Mary’s Meals now feeding one million children at school every day

Marita Wyson is a 14-year-old orphan from Malawi. She used to miss school regularly because she was too hungry to concentrate in class or was working to earn money to buy food for her frail grandmother and younger sister.

Marita said: “When you feel hungry, it can be difficult just to stand up in the morning.” 

But now she is going to school at Chirimba in the country’s Machinga district and is feeling stronger – thanks to the global charity Mary’s Meals.

The Scottish-based organisation began by feeding just 200 children in Malawi in 2002. Today is has announced it is now providing one million of the world’s poorest children with a nutritious meal every day they attend school – keeping them in education and helping them to escape poverty in the future.

Mary’s Meals works in 12 countries across four continents, setting up community-run school feeding programmes. It encourages children – who may otherwise be forced to work, beg or forage for food – to go to school, where they can receive a nutritious meal that helps them to concentrate on their studies.

In Malawi, where the expansion of the programme enabled it to reach the million mark, celebrations are being held at Chirimba Primary School, one of the latest schools to benefit from the generosity of Mary’s Meals’ supporters.

Marita lives with her grandmother Doris and sister Maria. After the children’s mother died in childbirth a few years ago, Doris found it increasingly difficult to provide for them.

But Mary’s Meals is now helping Marita – one of 1,035,637 children being fed daily in countries that also include Liberia, Kenya, Zambia, Haiti and India. In Malawi, enrolment at schools in the Mary’s Meals programme rises by an average 24% in the first six months.

Marita said: “We are so happy to be receiving this food in school. The phala [the vitamin-enriched maize porridge Mary’s Meals serves in Malawi] is making a huge difference.

“It makes me feel strong and I am able to understand what my teachers are telling me. My grandmother doesn’t have to worry so much about how she will provide food for me and my sister.

“I am determined to do well at school because I know how important getting an education is. I have promised my family that I will not fail.”

Today’s celebration in Marita’s home town includes speeches, songs and theatre pieces, all written and performed by the school pupils and community volunteers. Mary’s Meals’ founder and CEO, Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, joined invited guests including government education officials and village chiefs to mark the occasion.

He said: “It is quite remarkable to think that a million children are now eating Mary’s Meals every school day in some of the world’s poorest countries. The extraordinary ways in which this work has grown and developed have continually surprised me and filled me with a sense of mystery and awe.

“It would not be true, though, to say that I never expected our work to grow so big. I have long felt that the vision of Mary’s Meals – that every child receives a daily meal in their place of education – is so compelling, and people of goodwill so numerous, that it must be fulfilled.

“I am struck by the fact that this landmark can be regarded as no more than just ‘the first million’. With 58 million children out of school today and many millions more around the world chronically hungry, it is clear that our work has only just begun.”

It costs just £12.20 to feed a child with Mary’s Meals for a whole school year. The nutritious daily meal draws chronically hungry children into the classroom, where they can receive an education that can help them escape poverty in the future.

The charity now has support from fundraising groups across the globe – in Australia, Austria, Canada, Croatia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, UAE, UK and USA – as well as from celebrities such as film star Gerard Butler and singer Celine Dion.