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I want to be the next Lionel Messi

Nine years ago, Wongani Kuchisanja could only have dreamt he would be a footballer representing his country abroad.

But now, the 17-year-old Malawian, who received Mary’s Meals when he was younger, plays for his country’s Under 20s team as a striker.

“Mary’s Meals helped me with my football,” Wongani recalls. “When we were about to play a game we ate the porridge and it gave us energy.”

Wongani says when he graduates from secondary school he wants to play professionally and one day be the next Lionel Messi.

Meanwhile, Brighton Muthali, 17, who is a goalkeeper for the football team, also received Mary’s Meals.

“My life was very tough when I was young,” explains Brighton.  “Sometimes we wouldn’t have enough food to eat.”

Brighton began playing football when he was eight-years-old but recalls that often he didn’t have the energy to play because he was hungry.

When Mary’s Meals began feeding at his local primary school in Blantyre, Brighton’s life began to improve and his dream of becoming a footballer started becoming a reality.

“When I went to school I used to eat the porridge. Not only did it help me concentrate in class but it also helped me play for my school football team as it gave me energy,” he added.

The Malawian goalkeeper has since travelled across Africa representing his country in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.

Basiano Bauleni has been a sport’s development co-ordinator in Malawi for over 20 years and helped train boys like Wongani and Brighton. He recognises how Mary’s Meals is helping bring unity and hope to the younger generation.

“Before Mary’s Meals started feeding here a lot of the youths weren’t going to school.  Now, not only do they go to school, but they have the energy to come to our sport’s programme and are taught to be good citizens,” Basiano explains.

“One day I hope to see Malawi qualify for the World Cup. This goal is certainly being helped along by the school-feeding programme.”

Sport is seen as important tool in helping countries across Africa, promoting good health, empowering young people, and building self-confidence simultaneously.

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Football Fever: why daily school meals are empowering children to play the beautiful game

Communications Officer Jo blogs about World Cup fever in Malawi

From South America to Europe, Asia to Africa, football fever is well and truly gripping the globe as the 2014 World Cup continues in Brazil, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Malawi.

Mary’s Meals vision is a simple one: to provide children with a daily meal in school so that they can live and learn.  But I’m also eager to learn the benefits this has outside the classroom, so I head to a local football field to meet a group of eager football fans.

“We’re rooting for Brazil”, a group of young boys tell me as they kick a ball around a dusty pitch in the commercial capital Blantyre.

“Who’s your favourite player?” I ask.

“Neymar,” they reply.

The 22-year-old Brazilian golden boy certainly didn’t disappoint as he scored twice in Brazil’s World Cup opener.

As I research a bit about Neymar’s background I discover he grew up playing street football, and wonder if that’s part of his appeal to these young Malawian boys.  Most of them don’t have shoes on, they’re playing on a gravel pitch, using rocks as goal posts, and playing with a ball not much larger than a tennis ball, but their love for the beautiful game is evident.

Out of the corner of my eye I spot two boys about 14-years-old with a proper sized football.  One of the lads shows-off his “around the world” trick.  His friend laughs, grabs the ball and does the “scissors” trick, inspired by the legendary Ronaldinho.  Their display was like something out of Run DMC’s ‘It’s Like That’ music video, but with a ball.

I’m eager to get involved so I wander over and ask to show them the only trick I know, something I like to call “the ball over the head” trick.  They seem impressed with my ball skills and ask for me to show them more. I laugh and politely decline knowing I’ve already shown off the full extent of my footballing prowess.

I start chatting to the boys about their lives, and what inspires them to play football.  I discover most of them have come from extremely disadvantaged backgrounds, and often lack food.

“How do you have the energy to play?” I ask.

“We receive porridge at school,” they tell me.

As I ask more questions I discover that the boys are among the more than 692,000 children in Malawi receiving Mary’s Meals.  They go to the local Misesa Primary School in Blantyre, where nearly 2,000 children are served a nutritious meal each day.

“So how does the porridge help you play football?” I inquire.

