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Calling all volunteers to support Quad

Hundreds of quadrathletes are already in intense training in the lead up to this year’s Artemis Great Kindrochit Quadrathlon, and Mary’s Meals is now looking for volunteers to help the event run smoothly.

Taking place on 12th July 2014, the Quad is an extreme fitness event comprising swimming, walking/running, kayaking, and cycling, all in the beautiful setting of Loch Tay in the Scottish Highlands.

Mary’s Meals is a joint beneficiary of this event, along with Mercy Corps, so every penny fundraised by competitors will go a long way to helping the lives of people living in some of the world’s poorest communities.

For Mary’s Meals, Quad fundraising covers the cost of feeding every child in seven Malawian schools annually, and now four schools in Liberia—an incredible feat, making a difference in the lives of tens of thousands of children every school day.

Twelve-year-old Veston attends Thawale School in Malawi, where the daily meal is sponsored by Quad funding. He lives in a very small house along with his four brothers and three sisters, without running water or electricity.

Every school day, Veston sets off for school on an empty stomach; before, this would have made his lessons unbearable and he would often have been unable to attend.

Now, Veston is eager to go to school, safe in the knowledge that he will receive a cup of porridge from Mary’s Meals between classes to alleviate his hunger.

He smiles broadly as he says: “I feel much stronger now and I can concentrate on my lessons. Because of the porridge, I am strong enough to go out and play with my friends too.”

Every Quad participant is helping us make hunger a thing of the past by offering real hope for the future through education to the children in all of the 11 Quad schools.

If you would like to help make the Quadrathlon a success this year, we are now looking for volunteers to get involved—helping with everything, from handing out water and cake to cheering competitors on as they cross the finish line!

If you would like to volunteer your time or find out more, please contact our fundraising officer Aislinn Graham on Aislinn.graham@marysmeals.org for details.

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Food makes it better

Our founder and chief executive, Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, reflects on his recent visit to Haiti.

All over the school, homemade posters make statements about Mary’s Meals. On a balcony above the central courtyard three boys lean through the railings to attach a banner that reads ‘No Education without Food’. Flowers adorn a doorway on which is written ‘Welcome Magnus and Mary’s Meals’. While in the kitchen a team of cooks wearing Mary’s Meals aprons work under a huge painted sign that says ‘THANK YOU MARY’S MEALS’. It seems that in this school they know a thing or two about branding.

It is over two years since I was in Cite Soleil, one of the world’s most notorious slums, where over 6,000 children eat Mary’s Meals every day. The schools here were built (and rebuilt with our help after the earthquake) by our old friends Father Tom Hagan and Doug Campbell who founded Hands Together, our partner in Haiti. Cite Soleil is home to hundreds of thousands of people, who live mainly in makeshift huts on what was a rubbish dump, without running water or sanitation.

The previous day we had been up in the central plateaux of Haiti, to visit schools that have urgently requested Mary’s Meals. We drove into the hills, up a road that became steeper and narrower and eventually petered out all together. We walked on for 15 minutes up a mountain path, until we came to a little school of stick buildings with thatched roofs. In the ‘Centre du Savio’ (Centre of Knowledge) 172 pupils were being taught by six teachers. The children were hungry. It was early afternoon and they had not yet eaten that day. Some had walked for over an hour to get there, and faced that long trek home later on empty stomachs. Previously they were given school meals by another organisation but that stopped nearly two years ago. When we asked them to tell us how they felt they looked at each other shyly until a girl in the front row spoke up.

“No one has energy now. No one plays at break time anymore. We are hungry all day,” Felius says quietly, “Sometimes pupils fall asleep in class”.

Back in Cite Soleil the kids have eaten their plates of rice, beans and fish. There is no shortage of energy here and an air of excitement pervades the school. We learn the posters are only part of the welcome. They have in fact organised a concert for us. A choir sings a wonderful song they have written about Mary’s Meals and then two older boys who are astonishing break dancers entertain us with their dazzling moves. Then, to my great surprise, Jimmy climbs on to the stage and takes the microphone.

