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Health, happiness and hope

KIM WEBSTER, head of communications for MARY’S MEALS, explains how the charity has grown since its foundation in 2002, the importance of its volunteers and how it is making a real difference to people’s lives

When Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow visited Malawi in 2002 and met a 14-year-old boy whose mother was dying from AIDS, neither of them could have imagined what would follow, partly as a result of their conversation.

Magnus asked the teenager, Edward, what his dreams were in life, and his reply—“I want to have enough food to eat and to be able to go to school one day”—inspired the Mary’s Meals campaign.

In 2002, Mary’s Meals began supporting 200 children in Malawi with one cup of vitamin-enriched porridge—ocally called likuni phala—every day they attended school. Ten years on, Mary’s Meals is providing 792,621 children with a daily meal in their place of learning, across 16 countries where hunger and poverty often prevent children from gaining an education.

Founder of Mary’s Meals, Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, describes this as a work belonging to Our Lady, after whom it is named, and a fruit of people’s prayer. Mary’s Meals has grown into a global charity, setting up school feeding programmes in some of the world’s most deprived communities. Serving food in school draws hungry children into the classroom where they can achieve skills and knowledge that can set them free from poverty.

Former child-soldiers in Liberia, semi-nomadic children in Kenya, and working Dalit children in India are among those whose lives are being changed by this simple, community-owned initiative. The average cost for Mary’s Meals to feed a child for a whole school year is just £10.70.



Much of the charity’s growth has come as a result of volunteers and supporters spreading the word about its work through fundraising events and presentations in local clubs, churches, and schools. This grassroots support is vital and helps the charity to keep costs low.

Mary’s Meals is committed to making sure at least 93p of every £1 donated is spent directly on charitable activities and could not function without the support of thousands of volunteers both in the UK and overseas. In addition, there are 16 support groups currently registered worldwide who fundraise on behalf of Mary’s Meals, stretching from Canada to Croatia and Austria to Abu Dhabi.

Volunteers are also the life-blood of the school feeding programmes themselves, with community members— often parents and grandparents of children receiving Mary’s Meals —working on a rota basis to cook and serve the daily meals. In Malawi alone, there are thought to be more than 65,000 volunteer cooks helping to prepare likuni phala for 622,554 school children across the country.

Recruiting volunteers to staff the school feeding initiative is essential, as is commitment from the community to partner with Mary’s Meals in order to join the programme. Certain other criteria must be met, such as suitable roads and access for the Mary’s Meals trucks to deliver necessary ingredients to each school.



In countless cases, the introduction of Mary’s Meals brings communities together in unexpected ways, and sometimes, even the desire to be part of the programme is enough to build strong bonds and give rise to determined community groups.

Earlier this year, a small community from a remote area of Malawi—where many children were hungry and out of school—approached Mary’s Meals in the hope of joining the programme. Unfortunately, despite the clear need and support from willing volunteers, there was no proper road into the village and therefore no way the local primary school could be added to the list of schools receiving Mary’s Meals.

However, led by the headmaster Daniel Masika, the community sprang into action and mobilised the support of seven surrounding villages to rebuild the road and erect a bridge to provide access for the Mary’s Meals trucks, in the hope they could be involved. Following this mammoth effort from the community and its neighbours, Kaphilikwete Primary School has been added to the list of 435 schools now receiving daily meals in Malawi.

“The arrival of Mary’s Meals has changed lives, especially the lives of the children,” Mr Masika told us as he explained how school attendance has increased following the introduction of the daily meal.

Through Mary’s Meals, children who otherwise might resort to begging or working to eat can attend a place of education where they are safe and given a daily, nutritious meal that helps them to concentrate on their learning, which could one day lift them out of poverty.


John’s story

The opportunity to receive a good meal in a place of education is genuinely life-changing for so many children, especially those who have been left orphaned. One such child, who is now thriving thanks to Mary’s Meals, is 13-year-old John from Malawi. However, a few years ago, it was a very different story.

After losing both of his parents to AIDS at a very young age, John was moved between relatives’ houses before ending up on the streets begging for money and food. His day-to-day life was a struggle and he had to travel to hospital on foot to pick up his medication, which he needs to keep him alive.

When he heard about Jacaranda School for Orphans, his life changed. The 400 children attending Jacaranda School for Orphans receive Mary’s Meals every school day. For John, the porridge served in school provides life-saving nutrition as it enables his medicine to work properly.

“When I started here I received my uniform, then I received my porridge… just like everyone else, so I felt the same as them,” he said.

And not only has John learned to read and write—thanks to Mary’s Meals and Jacaranda, his writing has been recognised by the queen, who he recently met after writing the winning entry to the Royal Commonwealth essay competition.

“As an orphan, I have nothing,” he said. “This porridge is so important to me, it gives me power to see, read and write. It gave me the power to write my story for her majesty.”

He was invited to Buckingham Palace in recognition of his achievement and his journey—which took him on three planes—has inspired his new life goal to become a pilot. His essay, called The day I wore my best clothes, tells the story of his transition from a street beggar to well-dressed student and fended off competition from another 8500 entries.

Stories such as John’s—stories of health, happiness, and hope—are made possible by the amazing support Mary’s Meals receives from groups and individuals all over the world. However, with more than 57 million children out of school and thousands many millions more unable to concentrate in class because of hunger, the work of Mary’s Meals is only just beginning.


n An event is being held at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on Sunday, November 10, to celebrate the work of Mary’s Meals. The action-packed Mary’s Meals Day will include a talk from charity founder Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, inspiring speeches from some well-known speakers, live musical entertainment interesting stalls and some refreshments. Last year more than 1500 people attended. Doors open at 1pm. Book your place for the free event by calling 0800 698 1212 or emailing




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