14-year-old Mussafata pipes up: “The porridge helps me with my football skills,” he says.

The first thing I notice is how tall he is for his age and I immediately wonder if it’s the porridge, which is fortified with vitamins, that’s helping him to grow so tall.

He explains, “It improves my vision and gives me the energy to communicate with my teammates on the pitch.”

Another player interjects and says that without the food he receives at school he’d be hungry and wouldn’t be able to play.

As the great Nelson Mandela once said: “Sport has the power to change the world.  It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair”.

As I continue watching the boys play, these words echo around my mind and I realise how much football means to these young lads, who really have very little.  It makes them stronger as individuals and unites them as youngsters, and as they told me themselves, without the porridge they wouldn’t have the energy to play.

Before I leave I ask them one final, but all-important question: “Is anyone supporting England?”

Most of them laugh or look down at their feet, apart from one brave boy named Patrick who says that he is and he wants to be like Wayne Rooney.

After Rooney’s and the rest of the England squad’s World Cup performances I wonder if Patrick still feels that way!

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Our friends help Balkan flood relief effort

Emergency aid has arrived in the flood-hit Balkans after members of our Mary’s Meals family launched efforts to help victims of the crisis.

As flooding continues to wreak havoc in the lives of tens of thousands of people in the region, donations collected by Mary’s Meals Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Austria are being distributed in badly affected areas.

Many people are still without safe water and electricity, while others are living in unsafe and insanitary conditions created by the worst rain-fall in the region in more than a century.

Mary’s Meals teams have helped to organise the distribution of donated goods and funds for those in desperate need of assistance following a public appeal by our support groups in Croatia, Bosnia and Austria.

Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, founder and chief executive of Mary’s Meals, said: “Like everyone else, we have been horrified by the images of suffering in the Balkans. Thanks to our wonderful supporters, donations are now helping to alleviate the anguish faced by many families in the region.”

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Why it’s the simple things in life that matter

Communications Officer Jo blogs about her very first day in Malawi with Mary's Meals.

Within hours of touching down in Malawi’s commercial capital Blantyre, I hardly have time to catch my breath before I find myself being driven to a local school by Mary’s Meals’ expansion manager, Florian.

“We’re off to see a backpack distribution,” he tells me.  “I warn you the children can get very excited when they receive them,” he adds.

The Mary’s Meals Backpack Project runs alongside the school feeding programme—which provides a daily meal to over 894,000 children every day they attend school—as an additional incentive to encourage children into education.

Schools, businesses and individuals in the UK are asked to fill backpacks with basic educational materials to send to children receiving the daily meal.

After a short car journey along a bumpy road, we arrive at BangweccapPrimary where Mary’s Meals is feeding nearly 3,000 children attending the school every day.

As I get out the car, I see in the distance a truck loaded with thousands of backpacks reversing into the schoolyard.

Florian informs me that the children have no idea what they’re about to receive.  For most, he says, it will be their first ever gift.

I’m then led into a classroom where about 100 children are sat on the floor reciting words in English from a blackboard at the front of the class.  I am immediately struck by how attentive and well behaved the children are.  Every one of them seems engaged, their eyes glued to the teacher standing at the front of the class.

The teacher asks the children in Chichewa (the Malawian language) to get out their exercise books. As they do, I notice a little girl who was probably no older than 10, taking out her book from a tatty black carrier bag with several holes in—it looks as though she’s been using it as a school bag for several months.

It then dawns on me how much the backpacks will mean to these children, many of whom don’t even have shoes to walk to school in.

The teacher introduces us to the class: “This is Florian and Jo from Mary’s Meals,” she explains.

“HELLO FLORIAN, HELLO JO, YOU ARE WELCOME”, the children chant in unison.

Florian tells them the good news about the backpacks.  From the looks on their faces they seem confused.  They begin looking at one another with puzzled looks, many unable to comprehend what is happening as the sacks of bags start arriving inside the classroom.

Then smiles begin to spread across their faces and excited chatter fills the room as the bags are handed out.