I last met Jimmy two years ago when he was head boy of this school and we interviewed him about his life. He impressed me hugely then with his intelligence and his positive approach. Today he addresses us and the assembly of pupils of his former school with passion and confidence. He tells us he received Mary’s Meals for many years. He said he has now figured out that the food helped him physically, morally and spiritually; it gave his body strength, made him think about sharing with others and led him to think about the ‘yes’ of Mary and the ‘yes’ of all those who serve Mary’s Meals.

For a moment his smiling, swagger dropped and he became emotional. As he left the stage his audience roared their approval and clapped loudly. Jimmy, who today works for Hands Together, is clearly popular in these parts.

As soon as the concert was finished Father Tom took us to see one more Mary’s Meals project. He has begun to invite the ‘barefoot children’ who live on the streets and who are, most certainly, the poorest of the very poor, in for a meal. Some were naked when they first came, but by now Father Tom has given them all a T-shirt. They turn up for a meal, after regular classes have finished and, after eating, are taught for two hours by youngsters who have left this school the previous year and who have now returned as volunteers to ‘give something back’.

One of them is 21-year-old Francois. Wearing a white shirt and a bright blue tie, he points at the letters on the blackboard and speaks to the ragged skinny children in front of him with a broad smile. He tells us he loves teaching these kids. Since they began this project the number of children coming keeps growing. Today, in addition to the 5,189 regular school pupils, 1,353 children from the streets also tucked into a large plate of rice, fish and beans.

As we finally leave the school I notice one more poster amongst the hundreds of carefully handwritten signs that adorn this school proclaiming gratitude and love for Mary’s Meals. It says simply, with a little spelling mistake, ‘FOOD MAKS IT BETTER.’

Indeed it does.

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Why simple things can be life-changing

In her latest blog, communications intern Jackie Farr, shares highlights from her experience of travelling to the north of Malawi to visit schools where the pupils are just starting to receive their daily meal.

Jackie outside Mzuzu office, north Malawi

Malawi may look like a small country, but last week I drove the length of it and realised just how big it actually is!

The country is split into three regions; northern, central and southern. Mary’s Meals provides one daily meal in a place of education in all three regions, reaching over 660,000 children every school day.

Until now I’d spend all my time here in the southern region, where our Head Office is based and close to many of the schools we operate in, but I thought it was about time I explored the rest of the country and visited some of the further away schools up north.

The north of Malawi is beautiful — a picturesque postcard setting, striking a similar resemblance to the west coast of Scotland. Tall, green trees, winding roads, and incredible views over Lake Malawi reminded me a lot of the shores of Loch Lomond, apart from the contrasting temperatures!

I visited a lot of schools in Mzuzu and Karonga and was able to speak to the teachers about how much Mary’s Meals has changed not only the lives of the children, but also the local communities. In one school, the community volunteers were so proud of their kitchen, they raised enough money to re-paint it and keep it looking new. In another school, the Head Teacher told me how the local villages had come together to organise a rota for cooking the likuni phala each school morning, which united the community.

One of the highlights of my trip up north was when we visited one particular school to deliver the exciting news that they will soon be receiving Mary’s Meals. The Head Teacher was thrilled that, very soon, every child in his school would be receiving a cup of likuni phala every school day.

I remember eating school meals in primary school in Scotland and not realising how lucky I was to have them. When I visited that school to tell them the news that Mary’s Meals is coming, it really hit me how such a simple thing could have such a positive impact on the lives of so many people.

Providing one school meal in a place of education doesn’t just have a profound effect on the children who receive the porridge, it also benefits the teachers, families, and communities in the surrounding area, as I’ve seen first-hand on this trip.

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Introducing Saving Grace

Saving Grace is a four-minute animation telling the story of 10-year-old Grace.

Despite the array of reasons for children being both hungry and out of school, Saving Grace shows us how simply providing a nutritious meal in school can transform the lives of children all around the world.

