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Thousands left homeless amid heavy flooding in Malawi

At least 48 people have been killed and 70,000 forced to flee their homes by heavy flooding in Malawi, the country in south-east Africa where Mary’s Meals feeds more than 730,000 children every school day.

The thoughts and prayers of everyone at Mary’s Meals are with all those affected, including many of the communities in which the charity is working across the districts of Nsanje, Chikwawa, Phalombe, Zomba, Blantyre, Chiradzulu, Thyolo, Mulanje, Balaka, Machinga, Mangochi, Ntcheu, Salima, Rumphi and Karonga.

The Mary’s Meals school feeding programme continues to operate as effectively as possible at this challenging time and a number of the schools in which we work are being used as emergency shelters for displaced people – though some schools have been closed as a result of damage to buildings.

Our priority is to work with local communities to ensure that our feeding programme continues as normal in the majority of places but – with one third of the country having been declared a disaster zone by the Malawian government – we may also explore other ways in which we can provide humanitarian assistance in the days ahead.

We have already begun providing food aid, for example, to displaced people in the Mulanje district, who have sought shelter in local schools after their villages were completely flattened by the flash floods.

Heavy rain began falling across the region last month and forecasters say they expect it to continue over the next few weeks.



Fighting Ebola in Liberia

Time Magazine has recognised those fighting Ebola in West Africa with its prestigious Person of the Year accolade.

Medical staff, charity workers, and volunteers are among those putting their own lives on hold to help others survive. The Mary’s Meals Liberia team have been working directly with affected communities since the crisis began, and are managing to reach 100,000 children with emergency take-home food rations while schools remain closed.

Joseph Goelo, Head of Programmes for Mary’s Meals Liberia, tells us how the team faced up to the reality of the Ebola outbreak and rose above their own fear to reach out to those most in need of support.

On the day that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf announced the State of Emergency (August 6, 2014) we were preparing everything for the start of the new term in September, arranging the food and utensils to support our school feeding programme here.

This was the day we found out that the schools would not open. We said to ourselves, “if the schools are not open, what can we do?” We were determined, as always, to feed our country’s hungry children and help them stay safe. But, of course, we also wondered what this would mean for the safety of our own staff and their families.

We had a warehouse full of food purchased for the 130,000 children enrolled in our Mary’s Meals school feeding programme. We knew the military checkpoints between our base in Tubmanburg and the capital, Monrovia, were making people stay in one place and a lot people in the communities around us were scared to move around.

Fear is very powerful and a lot of the problems came from fear. People were scared to move around and sometimes even to come into contact with each other. Food prices soared in places where there is already a serious shortage of affordable food. When we were driving around, we could see the sad and desperate faces of people who were terrified of Ebola and also suffering the daily effects of hunger and malnutrition.

But the other thing we saw were people recognising our Mary’s Meals vehicles and feeling some hope. We knew that we must find a way to deliver the food directly to the children through their families and support these communities through this bad time.

Within ten days, my team had set up a pilot project to reach 29 communities around Sinje, where the Mary’s Meals warehouse is based. It became clear that it was possible to distribute food rations to desperate communities without endangering our staff.

Nicholas Street (Country Director) and Joseph Goelo (Head of Programmes), Mary's Meals Liberia

The first place we went to distribute food rations was Garwula District in Grand Cape Mount. The District representative pledged to arrange security for us, but I told him it was not necessary. I said, “These are people we have worked with in times of peace. We know them; they know us.”

So, we arranged for the food to be delivered from our warehouse to a central point and the District representative called us to come and supervise the distribution. As well as giving out rations, we were creating awareness about the virus. There is so much fear because Ebola is invisible, but we know how best to care for ourselves and prevent infection, so it’s important for us to teach the communities as well.

The distribution was a success. Parents came to receive rations of the same food their children would usually eat in school. We could see people cooking as soon as the food was given out, because the hunger is such a problem. People in Liberia already know hunger—it is always a very big problem here—but with the Ebola outbreak things are even worse, because people are too scared to go and do the work they would usually do to get money for food.

We quickly began repeating this process in other areas, reaching children and their communities across Grand Cape Mount and Bomi Counties. By adapting our process quickly and finding a way to serve the children through take-home rations, we are helping our people to protect themselves from the other silent killer—starvation. Through this adapted feeding programme, we are reaching 100,000 children and their families with food rations while the schools remain closed.

As far as I know, we are the only organisation here with a full staff still working. Our drivers, warehouse workers and supervisors are all still on the ground. I am Head of Programmes here and would usually spend a lot of time in the office, but I am determined to go out into the field with my team every day, to show that we are all in this together—I cannot expect my team to risk themselves if I am not prepared to do the same.

