BY Ryan McDougall | October 19 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Food for thought: How Mary’s Meals is working with the Church to bring kids back into education

A diocesan worker in South Sudan tells Ryan Mcdougall how aid from Scottish charity Mary’s Meals is helping children in his country get back to school

One could be forgiven for doubting the life that Moses Kopurot Kenyi lived in his youth. He is a positive man, who, with the support of Scottish charity Mary’s Meals, helps the children in his home country of South Sudan with optimism and hope. But at just 12 years old, Moses became displaced from his family during a war that split Sudan, and was separated from them for 13 years before they were reunited.

He lived for a time as a refugee, malnourished and traumatised—a time that is understandably still painful for him to talk about.

Despite his bleak past, he pushed through primary school, receiving a scholarship to attend secondary, and subsequently a second scholarship to study for a Bachelor of Science degree in education at university.

South Sudan is the world’s youngest country, having separated from Sudan following decades of conflict, only to be plunged into a new civil war in 2013, in which 400,000 lives have been lost.

Education, fuelled by food aid supplied by Mary’s Meals, will be key to solving the crisis, believes Moses, the education coordinator of the country’s Rumbek Diocese.

Mary’s Meals, Moses said, will lead South Sudan towards a brighter future, through providing schoolchildren, like those of Daniel Comboni Primary School in his own diocese, with a nutritious meal each day.

“Mary’s Meals is making a very big impact,” he said. “In South Sudan, we have realised that even the children’s behaviours are totally different from the other schools. The children do work at home now, they respect their parents, and we are realising that.

“In future, this is the generation that we will be looking at: a generation that will lead us; and with the help of Mary’s Meals, we hope that this will only expand.”

Seventy-two per cent of South Sudan’s children are not in education, and around 6.3 million people are facing a hunger crisis. One in three South Sudan schools have closed or have been destroyed due to the civil war, meaning skills such as literacy are scarce.

“The physical appearance of the children: they’re so malnourished,” Moses explained, frustrated at the situation his homeland is in.

“There’s a high rate of death in women and babies, and they’re exposed to diseases, malaria, cholera, because there are no sanitary facilities,” he says.

Thankfully, the schoolchildren Moses helps have been saved from this fate, thanks to Mary’s Meals and the Rumbek Diocese’s effort.

Within the first month of Mary’s Meals’ aid arriving in the diocese, Moses says the children are now ‘happy to be in school—they’re learning and changing their attitude.’

“Some of them were disheartened because of the war, but now they love going to school because of the food they’re given,” he said.

“School is where they get life, because they get food, and when they get food they learn. We’ve seen the impact slowly but surely.”

Moses says the school is now in the top five for the whole of South Sudan, and that the parents are realising the difference in their children.

He spoke of one young boy, Daniel, who got off to a rough start in life. “He lost his mother and his grandfather is very ill,” Moses said.

But the youngster has discovered a newfound drive to succeed in life, thanks to Mary’s Meals. A big part of the charity’s work is encouraging pupils back into school with the incentive of a meal. Moses said that Daniel is now attending school regularly and is doing well.

He added: “When I asked [Daniel], ‘what do you want to become?’ he told me, ‘my mother died because there was no place to treat her, and my grandfather is now suffering at home. So if I could become a doctor, I would treat everyone in my community for free!’

“So he wants to become a doctor, and he’s so bright and I’m so happy for him,” Moses said.

Through the efforts of Mary’s Meals, Moses said, his country’s youth are being directed down a better path than the one he found himself on when he was a boy.

One youngster he has helped, John, has lead a life that somewhat parallels Moses’ own, given that he was displaced for a time. Having lost his leg after stepping on a landmine when he was younger, Moses explained that for a long time John was unhappy, and walked using a stick.

“Thanks to the school, as helped by Mary’s Meals, they have managed to get him a proper surgical crutch,” he says, noticing a change in young John’s personality since receiving the help he needed.

Moses cited one particularly moving story to illustrate the work of Mary’s Meals. Andrew, he said, is a young man in South Sudan who recognises the inequality and suffering in his country, and hopes to use his Faith to change the situation.

“God is the one who brought him here,” Moses said, smiling. “And with the help of Mary’s Meals I am so touched, because now I see him and he’s singing, playing and has many friends.

“I asked him, ‘what do you want to become in future?’. His ambitions were totally different from the other children. He told me he wants to become a priest. I asked him why. He told me, ‘Is there any love here? Is there any peace?

‘A lot of people have no hope here, so I want to become a priest, to preach the Gospel of love, and if there is love there will be peace in the end.’”

“And it’s true,” Moses added. “Andrew comes to morning Mass every day—he’s always there. He’s now an altar boy, and I’m sure he will accomplish his vision.”

Reflecting on all the good Mary’s Meals has given his diocese throughout his life, Moses said: “When I left my home, I was just 12 years old, and I stayed away from my family for 13 years, but then we were given food.

“So I’ve realised, the food has changed my life, and if it has changed my life then it means it will for these children also. If we continue to give them the food, then tomorrow it will change their lives.

“I’m always telling them, ‘Tomorrow, be like me. Come back; give to the children and sacrifice for them, and the next generation will be good.’”

Mary’s Meals is now feeding over 24,000 children in 45 of South Sudan’s schools. To donate to them, visit or contact 01838 200605.


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