Every child receiving Mary’s Meals is unique and has their own story to tell. Sadly, many have witnessed the despair of war, poverty and bereavement at a very young age and have more responsibilities than any child should.

Join us in #SavingGrace and help us reach the next child waiting for Mary’s Meals. Let’s make Grace famous—if you like our animation, please share it with your friends, family, colleagues, classmates or social networks.

ARE YOU IN?

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Now feeding 868,746 children!

We are now reaching 868,746 of the world’s poorest children, every school day.

Over the last three months, a staggering 40,000 children have been added to our global school feeding programme, 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.

Since its humble beginnings, Mary’s Meals has been recognised as a low cost charity: at least 93p of every £1 donated is spent directly on charitable activities.

Over the past two years, we have been able to keep the global average cost of feeding a child for a whole school year to just £10.70. Largely due to rising food costs in Malawi – home to our largest feeding programme – this has now increased to £12.20.

We continue to keep this cost so low because of our no frills approach and commitment to maximise the good we can do with the donations entrusted to us.

Mary’s Meals began feeding 200 children in one Malawian school in 2002.  Since then, the project has been extended to include thousands of children in the world’s poorest areas. We continually review the impact of our work and the need for Mary’s Meals in each country we serve.

While new projects open up, inevitably others reach their conclusion.  Recent discussions with our partners in Albania, Ukraine and Sudan concluded that due to a changed situation, Mary’s Meals will no longer operate in these countries.  Also, our programme in the Philippines will come to an end on 31 March 2014.

The work of Mary’s Meals is made possible by the dedication of an army of volunteers all over the world, including thousands from the communities that benefit, who help to prepare, cook, and serve the food in each school. As a result of these countless little acts of love, children who would otherwise be out of school are sitting in a classroom learning how to read and write – their ladder out of poverty.

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Calling all fitness enthusiasts

This summer sees the return of the Artemis Great Kindrochit Quadrathlon – an extreme fitness challenge to raise money for Mary’s Meals.

The event takes place on July 12, 2014, in the beautiful setting of Loch Tay in the Scottish Highlands encompassing four gruelling events: swimming, hiking, kayaking and cycling all in one day!

Mary’s Meals is one of the charities, along with Mercy Corps, which benefits from the generous fundraising from Quadrathlon participants who are sponsored to take part.

Each participant raises a minimum of £450, which goes a long way towards helping some of the world’s poorest children.

The Quadrathlon sponsors seven schools in Malawi, and four schools in Liberia; feeding over 10,000 children with a daily meal every school year.

Every child in this huge number has their own story to tell about the difference a simple daily meal makes in their lives.

Moses is a 14-year old Liberian boy who lives with his parents, his brother and his two sisters in the east of the country. His father is a poorly paid rubber tapper who struggles to feed his family with his meagre salary.

Before Mary’s Meals arrived at Moses’ local school, he often went hungry and his attendance was poor. However today, he is happy to go to school where he knows he will be fed a good meal.

Moses grins when he talks about his plate of rice and fish, saying: “It makes a very big difference. Before I was not so serious about going to school, but now that we have Mary’s Meals I always go and I can see the benefits.

“I want to work hard to earn money so I can buy a house.”

You can find out more about the event and sign up by visiting www.artemisgreatkindrochit.com or by emailing eilidh.marks@marysmeals.org

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2014 off to a great start in Malawi

Mary’s Meals begins the New Year with a whopping distribution of nearly 5,000 backpacks in Namatete Primary School, Blantyre.

Six-year-old Peter Zefa from Namatete Primary School in Blantyre was the recipient of the very first backpack to be distributed by Mary’s Meals in Malawi this year.

This simple gift of a backpack containing educational items acts as a great incentive for children who lack basic materials to study hard in school and gain an education.

In his backpack, alongside a notepad, colouring pencils, tennis ball, toothpaste, and soap was a pair of flip flops, which Peter immediately tried on. He said: “I love my new shoes, I will wear them every day”. The Standard One pupil loves to write; his favourite subject is Maths and he is so grateful to receive Mary’s Meals at school. “The phala tastes good, please keep giving it to me.”