However, we are safe. The two-day training we received from the County’s Ebola specialist (put in place by the government) has equipped us with excellent knowledge on preventative measures. Mary’s Meals staff are fully aware of what is required and have the confidence to ask for whatever they need to make the distributions safe, such as hand sanitiser and gloves.

I have been asked many times ‘what is the biggest challenge we are facing’, but this work is just an extension of what we already do. Liberia was a challenging place to work even before the State of Emergency—we are used to the rainy season and the difficult roads, and we are used to the widespread hunger, and food being essential to people’s survival. Thankfully, Mary’s Meals is very well known here and the communities are very co-operative and willing to work with us.

At times like this we must care for the most vulnerable. As well as helping the children, we have responded to requests from Ebola holding centres, where people who are suspected Ebola suffers are held and cared for. Food rations are delivered to these centres in Tubmanburg, Robertsport, and Brewerville.

People who have been cured and cleared to return home are often treated as outcasts, despite their official certificate, because others are so fearful of the virus. We are also serving rations to these people, who might otherwise starve because of their situation. And, of course, some of the children from our school feeding programme have been orphaned because of Ebola, so we are supporting 58 children in an orphanage in Tubmanburg by delivering rations directly.

Every one of my team here would like to give thanks and appreciation to our colleagues and supporters in the UK and around the world. We know, since you are with us at this difficult time, you are real friends and truly care to help us.


There’s always room for one more at Christmas

Mary’s Meals and Whitespace are setting extra plates this year around their virtual dinner table

In the UK, we each spend roughly £16 on our Christmas day dinner. However, for only £12.20, Mary’s Meals can provide food, and hope, for a child in need for an entire school year.

This year, creative agency Whitespace have donated their time and resources to create a virtual Christmas dinner table, where place settings can be bought for £12.20. The money raised will be used to provide life-changing meals to some of the world’s poorest children every school day.

Around 57 million of the world’s hungriest children do not attend school – they’re concentrating on survival, not on education. In order to survive, they have to work, and even if they do make it into the classroom, hunger will affect their ability to learn.

Daniel Adams, Director of Communications and Fundraising at Mary’s Meals, commented: “By providing one good meal to hungry, impoverished children every school day, we are filling their empty bellies so they have the energy and opportunity to learn, which can be their escape route out of poverty in later life.

“This campaign donated by Whitespace will remind people that there’s always room for one more at Christmas – even if that’s in a virtual environment.”

Managing Partner at Whitespace, Iain Valentine, agreed: “We were keen to harness the joy and positivity that surrounds Christmas by encouraging people to share the love a little wider by setting a place at our virtual table.

“This is a Whitespace project for Mary’s Meals – one they can use year after year. All the benefit, all the good, the hard work, the exposure and the money raised is to help Mary’s Meals and their goal of feeding more than one million children in 2015.”

You can set your own place at the virtual Christmas dinner table for £12.20 at

After all, there’s always room for one more at Christmas.


Mary’s Meals founder receives Ahmadiyya Muslim Peace Prize

Our founder, Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, has been awarded the Muslim Prize for the Advancement of Peace at a special ceremony in London.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, which strongly rejects violence and terrorism in any form and for any reason, founded the prize to recognise important contributions to the advancement of global peace.

The ceremony took place at Western Europe’s largest Mosque—The Baitul Futuh Mosque in Morden, London— and Magnus received his prize from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Caliph, His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad.

Distinguished guests included Justine Greening, Secretary of State for International Development, and Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

Rafiq Hayat, National President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community UK said:“It was a privilege to welcome Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow at our landmark event. His fantastic work is an inspiration for us all and we are delighted to honour him.

“In these turbulent times we must do even more to promote, education, justice and peace. This is the message of our Caliph and is the need of the hour.”

The Ahmadiyya Muslim community is established in 206 countries worldwide and promotes a universal motto of ‘Love for All Hatred for None’.

Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, founder and CEO of Mary’s Meals, said: “I have been motivated to do this work by my own Christian, Catholic faith, but this has always been a mission that has involved people of lots of different faiths and none, united in a common desire to see the hungry child fed and educated.

“To have the work of Mary’s Meals recognised by a community that promotes peace and inter-faith understanding means a huge amount to me personally.”


Big-hearted pupils help launch Make it a Million campaign

Students from Painsley Catholic College in Cheadle, Staffordshire, helped launch our Make it a Million campaign after hearing our founder, Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, talk at their school.

