Katie Meyler identifies with many of the girls she encounters in West Point, an impoverished neighborhood in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia.
"I do see myself oftentimes in these kids," said the 33-year-old, a curious, exuberant New Jersey native with a penchant for breaking into song. Like them, she has known deprivation, though to a lesser degree. "… Empathy has a lot to do with what drives me. I grew up poor in America. But, despite the poverty we lived in, there were safety nets."
For almost a decade, Meyler has thrown herself into helping reconstruct a Liberian safety net tattered by a seven-year civil war (it ended in 1996), enduring poverty and, most recently, the deadly Ebola epidemic.
Arriving in 2006 to work with the U.S.-based international charity Samaritan’s Purse, Meyler ran adult literacy programs in remote villages, traversing a landscape she describes as "beautiful" but "full of struggle." She met youngsters such as 11-year-old Abigail, who routinely performed oral sex on men in exchange for clean drinking water. "Her biggest dream was to go to school. There’s no way you could walk away from that." READ MORE OF THIS STORY ON VOA NEWS WEBSITE