The backpacks have been collected by Mary’s Meals supporters in the UK, Germany, and Austria. Since the project began in 2005, over 380,000 backpacks have been shipped to children receiving Mary’s Meals in Malawi, Liberia and Kenya. Last year, a record-breaking 50,000 backpacks were distributed to children in Malawi alone.

Anyone can take part in the Backpack Project—schools, clubs, offices, universities, friends, church groups, individuals—and it’s a great way to support children out of poverty by investing in their education.

Find out how you can get involved here.

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Gerard Butler swaps LA for Liberia to see the work of Mary’s Meals

Hollywood actor Gerard Butler has swapped the glitz and glamour of LA to visit one of the world’s poorest countries with Mary’s Meals.

The actor has been a supporter of Mary’s Meals since 2010 when he presented Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow with a CNN Hero award and learned about our vision to reach every child with a nutritious daily meal in their place of education.

His enthusiasm for the work of Mary’s Meals has led him to Liberia where he was able to see our programme in action for the first time and meet some of the 111,551 children receiving a daily meal in school.

Among the highlights of the trip, Butler pitched in to help volunteers cooks prepare and serve up Mary’s Meals, bonded with children, took a class of orphans, played football with kids, loaded a truck with sacks of rice provided by Mary’s Meals, planted pepper seeds and pineapples at a school garden, and danced with villagers.

Butler visited several schools where our feeding programme is already established and witnessed the difference a daily meal can make to the health and energy levels of children and its impact on their ability to learn.

He said: “Since 2010, I have come to know Mary’s Meals but I had no idea of what that really meant until I came to see what is possible with this organisation and the effect it can have on the lives of so many children.

“One of the things that I have been struck by during this visit is the strength of peoples’ dignity and what I love about Mary’s Meals is that it is all about retaining that dignity. They don’t just operate a free system where people are just taking; instead it is all about respecting and promoting the dignity of these people and their culture and what they are capable of.

“What I’m seeing here is that a lot of these communities are becoming more energised and alive, and what Mary’s Meals does is, that it helps create a sense of community that goes way beyond the feeding programme itself.”

Butler added: “Every meal given to these children is a piece of charity and a little piece of love, and goes into the hearts of the children, feeding them physically and nourishing them. That all passes down into the families and into the communities and gives them a sense of hope and that is the difference between a kid saying, ‘I want to survive tomorrow’ and ‘I want to be a doctor’.

“This trip has inspired me to get more involved and hopefully will inspire other people. I wish people could spend one minute in these schools receiving Mary’s Meals, as I think anyone who has had that experience would get way more involved.”

When Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, founder and CEO of Mary’s Meals, was recognised by the CNN Hero awards in August 2010, we were supporting 427,580 children with a daily meal in a place of education—today Mary’s Meals is reaching 822,142 impoverished children every school day.

He said: “So often when I meet people and they hear about Mary’s Meals, they tell me they’d like to help. It’s one of the things about my job that never ceases to amaze me.

“When Gerry said he’d be in touch after we met at the CNN awards, I didn’t really expect to hear from him again, until he turned up at our HQ in Dalmally! It’s been great to be able to bring him out to Liberia to see the work of Mary’s Meals is doing here in partnership with schools and communities.

“We’re incredibly grateful to Gerry for helping us to shine a light on Liberia and its potential as the country works hard to carve out a strong, positive future where its children will prosper.”

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Mary’s Meals makes history with 50,000th backpack gifted in Malawi

Mary’s Meals has delivered its 50,000th backpack of the year in Malawi—the highest number distributed in one country in one year so far.

A seven-year-old girl named Sosa Saidi from Chilobwe Vocational Primary in rural Blantyre was the lucky recipient of the special milestone backpack. Before receiving this gift, the little girl did not have a bag of any kind to bring to school.

The Backpack Project complements our school feeding programmes by offering a further incentive for children to attend, since pupils must be in school to receive a backpack and the distribution visits are always a surprise.