The Make it a Million campaign aims to raise awareness of our school feeding programmes in some of the world’s poorest countries.

Painsley Catholic College in Cheadle, which is the highest achieving non-selective school in Staffordshire, is celebrating its 50th year this year, and pupils have pledged to raise £50,000 for Mary’s Meals to mark their school’s milestone.

Staff and pupils from Painsley are also encouraging others in their local community to support the campaign to help Mary’s Meals reach its own wonderful milestone of providing one million children with a life-changing daily meal every school day.

Stephen Bell, Principal at Painsley Catholic College, said: “Painsley is delighted to be supporting the Mary’s Meals ‘Make it a Million’ campaign. It is an excellent charity to have reached the lives of nearly one million children across the world, which is an amazing achievement.”

And we’re hoping Painsley won’t be the only school to get behind the campaign. In fact, we’re inviting schools, clubs, companies, and individuals—wherever they are—to get involved and do what they can to help us reach the next child waiting for the chance to attend school and receive Mary’s Meals.

Founder and CEO of Mary’s Meals, Magnus, said: “Our vision is that every child should be able to receive one good meal every day in a place of education. Working together with people who share our ideals, we believe that our vision can be achieved in this world of plenty, where there is enough food for everyone.

“By making such a generous pledge and supporting our Make it a Million campaign, staff and pupils at Painsley Catholic College will be helping to transform the lives of thousands of impoverished children—and their communities—around the world.”


The first day of feeding in beautiful but hungry Zambia

Earlier this month we welcomed Zambia into the Mary’s Meals family, where we are now reaching an additional 20,000 hungry children with a daily meal in school. Find out what happened at the launch day of our newest feeding programme from communications officer Jo Lehmann in her latest blog...

After a 10-day expedition across Malawi, I’m on my way to Zambia for the launch of the new Mary’s Meals school feeding programme there.

Just over 20,000 children from 25 schools across Chipata District in eastern Zambia will now be receiving Mary’s Meals. It’s my first time in the country and the first time these children will receive Mary’s Meals, so I’m keen to see the difference that a nutritious daily meal will make.

Tourists are drawn to Zambia, in South-Central Africa, to visit its large game parks and the magnificent Victoria Falls—one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Unlike most of its neighbours, Zambia has been peaceful and relatively trouble-free for several decades. But social conditions remain very tough. More than 60 per cent of its 14.5 population live below the poverty line and hunger prevents many children from receiving an education.

After driving through the busy town of Chipata, we finally arrive at our house. I’m looking forward to having a shower after the long drive, but I’m not off to a good start. As I start unpacking my suitcase I find a frog sleeping amongst my clothes (quite how he got in there I’m not sure). Next, the power goes off, a common problem in Malawi and also Zambia, it seems. I scramble for my head-torch and head to the shower, to find there is no running water. But, thankfully there is a bowl of water in the corner and I’m pretty experienced at ‘bucket baths’ by now.

Feeling slightly more refreshed I sit down for dinner, which consists of Nsima (a local staple food made from maize flour). Nsima is quite a stodgy dish and not something I’d normally choose to eat, but hunger makes me tuck in eagerly. After dinner I head to bed as I have an early start in the morning.


I awake the next morning at 6am, and already the temperature is in the 30s.

It’s a big day for the Mary’s Meals team here because it’s the start of the school feeding programme. We all jump in the car and set off to the school where the launch party will be held. It’s miles from the main road, and there are no facilities around, just some houses dotted nearby—it is quite literally in the middle of nowhere. This is one of the most deprived areas of Chipata and many of the children here experience chronic hunger, often missing school to work or search for food.

The teachers are busy preparing for the launch, decorating the school with flowers and signs, and the volunteers have begun preparing the porridge.

I’m greeted by one of the teachers at the school, Mrs. Lungu.

“We’re so excited by the start of this programme. So many children come to school hungry, so Mary’s Meals will make such a difference to them and their families,” she proclaims.

She leads me into one of the classrooms, which is a straw hut. About 80 children are sat on the mud floor learning maths. I’m introduced to a little girl called Anna. She is 11-years-old, her face is frail and she looks very thin.

“Anna is very malnourished,” explains her teacher. “She always comes to school hungry because there is no food at home. She’ll often miss school because she falls sick, so this programme will make a big difference to her,” she says.

I ask her about he feels about Mary’s Meals and she simply replies:

“I’m really looking forward to the porridge, because I’m hungry.”

