of a conflict of interest; question Ms. Meyler about creating a toxic workplace environment contrary to the laws and statuses of the nation by involving in an unreported relationship with a subordinate.
The ProPublica report revealed that the alleged perpetrator McIntosh Johnson allegedly raped and abused 10 disadvantaged and vulnerable girls at the More Than Me where he served as the Co-Founder.
To date, rape has penetrated the Liberian society with women and girls mostly falling victims to such crime. Under the Rape Law, those convicted serve a seven-year jail sentence.
The Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, 2017 report showed a high number with a total of almost 900 Sexual and Gender-Based Violence cases were reported, of which more than 500 were rape cases and 475 involved children.
Those alarming figures shocked President Weah Recently when he termed Rape as unacceptable cancer that must be destroyed with efforts of fast-tracking rape cases at the criminal court E.
He pledged his government unwavering support to enabling the special rape court run a yearly basis to render justice for survivors; creating a safe space for women and girls from Sexual and Gender-Based Violence.