Along with pencils, coloured pens, and a notepad, Sosa’s backpack contained a tennis ball, toothpaste, soap, a blouse for school, and a pair of flip-flops. Her favourite item is the flip-flops. She said: “I have never seen shoes like these before. This backpack is a gift, I am happy. I wish everyone could have a backpack like mine.”

Since 2005, over 370,000 filled backpacks have been shipped to children receiving Mary’s Meals in Malawi, Liberia, and Kenya. This year’s record-breaking haul of backpacks, filled with essential education resources, has been collected by supporters in the UK, Germany, and Austria.

By collecting, filling, and donating backpacks, supporters of all ages can provide children who receive Mary’s Meals with vital educational tools to make the most of their time at school and bring joy to some of the world’s most vulnerable young people.

Gillian Boyle, Mary’s Meals Malawi Logistics Coordinator, said: “Everyone in the team was so happy when we managed to break our record and distribute 50,000 backpacks to children receiving Mary’s Meals in Malawi this year.

“By giving a backpack we ensure that all children have the same access to the materials required for comfortable schooling and they all treat each other with respect.

“The greatest thing about this project is arriving at a school and seeing the children who woke up that day thinking it would be a normal day. As part of the distribution team, we are the luckiest ones in this chain of love as we get to see how the receiving of that backpacks impacts on the child.  It is like 10 Christmases rolled into one for them.

“We’d love to reach even more children next year and I hope our wonderful supporters will help to make this possible. Thank you so much, from everyone here in Malawi.”

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The difference a meal makes

Mary’s Meals communication intern, Jackie Farr, witnesses the difference a daily meal makes to children in Malawi

During my time in Malawi—just over two months so far—I’ve visited a lot of schools with Mary’s Meals. When we visit, we arrange to go during the children’s break time so we don’t disrupt the lessons.

Usually when we arrive at the schools, break time will have started and the children will be eating their likuni phala*. Chatting to the children and taking their pictures is a lot of fun. The children tend to be very excited that there’s a visitor at their school and they absolutely love having their photo taken and then seeing their picture on my camera’s display.

However, there have been times when I’ve visited schools before it’s time for the children to eat and this is where my job gets a little challenging.

For the majority of children, the mug of likuni phala will be their only meal of the day and anybody who has skipped a meal before knows how difficult it can be to concentrate without food. Although I already knew Mary’s Meals was important to the children, I was about to witness first-hand how different the children are without it.

Pulling up to the school, the children didn’t crowd around the car like these usually do. They stood idly in the playground not doing or saying much at all. I greeted them in Chichewa and waved, but got no response.

I spotted a couple of older girls sitting under a tree and went over to speak to them. It was difficult to get more than one word answers from them so I thanked them and asked if I could take their picture, since I’ve found this is often a good way to break the ice with the children. They didn’t feel like smiling, though, and if you hadn’t eaten in 24 hours you would understand why. I showed the girls their picture but there was little response from them. They were simply too hungry to smile.

I then went over to another group of children. Once again I greeted them in Chichewa and asked how they were and how their morning was going. I have also found that speaking in Chichewa to the children initially is a good way of engaging them in conversation. However, once again there was little response. I asked if I could take their picture but they simply weren’t interested. I felt horrible knowing I had eaten my breakfast only a couple of hours prior to visiting the school and in a way I had just expected them to have gone through the same morning routine as me.

Thankfully, the likuni phala was soon ready to be served and the children ran over to the volunteers and lined up, eager to get their mug of porridge. Almost in an instant the whole atmosphere at the school had changed. Children were smiling, laughing, engaging with each other and me. “Take my picture!” they shouted excitedly. It was incredible to witness first-hand how different the children can be without this vital meal, which reinforced my understanding of the amazing job Mary’s Meals is doing all over the world.

* Likuni phala is a type of porridge made from maize and peanut flour created by nuns in the village of Likuni just outside Lilongwe in Malawi

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