To be honest, I went into this trip with a lot of reservations. I didn’t have any information about where we were staying, what we would be doing, or what it’s like in Liberia. It’s pretty hard to pack when you don’t know what you’re packing for. But I knew that by going to Liberia, I would gain invaluable information about More Than Me and the girls that I could bring back to the U.S. I wanted to be able to tell the girls’ stories in order to help them further.
And I did learn a lot; I was able to see the More Than Me Academy and even attend a day at school; I experienced Liberian culture, from driving without rules of the road to trying a tradition Liberian dish with chicken feet in it. I heard about the projects that More Than Me employees and volunteers are working on to teach the girls entrepreneurship, healthy habits, and how to cultivate their talents.
But what I didn’t expect, and what affected me the most, were the connections I made and the friendships that grew. I had been excited to meet more people involved in More Than Me so that I would feel more solidified as a part of the organization, but I couldn’t have known how amazing these people are. The ladies who are currently in Liberia as part of More Than Me’s fellowship program all have different backgrounds, but they worked so hard to get themselves there, and they’re some of the greatest people I’ve ever met. And I met many male Liberians who told me their stories of putting themselves through school to fulfill their dreams of being an artist or a doctor or a computer scientist, and now they’re involved with More Than Me, providing role models for our girls. They also show that men are kind and can appreciate the girls for who they are, not just for their bodies. I am truly inspired by the perseverance and wisdom that every individual in the More Than Me family displays and I am so honored to have been welcomed into this family.
Going to Liberia gave me the chance to see where the girls are coming from and where they are going and who is helping them to get there. I remember talking to Regina Brown, one of the star students at the More Than Me Academy, who told me that she wanted to be an engineer, but she knows that when she finishes with school, she could really be anything. I loved to hear the girls’ dreams of being a pilot or nurse or actress, because the truth is that these girls are the future leaders of Liberia and they have the opportunity to fulfill these dreams while so many other Liberian children do not.
One of the most heart-warming experiences of the trip for me was helping to teach at the Academy on our last day. Monday was the girls’ first day back at school after their holiday break and neither of the teachers for the Power class, the most advanced class at the Academy, did not show up for school. So Jess (one of the other volunteers) and I offered to help out and went over to the Power class. We were told an assistant teacher would be there to lead the class, but when it was time to begin, Jess and I were the only ones in the room with the girls. So we asked them what they had been learning about and helped them review their vocabulary, past and present tenses, phonics, and skills at telling time. The girls were able to tell us what they knew and what they needed more help with. I was so impressed at how well they behaved and their ability to show off their knowledge and also how they were not afraid to admit they needed help. Seeing the girls engaged in learning and the progress they’ve already made was really delightful. I know from talking to their teachers that there will be times they misbehave or don’t do their homework, but overall the girls love school, which makes all the efforts of More Than Me worthwhile.
I encourage anyone who is dedicated to this cause to go to Liberia. Getting there is a lot of work, but the benefits are something you can’t get anywhere else. I have come back to the United States with a renewed pride and inspiration. There’s still work to be done; these girls need our help. I promise to do my best to spread the knowledge I have gained and the stories I have heard as a result of this trip in hopes of inspiring my audience to think bigger than themselves.
Another update from Danica:
“We had a lot of clothes donated, a lot from the Schroeders, but others too, and we bagged them up and brought them to school so that the teachers can give each girls a piece of clothing when school resumes on Monday. Not all of the pieces will fit the girls, but they can give them to parents or siblings, or trade them at the market. The girls do have clothes, but it’s always nice for them to have more. The size of a girl’s wardrobe when she lives in West Point wasn’t something I really thought about until I got here.
We also brought de-worming medication to the school for the teachers to give out as well. One of my favorite things about More Than Me is that we do more than just educate the girls, we really look after their well-being, which is so important.”
Danica checked in about what they are up to:
"Today we did two things at the school: First, we volunteered to take on the task of organizing the school’s supplies, ranging from art supplies and desk supplies to cables, extra shoes, and sewing machines. It was all thrown in one room and was a pain for the teachers when they needed to get something. It also had to all be brought out of that room anyway, so we moved it into the corner of the main office and organized it with some minimal office furniture. The teachers are so excited to see it, they say it will be very helpful.
We also repainted many of the white walls that were dirty from dust and little handprints so that when this group of potential donors come to see the school in a week or so, the school looks ready for them. It’ll also be nice for the girls when they return from their holiday break.
Grace and I are learning a lot about the culture here, which is really great. We’re going to see more of the country tomorrow and then Saturday we’ll probably be back with the girls.”
Danica Kelley and Grace Schroeder are in Liberia spending time with the girls, the families of the girls and the More Than Me team! We are going to keep you updated on what they are up to.
Here is the latest update from Danica:
"Hey, it’s Danica. Just giving an update! We’re teaching the girls a dance for potential donors next week. We’re also going to be updating their bios on the Mtm website and giving them worm medication. It’s awesome here and we’re staying with the fellows, who are all so great. Happy New Year from Liberia!"