Sleeping on stranger's couches, earning money from donating her body to lab testing — this is how 34-year-old Katie Meyler was able to save enough money to start her organization in Liberia called More Than Me in 2009. What started out as a scholarship program for women soon turned into a nonprofit that builds free schools throughout the country. Meyler wrote a poem called "Riding My Bicycle" around the same time she launched the foundation, and she has just released a video of her reading it to celebrate the opening of six new More Than Me public schools in Liberia.
Composed on a napkin that she had in her backpack, Meyler's poem encourages us to move past our comfort zones, our everyday routines, and our worries and realize that other people have it worse than us‚ and that we should do something about it. One of the first lines says, "How did we become a society where we can walk past a man sleeping in the wet street, never asking ourselves twice, 'How did this come to be?' or 'What if this was me?' We just walk by."
"Joy and ultimate happiness comes from living a life of purpose."
The exact impetus behind the poem makes it even more powerful. After being ridiculed by her uncle during a family Easter gathering for being a "lab rat who sleeps on couches" and who didn't own a car, Meyler left her family home in New Jersey to ride her bike around New York City. The poem was in part a reaction to this experience, but also the moment she saw a homeless man sleeping in the rain. "My thought was you might own a car and know what you think the American Dream is, but are you truly happy? And are you making fun of me in front of the family because you're insecure and uncomfortable with someone else being happy as they live and fight for their dreams?" she said.
Her dreams of providing education in Liberia go back to when Meyler volunteered in impoverished countries at a young age. Years later, she received a Bill Clinton service award, attended college on a scholarship, and started working at an international development agency that sent her to Liberia in 2006. After hearing the stories of young girls who simply wanted an education, Meyler was inspired to start her organization and moved back to the US to raise money by couch-surfing and volunteering for lab testing.
Meyler isn't just an education activist, though. In 2014 when Liberia was at the epicenter of the Ebola crisis, Meyler donated all her resources to fighting the epidemic. Alongside the academy's nurse, Iris Martor, Meyler transformed the school into a disaster response center for one of Monrovia's most impoverished neighborhoods, West Point. Meyler and Martor were recognized as Ebola fighters and deemed two of Time's people of the year for their courage.
Meyler's poem is relevant to all the challenges we face as humanity today, not just diseases or the lack of education. She mentioned the 2016 presidential election as an example of division fueled by fear and hate. "There is no better time to share this message of putting to the side the things that separate us and coming together for things that matter," she said.