The Washington, DC-based More than Me Foundation carries out a very powerful mission: to get as many Liberian girls off the streets and into school. But as Stephanie Hood, More than Me’s executive director, explains, the organization strives to achieve an even larger mission. In this interview, Stephanie recounts her recent trip to Liberia to set up the school year for the Foundation’s girls, shares the progress on the ground, and highlights what’s up ahead for More than Me.
Interview by Genna Weiss
(Stephanie Hood, center)
Briefly tell us about More than Me and its mission.
More than Me is a small non-profit whose mission is to get girls into school, and our vision is to provide girls with access to education. We work in West Point, a slum of Monrovia, Liberia, and have assured long-term educational access to over 100 girls. We have two Liberian part-time staff, but the rest of our staff is made up of a global network of volunteers. We like to say that our larger mission is giving people all over the world an opportunity to live “More than Me,” for a cause greater than themselves.
How did you get involved with More than Me? What is your role within the organization?
I became involved with More than Me Foundation when the ink was still wet on the 501(c)3 paperwork back in 2009. Katie, the founder of More than Me, had posted on Couchsurfing.org that she wanted to start a project to help girls in Liberia. I answered her post, we met, we recognized our complete opposite personalities could make a dream a reality, and we hit the ground running.
The title we tell people I have, when people ask for titles, is Executive Director. Really, my job is to do what needs to be done, and because of my skill set that usually means coordinating the administrative side of More than Me. One of the things I like the most about our organization is we try to create an environment where we find an outlet for all skills, and we find people then naturally fall into and excel in roles where they naturally are inclined. Have lots of friends? Invite them to a fundraiser. Love taking photos? Take photos at our events. Are you organized and like to manage projects (me)? Become the Executive Director of our organization.
You recently traveled to Liberia to see the girls. What were you aiming to accomplish on this particular visit?
This will be More than Me’s third school year and we had the largest number of girls to enroll yet—100! Enrollment is a lot of work. The logistics behind getting 100 girls identified, getting all the things purchased they need to get in school (uniforms and shoes for 100 girls of various ages and sizes), as well as organizing their bios, data, paying school fee was huge and a big part of what I was doing in Liberia. Also, we met with NGOs, school principals, a local cook, hired two-part time staff members, took over a weekly neighborhood recreation program, and made plans for expansion for a girls’ neighborhood study club. We were constantly running around (or actually riding around, on motorbikes) and the trip was a whirlwind.
What progress on the ground have you seen compared to your last visit (if you’ve actually been there before)? What were the major highlights of the trip?
We now have two paid More than Me employees and 100 girls in school! More than Me has been operating for three years on volunteer efforts both in Liberia and in the US. We now have two part-time local Liberian staff members…that is huge for us! We also have 100 girls, up from 33 last year. These are all huge changes!
Do you have any interesting or exciting updates about the girls?
We had three children out of 33 who were ranked first in their class last year. We gave them a special award and lots of congrats/attention for a job well done! I feel like a proud mother. The other day, someone asked me if I was thinking about having kids. I told them I already have 100 girls, and that is enough for me for right now!
What are still some of the current challenges that the girls and their families face that you were able to see firsthand?
Where to begin? Many of the girls are at very high risk for exploitation. There are examples of domestic abuse, many are orphaned, internal displacement. There are hunger issues, no quiet places for the girls to study in their community, and girls are not aware of community resources nor do they have access to these resources. Their parents or guardians are illiterate. There is no running water and no toilets in the community so open spaces are used as toilets, which means disease transmission as well as the standing fetid water leads to malaria. Our girls have so many challenges, and our vision is educational access. We are accessing what issues are most hindering our girls’ access to education, and then [we will] problem solve how we can help clear a path for them.
What future initiatives may be up ahead for More than Me?
Our next focus is a girls club. Girls in the community need a space where they can go, have lights where they can study, resources they can access about their community, and mentors and role models available they can speak to. More than Me is growing more and more to not be just a scholarship program, but also to be a holistic program that is able to help girls with a variety of hurdles affecting their path to education.
For more information about this organization, and to donate to its students: More than Me
Genna Weiss's Blog
Must be logged in to comment.