Some of the children look at the backpacks in amazement, as if they’ve never seen anything quite like it before.  I then look around for the girl with the tatty carrier bag I noticed earlier.  She’s been given a brand new pink backpack and is beaming from ear to ear.

She and her friend examine the contents of their new bags.  One of them finds a tennis ball, some note books and a new pair of leggings; the other has been given a ruler, some pens and pencils and some new shoes.

I wander outside and can hear classrooms across the school filled with laughter and excitement as the bags are handed out.

Patrick Masiye a standard 6 teacher walks over to talk to me.

“Can you pass on a message to the people that donated these backpacks?”

“Of course,” I replied.

“Can you say thank you, they have made these children so happy, they’re now proud kids.” he says.

I suddenly felt grateful that I had the opportunity to witness first-hand the joy something small can bring the faces of so many children.

If this was day one in Malawi, I can’t wait to find out what day two, day three and the coming weeks will bring.

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Ex-Scotland captain tackles 800-mile cycle for hungry children

Rob Wainwright and some of the team stop at the Mary’s Meals HQ in Dalmally on the first day of the cycle challenge

Former Scottish Rugby captain Rob Wainwright and eight friends have completed an epic cycle challenge around the Scottish Highlands to help Mary’s Meals.

The rugby-star-turned-farmer hatched the plan for the 854 mile ride—with 54,000 feet of ascent—as a way of raising money and awareness of our work while enjoying the rugged landscape of his home country.

The nine-day challenging ride was nicknamed ‘North of the Fault’ after the Great Glen fault line, which runs alongside by Loch Ness.

On the first day of the mammoth cycle, Rob and the team visited the Mary’s Meals headquarters in Dalmally,where they were each served a cup of likuni phala—the vitamin-enriched porridge we serve to children in Malawi.

The riders left Oban on Saturday 31st May and followed the east coast northwards to Applecross, Ullapool, and Durness. From there, they followed the north coast along to John o’Groats and down to Wick.

The return leg followed the Great Glen fault line south-west through Golspie, Dornoch, Tain, Dingwall, and Beauly, then back to Oban for the ferry to the Isle of Mull.

On the final day (Sunday 8th June), the nine-strong team gave one last push to complete the Isle of Mull Sportive—an 88 mile cycle route with 6,000 feet of ascent.

Rob said: “We wanted a meaningful charitable element to such a demanding project, and the simple genius of Mary’s Meals was a no brainer, particularly since it started locally and is on our route.

“The generous reaction we’ve had to our fundraising target has been great, with support flooding in from both friends and businesses, including our main sponsor, Alliance Trust. Clearly we are not alone in thinking Mary’s Meals feeding hungry children in school is a great idea.”

School dinners blogger Martha Payne serves up likuni phala for the tired troops in Oban on their arrival back from the Highlands

The team has so far raised over half of its £20,000 target.

Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, founder and CEO of Mary’s Meals, said: “I often feel humbled at the different ways people find to help Mary’s Meals reach out to the world’s poorest children and this is certainly no exception.

“There is immense physical effort involved in a challenge like this and we’re incredibly grateful to Rob and his team for helping to raise awareness and vital funds for Mary’s Meals.”

To find out more, visit http://northofthefault.co.uk/

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Our friends join Balkan flood relief effort

Members of our Mary’s Meals family have launched efforts to help people affected by the Balkan floods.

Mary’s Meals Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Austria have joined forces in response to the devastating floods which have been the worst recorded in the region in living memory.

Unprecedented levels of rainfall across Bosnia-Herzegovina and in parts of Croatia have affected many tens of thousands of people, leaving towns submerged, people’s livelihoods in ruins and triggering landslides.

In response to the crisis, our support groups in Croatia, Bosnia and Austria are making public appeals for both donated goods and funds for those in desperate need of assistance.

They will also organise the distribution of the proceeds to badly-affected areas.

Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, founder and chief executive of Mary’s Meals, said: “We hope people will join us in praying for those lives who have been turned upside down by these events and for our friends as they endeavour to alleviate some of the suffering.”

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Now reaching over 890,000 children every school day!

Children from the Oscar Romero School for the Deaf, Liberia signing our new feeding figure

Mary’s Meals is now feeding 894,288 of the world’s poorest children every day they attend school.

Thanks to the generosity of people who share our vision that every child in this world of plenty should receive a nutritious daily meal in their place of education, over 25,000 children have been added to our global school feeding programme in the last three months.

It costs just £12.20 for us to feed a child for a whole school year so every little act of love can make a big difference to the future of a child receiving Mary’s Meals.

School feeding is the main focus of our work, but we also have a long history of providing emergency relief to children living in vulnerable regions.

Most recently, Mary’s Meals responded to the crisis in East Africa, where 10.7 million people have been affected by severe food shortages. In addition to the work we already do in this region, we have been providing emergency school feeding to areas of particular need in Kenya and South Sudan.

In Kenya, a generous donation from a kind supporter has so far allowed us to temporarily expand our operation in the drought-stricken Turkana region to provide life-saving meals for an additional 12,000 nursery-age children.

In nearby South Sudan, where the humanitarian need is critical due to the volatile security situation, we have been able to deliver vital emergency school feeding to 1,850 more children, thanks to another significant gift towards our work.

For these, and the other children around the world receiving a daily school meal from Mary’s Meals, the impact can be life-changing.

Mary and Favor are sisters and are amongst a small handful of girls from their village in South Sudan who have been able to attend school for the first time.

The girls get up early to help their mother with the housework before walking for just under a kilometre to school.

Favor says: “Many other girls don’t go to school but we come to learn and eat and to get strong. I need to study hard so that I can go on to become a doctor or a nurse.”

If you would like to donate you can do so online or by calling 01838 200605.

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Pharrell Williams moved to tears on Oprah by Mary’s Meals footage

International superstar Pharrell Williams was moved to tears when talk show host Oprah Winfrey surprised him with a montage showing how far his message of happiness has spread, which included footage of children who receive Mary’s Meals.

To coincide with the UN International Day of Happiness (March 20), the music producer and performer encouraged people all over the world to create their own videos along to his notoriously catchy number one hit song ‘Happy’.

We produced and shared a Mary’s Meals version using footage of pupils, teachers, and staff from our biggest school feeding programme in Malawi and the video was an instant hit on social media, clocking up 10,000 views in the first week.

Oprah’s team searched through thousands of ‘Happy’ videos and selected the best clips from around the world to present to Pharrell on Oprah’s live show on Sunday (April 6).

Along with clips from all over the world, such as Slovakia, Washington DC, Taiwan, Detroit, Philippines, and Dakar, children from Jacaranda School for Orphans in Malawi can be seen freestyle dancing. The scene then switches to a group of Mary’s Meals monitors boogying in their high visibility jackets and motorcycle helmets.

The 412 pupils enrolled at Jacaranda School for Orphans are among over 662,000 children receiving Mary’s Meals in Malawi each day they attend school.

Monitors, who travel around the schools on their motorbikes, are absolutely vital to the efficient delivery of our school feeding programmes. Not only do they ensure that the precious ingredients provided by Mary’s Meals are used correctly to provide life-changing meals for pupils, they are on hand to support the community volunteers and provide help with any issues.

Watch our ‘Malawi is Happy’ video in full on our YouTube channel.

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Mary’s Meals enables Mayamiko to excel at school

In her latest blog, communications intern Jackie Farr, WITNESSES THE DIFFERENCE A DAILY MEAL MAKES TO CHILDREN IN MALAWI

I’ve met so many children who benefit from Mary’s Meals. For most of them, the only meal they will eat that day is the likuni phala that our supporters help us provide. The children often tell me; ‘I am not hungry anymore’, ‘I am able to eat’, ‘I no longer have to work to afford food’.

