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8-HARRISON-WITH-BACKPACKS

Giving children reasons to smile

JANE HAMILTON, media and communications officer for MARY’S MEALS, explains how the charity is not only providing food to ensure those in the developing world have access to education but also the materials needed to learn as well

As children all over Scotland forget what it feels like to hold a pen during the long summer holidays, many parents will be considering the inevitable back-to-school shopping to replace schoolbags, pencil cases, stationery, and of course, uniform that no longer fits their growing offspring.

Anyone who is about to replace school materials that are in relatively good condition can donate their used items to Mary’s Meals, allowing an impoverished child to make the most of their chance to attend school.

While the main focus of the charity’s work is to provide a daily meal to children in their place of education, its

Backpack Project helps children who receive Mary’s Meals in Malawi to reach their full potential.

Many children enrolled in Mary’s Meals’ school feeding programmes don’t have basic learning tools such as pencils and notebooks. The Backpack Project invites supporters to donate a backpack filled with essential educational and hygiene items to help a child make the most of their time in class. The ideal gift consists of: backpack; notepad; pencils; pens; crayons; eraser; ruler; sharpener; pencil case; towel; shorts or skirt and t-shirt (or dress); flip-flops or sandals; small ball (for example a tennis ball); soap; toothbrush; toothpaste; spoon.

Mary’s Meals is also very grateful for loose items that can be used to top up backpacks that have things missing. Please visit www.marysmeals.org or call 0141 336 7094 for more information.

 

First hand account from Fatima Khonat, Malawi communications officer for Mary’s Meals

A few weeks ago our marvellous Mary’s Meals volunteers in Glasgow loaded up a container full of backpacks to send over to the team in Malawi. The shipment included thousands of backpacks—each one containing essential items a child needs to make the most of their time in school.

More than 400 of these backpacks were allocated to Mulunguzi School in the Neno District for distribution. And so, we set off early from Blantyre to make our way to the school. It wasn’t long before we were driving off the smooth tarmac road onto dusty dirt roads, winding up twisting hills and through beautiful valleys.

I soon realised many of these ‘dirt roads’ weren’t roads at all, they were paths created by the locals to reach remote destinations. I really hadn’t anticipated the school being so off the beaten track and it wasn’t until two hours later that we approached a tiny village and Harry, our driver, began to slow down.

Our car soon came to a sudden halt outside Mulunguzi School. It was almost noon, the sun was at its peak, and we knew school feeding was over. Children trickled out of their classrooms with excitement, whispering and giggling amongst one another. The teachers followed explaining that the children had already eaten their phala (porridge) asking if the rumours are true: Is Mary’s Meals here with the backpacks?

In Mulunguzi School’s case the rumours were true! The clanking of the trucks following some miles behind us could now be heard as they approached the school. The children began shrieking with joy, excited mothers began singing and a large crowd gathered in the school field.

By the time the trucks parked up, the children had returned to their classrooms for the distribution to begin. While some of the Mary’s Meals team unloaded the sacks of backpacks from the trucks the others kept the children entertained in the classrooms.

“Do you know what is in these sacks?” Harrison, our warehouse operative asked. Silence followed for a moment in the dark classroom. From behind, a voice asked: “Is it the backpacks?”

“Yes, yes, it is backpacks! Would you like them?”

Harrison replied.

The room exploded into laughter, gasps and echoes of ‘Kwambiri’ (very much). Eyes lit up, arms were in the air with joy. You could feel the dark room filled with happiness, excitement, and hope.

As Harrison and the team handed out the backpacks I felt a wave of unexpected emotion hit me. It was truly a profound experience. I say profound because I have never witnessed such joy in my life before. In all my time, in Sri Lanka and Pakistan whilst observing children, mothers and entire communities’ reaction to receiving items, I honestly have never seen so much genuine happiness.

The children clutched their backpacks tightly to their chests. When the time came to open them, there was silence as they uncovered the hidden treasures buried deep in the bags. In the next few minutes, the room was filled with shouts of joy and gasps of excitement. Every single child in the classroom was looking at their items—whether they were pencils or slippers—in amazement. It’s almost as if they were saying, “Wow! Is this really mine?”

And that’s when it hit me. For many of these children this was the first time they had ever owned a pencil, tennis ball, or a notepad. For me, these passionate reactions really brought home to me the implications of living in such grinding poverty. Items that I pay no heed over in my daily life, gifted by amazing Mary’s Meals supporters to these young children, meant the world to them.

All I could feel was immense gratitude towards the supporters of Mary’s Meals and the donors of these backpacks: Genuinely grateful to them for giving these children the chance to feel such happiness. And, of course, giving the children the chance to improve their learning by providing basic equipment, which we all use every day yet don’t think twice about.

From the very bottom of my heart I’d like to say a big thank you to anyone who has supported Mary’s Meals and its backpack project—you’ve honestly given these children a billion reasons to smile today.

 

— http://www.marysmeals.org

 

 

 

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