BY Amanda Connelly | June 22 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Insight: Mary’s Meals open up about their fundraising, the power of prayer, and the fight against famine

Our reporter speaks to Mary’s Meals about war-torn South Sudan and how you can help the most vulnerable

IMAGINE the horror of being forced to flee for your life. Leaving home and school, the places and people you know and love, in a bid to escape the onslaught of worsening violence in your own land. Imagine, too, the feeling of going to bed hungry every night, of being a child forced to work, beg, or forage for food in a desperate bid to survive.

This is the brutal reality for families in war-torn South Sudan, where more than half of the population—around 6.3 million people—face a hunger crisis as the country endures its leanest ­season, between harvests and conflict continues. Numbers are predicted to grow, with nearly two-thirds of the population—over seven million people—left potentially at risk.

In response to the growing threat of famine, the Scottish charity Mary’s Meals has launched an emergency campaign to reach the north-east African country’s hungry children, pledging to provide each with a nutritious free school meal, offering food and a chance at an education.

Mary’s Meals has been working in Sudan since 2008 and estimates it has provided 20,520 children with regular school meals during that time.

“This is coming into South Sudan’s lean period; between May and August hunger levels increase because that’s basically the period between harvests, so it’s a particularly difficult period for food security in South Sudan,” Daniel Adams, the UK executive director of Mary’s Meals, said.

“The reason South Sudan is it’s not only because natural food insecurity exists there as I say because of that lean season, but because that country continues to be in the middle of a civil war and it’s been going on now for a good few years.”

As the youngest nation in the world, South Sudan has, for much of its short history, been caught up in conflict since splitting from Sudan in 2011.

“Mary’s Meals is working in the Lakes State, which is one of the states in South Sudan,” explained Mr Adams. “Aid agencies use a thing called the famine early warning system, and it has different points on the scale essentially.

“The place we work in is always at a crisis level, so that just means that there’s crisis levels of food insecurity. So that’s just day-to-day, it never decreases from the crisis level, however in this next period it’s moving towards the next stage, which is emergency level.”

Mary’s Meals works with Rumbek Diocese in South Sudan to feed children at 40 schools across Rumbek, Yirol and Mapuordit in the Lakes State.

Mr Adams praised those who carry out the work despite difficult circumstances.

“We rely on extremely brave and committed people for the most part,” he said, adding that Mary’s Meals depends on ‘very knowledgeable local people who are responsible for the programmes’ to overcome the difficulties of working in conflict zones. “Mary’s Meals… is always about community-owned and community-run projects, so that really helps us in South Sudan and in other regions where there’s conflict,” Mr Adams said.

In Rumbek, the conflict is not as severe as other areas, but there is great pressure on Mary’s Meals schools as displaced persons from surrounding regions come to the towns in which the Scottish charity works.

Mr Adams said: “That places a lot of burden on the schools to be feeding more people as well, which is another reason why we’re appealing for support at this time, so we can actually welcome all those people who turn up on our doorsteps into the school to receive food.”

Moses Lopurot Kenyi, the education coordinator for Rumbek Diocese, said the current situation is ‘terrible.’

“Many of the children are displaced or without their parents. They are very traumatised,” he said. “There is a lot of hunger and people are just eating leaves from trees. Mary’s Meals’ feeding programme is helping us a lot. For these children, there is no other source of food.

“Education is really important for helping to build peace. Without education, the situation will never change and the division and anger will still be there. We have hope that this will be the generation that will bring an everlasting peace.”

Mr Adams noted that in the areas in which they work, there is ‘a desperate need for us to do as much as we can and more than we already do.’

“At the moment Mary’s Meals feeds about 20,000 children in South Sudan every school day with a school meal,” he said. “We need more support from people to make sure we can keep the promise to those 20,000 children, but thereafter if we get a really, really strong response from the public—and so often the Scottish Catholic ­community is at the heart of Mary’s Meals support—we’re also going to look to expand our programme.

“We’re in 40 schools already in South Sudan but we’d like to expand to another five, if funding allows, and that would all us to reach a further 1,600 or so children.”

Mary’s Meals believes providing food alongside education provides nourishment, a reason to go to school, and that it can help to bring an end to the conflict.