Guests from across Chipata start to arrive for the ceremony; they include a group of majorettes from a nearby school that’s also receiving Mary’s Meals, the mayor of Chipata, and lots of local community leaders.

We all sit down to watch the ceremony. First the majorettes give an excellent rumba performance, which is followed by some poems the children have written to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS. Then, there is a tribal warrior dance, from the Ngoni tribe—and ancient tradition involving clubs and animal skins, not like anything I’d ever seen before!

Finally, the mayor officially marks the launch of our programme by cutting the ribbon to the kitchen. The children line up to receive their first mug of porridge, which is enriched with vital vitamins and nutrients.

I notice Anna sitting in the shade rapidly tucking in to the food. A few minutes after she finishes, I see her laughing and playing with her friends. Already her spirits seem lifted.

I know it’s only day one of the programme, but I leave hopeful that children like Anna will benefit greatly from Mary’s Meals.


Mary’s Meals now feeding hungry children in Zambia

Mary’s Meals has rolled out its school feeding programme to Zambia, one of the world’s poorest countries.

We are now providing 20,000 children with a daily meal every day they attend school in the poverty-stricken African country.

Located in south-central Africa, the vast majority of the population in Zambia live on around a £1 a day and Government figures show that over a million children go to school hungry.

In the Chipata district, Mary’s Meals is working with 25 primary schools where children are facing severe barriers to their education.

Each child will be given a daily serving of likuni phala — a vitamin-enriched maize porridge — served in plastic mugs.

Many of the children in this district, which borders Malawi, experience chronic hunger and would normally miss school to work or search for food on the streets.

Girls face particular obstacles in attending school in Zambia. They are expected to carry out domestic chores or to marry young, so they are no longer a financial burden on their families.

Providing a good meal draws children into the classroom where they can receive an education that could one day give them a brighter future.

Panji Kajani, Mary’s Meals country representative for Zambia, said: “There is a great urgency to tackle poverty in Zambia which is why we’ve launched this school feeding programme now.

“Low harvests mean many children have limited access to food and this is infringing on their right to receive an education.

“The introduction of Mary’s Meals here will help reduce this burden. Hunger no longer needs to be an obstacle to receiving an education.”

The start of the school feeding programme in Zambia has also been welcomed by the local community.



“This programme will encourage more children to come to school ─ children who would otherwise be at home because of hunger,” said Joyce Mbewe, who chairs a School Health & Nutrition Committee at Mnoro, one of the 25 schools to receive Mary’s Meals in Zambia.

“The community is so thankful that our children will be able to come to school and learn and also receive food which will improve their nutritional status.”

For 14-year-old Saidee, the arrival of Mary’s Meals has been transformative.

The talented runner, who dreams of competing in the Olympics one day, said: “When I’m hungry I feel so sick.

“Sometimes my eyes get really blurry and I can’t see anything. The porridge is helping me come to school because I don’t need to work to get my food. It’s also helping me with my running because I have more energy.”


Preparing for the first day of school

As the new school year begins in Malawi, our communications officer Jo Lehmann blogs about the excitement felt by many children as they return to the classroom.

It’s Monday and the first day back at school for thousands of children across Malawi.

As I drive along a dusty road I notice children skipping, jumping and laughing as they make their way to school.

I laugh to myself as I remember my first day back after the long summer break and I’m sure that I was never that enthusiastic about returning.  But for many children in Malawi going back to school provides them with an opportunity to forget the grinding poverty that they live in and be children for once.

I pull up at a school and notice two little boys who are both seven-years-old walking shoulder to shoulder. They’ve walked more than 2 km on their own to get to school. They have no shoes on, and are wearing tatty clothes, but both are clinging tightly to their porridge mugs, which have been provided by Mary’s Meals.

Mary’s Meals is a school feeding programme, which now provides a daily meal to over 698,000 children on a daily basis in 516 primary schools across the country.

“What are you looking forward to most at school?” I ask the two boys.

“I like singing the alphabet”, one of the boys replies in Chichewa, the Malawian language.

The other boy pipes up.

“I’m looking forward to my mug of porridge”.

“Why’s that?” I inquire.

The little boy looks down at his feet and whispers: “I didn’t eat anything before I came to school so I’m really hungry.”

Unfortunately he’s not alone. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world.  Malnutrition of young children is widespread and the prevalence of stunting of Malawian children is one of the highest in the world.

Children often tell me they come to school because they know that they’ll be receiving a nutritious mug of porridge from Mary’s Meals. However the positive effects that the school-feeding programme has goes much further than meeting a child’s daily nutritional needs.

