This investigation by ProPublica into an orphanage and school in Liberia often reads like a checklist of what not to do when running an aid project overseas: Lack of oversight on the ground. Lack of trained or experienced staff running programs. Flashy social media campaigns instead of careful development. Exploitative Overemphasis on helping needy children with immediate needs without a clear plan for integrating children into their community. Boundary-blurring sleepovers. (!)
Meyler wanted to save these girls from sexual exploitation. She wanted to educate them, empower them, keep them safe. That’s why she had founded a charity called More Than Me. When the Liberian president, who had won a Nobel Peace Prize for her fight for women’s safety, was asked that day what she wanted from those keen to help her country, she answered, “To expand Katie Meyler’s initiative to as many communities as possible.”
The charity would raise over $8 million. Meyler would enter a rarefied world of globe-trotting problem-solvers. She would rub shoulders with Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey, and even get invited to the Obama White House. MTM’s footprint in Liberia would multiply to 19 schools teaching 4,000 students.
Yet some of the girls present that September day had a secret. Far from being saved from sexual exploitation, they were being raped by the man standing beside Meyler on the stage.
Most organizations this poorly run end up burning out, but Meyler rose to pseudo-celebrity status and got more and more funding. This article has some interesting reflections on what the whole tragic affair says about aid in general.