Liberia: Katie Meyler Steps Aside From MTM As Local Board Constitute Panel to Conducts Investigation
Monrovia – The Liberian Advisory Board for ‘More Than Me,’ has announced that its Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Ms. Katie Meyler, is stepping from the day-to-day operations of the NGO, until the conclusion of the investigation.
Bettie K. Johnson-Mbayo, [email protected]
According to the board, they uncovered several statements that were either inconsistent with the information provided to them by More Than Me (MTM) leadership or that there was new information.
MTM, an American charity, was founded in 2009 by Katie Meyler, to help get girls from the streets to school specifically from West Point, one of the very impoverished, slum communities in Liberia.
Court documents revealed that the girls were raped from the onset of the NGO. The perpetrator was originally described as the charity’s co-founder, an ex-combatant named Macintosh Johnson, with whom it is said that Katie had a sexual relationship.
Soon after the founding, according to witnesses, and court documents, Johnson began raping the girls as young as 10 years. Katie herself admitted that the number of girls, who were raped at the MTM Academy, could have been a quarter of the school; adding: “Everyone over the age of 11.”
An investigative panel, comprising of prominent civil society organizations, including women and professional associations and appropriate government functionaries are expected to review all of the circumstances and allegations.
The local board in a statement Sunday, October 14, said in reviewing the allegations, the panel will have no one who is associated with the incidences or MTM involved.
Confirmed members of the panel include National Civil Society Organization, Women NGO Secretariat of Liberia (WONGOSOL), Independent Human Rights Commission, REACH, Servant of All Prayer (SOAP) and Disaster Victims Association of Liberia.
MTM LAB disclosed that in an initial meeting with officials of the Ministries of Justice, Gender, Children and Social Protection and Education on October 12, 2018, they will fully cooperate with the government in any investigation.
“It is very important to note that MTM’s primary concern and objective is giving our students the opportunity for quality education and a bright future as well as a safer environment for girls.
“Some of the girls reached out to the Liberian Advisory Board on October 12, 2018 appealing for the non-closure of the MTM Academy and its ancillary programs. They are concerned because they believe that the closure of the program is the end of their hope for a better future,” they stated.
LAB members include Public Procurement Committee Commission head, James Dorbor Jallah (Chair), Aisha Cooper, Fiona Weeks, Rivercess District one Representative and THINK Liberia Executive Director Rosana Schaack, Dr. Mosoka Fallah, Samuel Sampson and Nelly Cooper.
The investigating panel will be headed by prominent Liberian lawyer T. Negbalee Warner.
Following the release of the findings from the investigation, LAB In consultation with the US board will take appropriate actions. The panel has been given two to three weeks to conclude its review based on the urgency of the issue.
According to the local board, Katie has sacrificed a lot to support education for vulnerable children; “However, given the sensitive nature of this situation, the Liberian Board has asked the CEO, Katie Meyler, to temporarily step aside while the investigation is ongoing, and she has willingly agreed for the objectivity of the investigation. The US board concords with our decision.”
LAB was established in September 2015 after reports of sexual incidents occurred at MTM and to advice the US board. The Liberian Advisory Board of MTM also expressed regrets over the incidences that were reported in 2014 regarding the sexual exploitation of some of the students in the institution’s care.
“We were informed that when the issue of the sexual exploitation was brought to the attention of the administration of the school on June 12th, 2014, More Than Me immediately reported the matter to the appropriate government authorities and within four days Mr. Macintosh Johnson, the perpetrator, was arrested by the police.”
A town hall meeting scheduled with Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor, partners and community residents of West Point was indefinitely postponed late Saturday evening.
Ms. Barkue Tubman, planner of the Sunday meeting, on Saturday morning wrote on her Facebook wall that the meeting in West Point would have included MTM, the Sexual and Gender-based Violence unit from the Ministries of Justice, Education and all concerned to come.
“Yes, let’s look at the MTM issue but let’s look at our society holistically and let’s make sure we do all we can to stop it,” Ms. Tubman had further said on her social media page.
She disclosed, in an interview with this newspaper, that she had postponed the meeting due to the Vice President’s request.
“It was simply out of respect for Madam VP, who feels very strongly about hearing the community, concerned Liberians and partners working towards a holistic solution and because GOL is having its own set of meetings so she asked for a postponement.
Perhaps I should have left her out but now she’s all in and that means and says a lot.”
Solomon Ware, the Vice President’s Director for Press and Public Affairs, disclosed that the meeting came as a surprise. “I don’t have an invite to my knowledge that the VP is attending any meeting of such.”
In a statement issued by the VP’s Office on Saturday, she promised to engage all parties involved to ensure that the current children under the care of the institution are safe and protected.
“I vehemently denounce this act of exploiting our young girls and putting an organization’s interest before the lives of our children.
“I will never condone these acts from anyone be it foreign or domestic. Please allow us to do due diligence.”
MTM on the website again issued an apology statement adding that they acknowledge the enormous complicity of being responsible for the care of children. The academy promised to provide HIV testing for all of its students.
MTM criticized the article in ProPublica and Times; adding they presented a ‘one-sided’ article. The statement was condemned when posted on social media pages by many Liberians and donors.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education promised to probe into the article.
MTM is currently partnering with the Ministry of Education under the Private Public Partnership program and it oversees 18 schools.
Accordingly, the Ministry of Education said they are concerned over the story.
“The Ministry of Education takes all incidents of sexual assault against students extremely serious and will speedily inquire into the article to ascertain the details of allegations made, being aware that our first duty is to protect our children while educating them.”
An official statement from the Ministry will be made when the information needed to draw a conclusion in this matter is satisfactorily established.
Meanwhile, the Female Journalists Association of Liberia (FeJAL) said it is saddened by the horrifying accounts released to the public recently about how girls are being sexually abused at the internationally acclaimed MTM Academy.
According to FeJal, the ordeals of sexual exploitation and abuse meted out against those already vulnerable children are unimaginable that an NGO could carry a humanitarian face yet leads the targeted beneficiaries through another dark and bleak path. “We are calling on government to conduct an immediate full scaled investigation into this report so as to rid the survivors of the nightmare and find a closure to the hurts that they have carried for so many years in public glare in the name of seeking assistance for a better future. We are deeply concerned about the well-being of the girls therefore as a media advocate for girls and women in Liberia, we are calling on government to engage the founder of MTM, Katie Meyler, through her home country to ensure that her NGO is not only ordered shut down immediately but the license given her to run 20 public schools under the Liberia Education Advancement Program (LEAP) program be revoked without further delays,” FeJAL said in a press release late Sunday night.