Teachers frequently tell me that attendance, and enrolments rates at their schools have improved dramatically since the introduction of Mary’s Meals.

“Before Mary’s Meals was here, children were coming to school hungry. When you are trying to talk to a child that is hungry you may as well forget it, as their mind is elsewhere,” one headteacher explains to me.

“Now the children at this school are happier and healthier, and it’s much easier to teach them when their bellies are full.”

I spend the rest of the morning in a Standard 1 classroom (the equivalent of year one in the UK). There are nearly 80 children in the class, all of them sat on the floor, most without shoes on, and most without any school equipment.

I suddenly receive a picture message from my sister back in the UK. A photo of my little niece springs up on my phone – she’s dressed smartly in her new school uniform and is laden with books, all ready for her first day of school.

It then dawns on me how different her first day will be from the children sitting millions of miles away in this classroom in Malawi.


Mary’s Meals responds to Ebola crisis in West Africa

Mary's Meals delivers emergency meals to Ebola patients and hungry children, amid food shortage reports

Mary’s Meals is delivering food aid to thousands of people affected by the Ebola outbreak in Liberia – including patients infected by the deadly virus – following the launch of a new emergency relief effort.

Under normal circumstances, Mary’s Meals reaches more than 128,000 impoverished children across Liberia each day, attracting them to the classroom with a nutritious meal in school. However, the recent crisis has brought a temporary halt to our feeding programme in the country, with all schools now closed.

Striving to make effective use of our resources, expertise and significant community standing in Liberia, Mary’s Meals has now launched an emergency response to the Ebola outbreak by distributing food to children in their homes.

Moreover, Mary’s Meals is reacting quickly to requests from embattled health care workers to provide much-needed food aid to suspected Ebola sufferers. Meals are being distributed at three holding centres in the townships of Tubmanburg, Robertsport and Brewerville.

“We have been working in Liberia since 1997 at the height of the country’s hideous and terrifying civil war,” said Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, Mary’s Meals’ founder and CEO.

“During those years, we supported the people amidst unimaginable violence. Today, we are determined to again provide continuity and potentially life-saving support, at a time when the communities we serve are facing, in Ebola, a truly frightening invisible enemy.

“It is thanks to the generosity of our supporters around the world that Mary’s Meals can act quickly in times of crisis to provide vital food supplies to people in desperate need.”

The Mary’s Meals crisis response has already seen around 10,000 children receive emergency food rations in their homes and is focused on two counties, Grand Cape Mount and Bomi – both of which have been cut off from the capital Monrovia by military blockade.

The state of emergency declared by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has led to the establishment of quarantined zones and the restriction of people’s movements. As a result, there have been widespread reports of soaring food prices, increased hunger and a general rise in food insecurity across the region.

Mary’s Meals staff on the ground are working closely with community leaders to deliver and monitor the emergency food distribution programme. They are also routinely giving best practice information and advice on preventing infection from the Ebola virus.

At least 2,200 people infected with Ebola have died so far this year across Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, with Liberia suffering the most hardship by far. The World Health Organisation has declared the crisis an international health emergency.

The extraordinary measures ordered by the Liberian government mean that schools will remain closed until further notice.


Mary’s Meals is now reaching 923,572 children every school day!

Owing to the continued generosity of our supporters around the world, Mary’s Meals is now feeding 923,572 of the world’s poorest children every day they attend school.

In the last four months, we have been able to add close to 30,000 new children to our global school feeding programme, thanks to the unrelenting efforts of our army of supporters who give as much as they can – time, money, skills and prayer – to help the communities in which we are working.

All of these acts of goodness bring us closer to realising our vision that every child receives one daily meal in their place of education. Yet, in a world where 57 million children are out of school and thousands are dying each day due to hunger-related causes, there is still so much for us to do.

Mary’s Meals is now reaching 923,572 children every school day

Help us make it a million!

The Mary’s Meals campaign began in Malawi in 2002 feeding just 200 children. Twelve years later, relying on kindnesses from across the world, we have now made it over the 900,000 mark and are incredibly close to reaching a major milestone: ONE MILLION CHILDREN being fed every school day.

Across 12 countries – including in conflict-gripped South Sudan and Ebola-hit Liberia – Mary’s Meals is bringing hope to poverty-stricken children in a number of challenging contexts.

Each of the children enrolled in our programme is receiving a nutritious daily meal and sitting in a classroom gaining an education, which is their best hope of escaping poverty in later life. And, as a no-frills charity, it costs us a global average of just £12.20 to feed each of these children for a whole year. With your help, we can make it a million children! Thank you for all your support.

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