Ive Jones is only 11 years old, but she’s got big plans to make a difference in the world.
She’s diving headfirst into charitable work to help African girls orphaned by Ebola. The two-week-old campaign is gaining national attention, including a high-profile shoutout on social media from Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls organization.
With Ive’s 12th birthday coming up Nov. 5, Ive (pronounced Ivy) is asking family and friends to forgo giving her presents. Instead, the Apex resident is asking them to donate to a More Than Me, an organization that runs a school in Liberia and helps the orphans.
“There’s always something you can do,” Ive said.
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The donations will help with healthcare and educational purchases. Ive also is making and selling handbags from Liberian fabrics to raise extra money herself, and is collecting teddy bears to offer the girls comfort.
“The children, while they’re going through these tough times, can use them to talk to or just hold,” Ive said.
She was particularly inspired when she heard her mother, who grew up in Liberia, talking about More Than Me. The group’s school takes in orphan girls to shield them from the disease and save them from the common paths of human trafficking or a life spent begging in the slums, where open-air sewers spread diseases like Ebola with frightening efficiency.
More than 4,000 people have died worldwide during the recent Ebola outbreak, and Liberia has had more deaths than all other countries combined. One of them was her mother’s cousin.
It’s the girls who are left behind that Ive is thinking about.
Ive is a seventh-grader at Apex’s Lufkin Road Middle School. She’s a smart girl and has plans to skip eighth grade and jump straight to high school next year, after which she wants to be a professional ballerina for a while, and then a computer coder.
“And after that I want to be some sort of doctor, like a surgeon or veterinarian or chemist,” she said.
She complains that life won’t be long enough for her to do and learn everything she wants. So she decided she’s not going to stand by and let other girls lose their own potential – despite the harsh reality of being suddenly orphaned.
“I know how much they wish they could die, ‘cause it’s horrible,” Ive said. “But if you’re going to survive, you should thrive.”
Ive’s mother, Catherine Woyee Jones, knows a little about what the girls in Liberia are facing. She grew up in the war-torn western African country, leaving for the United States as a teen.
She never saw an Ebola outbreak herself, although she did recently lose a cousin, a nurse, to the disease.
Jones periodically looks at the last message her cousin posted on social media.
“I keep that as a reminder of the horrible nature of this disease,” she said, adding that it’s even more traumatizing for family members – especially children – who have lived with victims of the disease.
“They have to go through this quarantine for 21 days, and when they get out they don’t even know if their parents are alive,” Jones said. “Usually they’re not. It’s heartbreaking.”
But Ive’s campaign also has shown how a horrible disease can bring out the best in people.
Not many tween girls would give up their birthday parties to raise money for kids they never met in a country they’ve never visited. When Ive did, she received almost instant karma.
She set up a Twitter account to raise awareness, and one of her very first posts got retweeted by an idol, famous ballet dancer Misty Copeland.
A few days later, “Saturday Night Live” and “Parks and Recreation” star Amy Poehler got involved, when her Smart Girls foundation started tweeting about Ive’s work and posting more on Facebook. Now Ive said she’s hopeful the comedian might want to meet her, or at least buy a bag or two to help out.
The increased attention resulted in one recent $1,000 donation, putting Ive well on the way to her goal of $4,380 – a dollar for every day she will have been alive when she turns 12.
She said her campaign also has had a local impact, including prompting people to talk more about Ebola and Africa at school.
Most of her classmates still just make crude jokes about the disease, Ive said, but she’s hoping her campaign will educate them – or better yet, convince them to educate themselves.
“I like self-education,” Ive said. “If you only learn in the classroom, you’ll be average. ... I don’t want to be average. I want to be extraordinary.”