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Shining a light on love

JANE HAMILTON, press and communications officer for MARY’S MEALS, explains how 2013 was a year in which the charity made great strides forward, which it hopes to continue this year and beyond

The last 12 months have been very exciting for Mary’s Meals; not least because the charity is now providing a nutritious daily meal to 822,142 children in places of education around the world—more than 119,000 above the total this time last year.

During 2013, The Year of Faith, Mary’s Meals founder Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow was invited to Rome with his wife to meet the Holy Father, Pope Francis.

“Such an honour felt undeserved and I maintain that there are many others involved in Mary’s Meals around the world who should have been further ahead in the queue to meet this remarkable man,” Magnus said. “But to hear Pope Francis bless the work of Mary’s Meals and have the opportunity to hand him his very own blue mug was a wonderful experience and one that we dedicate to the Mary’s Meals global movement as a whole.”

And the Mary’s Meals global movement is certainly one that is growing. The charity now has a dedicated fundraising co-ordinator in Ireland and is making strides in its growth in both Europe and the US.

 

One famous friend of the Mary’s Meals family in particular—Hollywood actor Gerard Butler—has been making a point of trying to spread the word, most recently by accompanying Magnus on a visit to the charity’s programme in Liberia.

The actor has been a committed supporter of Mary’s Meals since 2010 when he presented Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow with a CNN Hero award and learned about its central vision to reach every child with a nutritious daily meal in their place of education.

“So often when I meet people and they hear about Mary’s Meals, they tell me they’d like to help,” Mr  MacFarlane-Barrows said. “It’s one of the things about my job that never ceases to amaze me.

“When Gerry said he’d be in touch after we met at the CNN awards, I didn’t really expect to hear from him again, until he turned up at our HQ in Dalmally! It’s been great to be able to bring him out to Liberia to see the work of Mary’s Meals is doing here in partnership with schools and communities.

“We’re incredibly grateful to Gerard for helping us to shine a light on Liberia and its potential as the country works hard to carve out a strong, positive future where its children will prosper.”

 

The A-list star visited Liberia in December and spent his time with the children and communities benefitting from the Mary’s Meals school feeding programme.

Liberia’s 14-year civil war destroyed educational infrastructure and around 60 per cent of the country’s children remain out of school. Recent Liberian research has highlighted that the majority of out-of-school children live in food-insecure households, which hints at why Mary’s Meals has been so well received there.

During his visit, Scots-born Butler helped volunteer cooks to prepare and serve the meal and sat down to eat with the children and hear some of their stories. He also took a class of orphans and played football with the children. He was delighted to see a young boy wearing the hooped football top of his beloved home team and said: “Even in Liberia, there is Celtic!”

 

The actor learned about the logistics of school feeding, helping to load a truck with sacks of rice and even delivering some ingredients by canoe. He saw the school gardens where supplementary food is grown for the meals and helped to plant pepper seeds and pineapples alongside villagers.

“Since 2010, I have come to know Mary’s Meals but I had no idea of what that really meant until I came to see what is possible with this organisation and the effect it can have on the lives of so many children,” he said. “One of the things that I have been struck by during this visit is the strength of peoples’ dignity and what I love about Mary’s Meals is that it is all about retaining this. They don’t operate a free system where people are just taking; instead it is all about respecting and promoting the lives of people, their culture, and what they are capable of.

“I’ve seen a lot of these communities becoming more energised and alive, and what Mary’s Meals does is that it helps create a sense of community that goes way beyond the feeding programme itself.”

 

Providing a nutritional meal in school presents a powerful incentive for children to attend school and the Mary’s Meals Liberia programme has grown by over 40 per cent in the last 12 months, with one in six primary-school-aged children now being supported by Mary’s Meals.

Mr Butler added: “Every meal given to these children is a piece of charity and a little piece of love, and goes into the hearts of the children, feeding them physically and nourishing them. That all passes down into the families and into the communities and gives them a sense of hope and that is the difference between a kid saying, ‘I want to survive tomorrow’ and ‘I want to be a doctor.’

“It’s been over a decade since the war, and I see communities full of resilience, integrity, warmth, love and hope. All of that is already here but Mary’s Meals is like a little switch that helps flick it on.

“This trip has inspired me to get more involved and hopefully will inspire other people. I wish people could spend one second or one minute that I’ve had here in these schools, with these families, as I do think anyone who has had that experience would get way more involved.

“There is such a direct link between a donation and a nutritious meal for a kid and so much more than that. The short-term aspect is very appealing as a donor can have a great deal of comfort in knowing their money is going straight towards helping the children. In the long-term, Mary’s Meals is helping kids get a great education, and in turn, a better education system can help lift a nation out of poverty.”

 

—http://www.marysmeals.org.uk

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