However, a shocking 72 per cent of children at primary school age in South Sudan miss out on an education, with one in three schools having been destroyed or forced to shut since war broke out.

The rate of children not in school is the highest in the world.

Yet Mary’s Meals is already making a difference. League tables published in February indicated that one of the schools where the charity operates in Rumbek Diocese is South Sudan’s top performer.

Daniel Comboni Primary School in Rumbek, which is the largest school in which Mary’s Meals works, is the highest performing in the country, a great source of pride for the charity.

Mr Adams said. “In terms of exam results and the attainment of pupils, our partner there and the teachers put a huge amount of the success… down to the fact that Mary’s Meals is there providing nutrition so kids can concentrate in class.

“They don’t have to worry about not having food that day, because they’re receiving a good meal from us. Given that South Sudan is in such a terrible period of conflict, it’s amazing actually that amidst that kids are still achieving something at school.”

Education, the charity believes, is the means by which the future of South Sudan and other developing countries can be transformed.

“It’s through that coming into the classroom that children become better educated, and through that education over time, over generations of more children coming to school, the country will be helped and they’ll be lifted out of poverty through their people being educated,” he said.

He noted many children in South Sudan would never have set foot in school before, because they would instead be working, begging or foraging to survive, and caring for sick and elderly relatives. By taking away the fear of going hungry, these children can get an education. Their research has shown attendance, enrolment and attainment ­levels are all increasing ‘because of the introduction of that simple meal.’

“It’s actually really amazing that just by providing one meal a day, you get this incredible response,” Mr Adams added, saying that the ­charity ‘firmly believe’ that children receiving Mary’s Meals today in South Sudan and other countries will grow up to be better nourished, better educated, and be ‘the people who are going to ­contribute to countries being lifted out of poverty in the long-term.’

Mr Adams urged people to get involved in a number of ways, including by donating money, praying, and volunteering. He praised the response of the Scottish people in general and the Catholic community in Scotland in particular to crises around the world.

“We’ve got confidence in their goodness,” he said, adding that a big difference could be made with ‘just a small amount of money.’

“It’s still just £13.90 global average to feed a child for a whole year with Mary’s Meals,” he said. “So you give a £13.90 donation to Mary’s Meals and you’re contributing to the feeding of a child for a whole year. I mean, that is just a few trips to Starbucks.”

He added that the charity spends 93 per cent of its income on charitable activities and seven per cent for overhead, so ‘people can trust when they donate money it’s being used well and efficiently.’

“Also people can pray,” he said. “We have a really strong belief at Mary’s Meals in the power of prayer.”

He asked people to pray for children in South Sudan, and especially if they’re Catholic to ‘place the challenge that they’re facing at this moment in the hands of Our Lady,’ the charity’s patron.

“We’re always looking for volunteers… to raise awareness of the South Sudan campaign or Mary’s Meals in general.”

He explained that people can get in touch and become community ambassadors in Scotland, where they can tell people about the charity’s work, give talks at local schools, churches or clubs.

As the charity launches its South Sudan appeal, Mary’s Meals founder Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow spoke of the ‘heartbreaking’ plight of the country’s children.

“For them, the promise of a daily school meal has never been more important,” he said. “Those delivering food to schools in South Sudan are telling us that heavy rain has flooded roads, making it impossible to reach some schools by car.

“Instead, they are carrying the heavy sacks of food on foot, sometimes over great distances, because they know how much the children in those villages need it. We are determined to keep our promise to the 1,257,278 children around the world who rely on Mary’s Meals. With more hungry children arriving at schools in South Sudan each day, we also need help to meet the growing demand there.

“We hope to ensure that every new child enrolling at schools in South Sudan already serving Mary’s Meals can receive a daily meal and, as funds allow, also expand our programme to reach 1657 additional children at five new schools in the country. We can do this with support, while continuing to expand our programme around the world to reach many more children.

“I want to thank with all my heart those who are supporting our mission at this time of great need. Together, we can save lives and bring hope to innocent children caught up in terrible crisis.”

—Visit to donate or find out more on how Mary’s Meals is helping children living in some of South Sudan’s most vulnerable and chronically food-insecure areas.


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