By providing a daily meal in school, Mary’s Meals is able to help these children gain the vital nutrients they need to grow. However, that’s not all that benefits children who initially come to school to receive Mary’s Meals…

I first met six-year-old Mayamiko during one of the charity’s backpack distributions. The team were busy handing out backpacks stuffed full of essential school supplies to a Standard 3 class, which was filled with around 100 learners all aged between eight and 10 years old. Little Mayamiko was lost in the sea of excited children as they anxiously waited for their very own backpack—so lost, in fact, that the team almost didn’t see him sitting in line!

Noticing how small he was compared to the rest of his classmates, his teacher explained that although he was only six years old, he had been excelling in both the Standard 1 and Standard 2 classes, so the teachers agreed he’d be better suited in an older class.

After receiving his backpack, which was almost the same size as him, Mayamiko stood up confidently in front of his class and recited two paragraphs of English perfectly from the blackboard.

Children in Malawi currently aren’t taught lessons in English until Standard 4, so for a six-year-old who has never been taught in English to be able to speak it so perfectly, was incredible to hear.

Without Mary’s Meals, little Mayamiko may never have gone to school and his natural intelligence and flair for languages might never have been seen.

Fortunately, he’s doing very well in class, and very much enjoying the daily phala and his new backpack. It will be exciting to see how he proceeds with his education and I hope his love for school and learning continues to grow.

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Fifteen years a volunteer: Michael Smith’s story

Michael Smith, 68, first started volunteering with us in the 1990s when he helped to organise donations of clothes, blankets, toiletries and medical supplies to war-torn regions in Eastern Europe.

The retired firefighter responded to a newspaper advert calling for volunteers to support the relief efforts by Scottish International Relief (SIR), which later became Mary’s Meals.

Michael said: “I’d had to retire from the Fire Service on health grounds and I was still coming to terms with the fact I’d had to stop working.

“I was beginning to feel sorry for myself and doing too much sitting around, but I saw the advert at exactly the right time—I needed to get out and find something new to put my effort into.”

He added: “There was a lot to be done. I remember we sent 50 lorry-loads to Eastern Europe in just nine weeks, so the place was non-stop getting everything organised and packed.”

In 2002, in response to a famine in Malawi, SIR began providing a daily meal to 200 children in school to alleviate hunger and promote education.

As our charity has evolved, so have Michael’s roles. For a while, he stepped in as a driver, delivering stock to our charity shops around Scotland and travelling further afield, all over Britain, picking up donations of backpacks which are shipped to children receiving a daily meal.

These days, Michael takes charge of clothing donations for children receiving support in Under Six education centres in Malawi. With five grandchildren of his own, Michael is a dab hand at sorting through generously donated items and finding the best places for them to be sent. He hopes to continue helping for many more years to come.

Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, founder and chief executive said: “It’s because of the dedication and devotion of people like Michael – who give up their time to make others’ lives better – that Mary’s Meals is able to support the world’s poorest communities at such a low cost.

“Our commitment to spending at least 93p of every £1 donated directly on our charitable activities would be impossible to uphold without the generosity of so many people, all over the world, who dedicate their valuable time to this work.”

In recognition of his dedication, Michael has received a handmade card made by children receiving Mary’s Meals in Haiti, which reads ‘Thank you Michael, you are so dear to us’ beside drawings of hot meals.

The enthusiastic volunteer has also been presented with a hand-carved commemorative miniature chair made by another long-standing Mary’s Meals supporter John McLaughlin from Bishopton in Renfrewshire.

Michael said: “It’s been a pleasure to be involved with Mary’s Meals for so long and see the charity grow and progress as well as the number of children attending school go up and up because of this work.

“I just love being able to help. When you see photos and videos coming back from the school feeding programmes, showing what the children can achieve with a good meal in their tummies, it’s clear to see the joy Mary’s Meals brings which simply allow children to get an education.”

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© 2013 Mary's Meals. Registered at Craig Lodge, Dalmally, Argyll, Scotland, UK, PA33 1AR. Charity Number: SC022140 Company Number: SC265941