Mary’s Meals founder Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow writes from Malawi, where New York-based Grassroots Films are currently shooting footage for a forthcoming film about our work.
Early yesterday, just as the sun began to rise above the curiously pointed hills near Blantyre, we walked for 20 minutes down steep paths, through a jumble of tin-roofed little homes, across makeshift bridges, and over rubbish-filled streams to meet Lette.
When we arrived she and a younger brother were hunched over a little fire, cooking a meagre pan of morning porridge. Soon their youngest brother Andersen appeared rubbing his eyes, which were clearly still adjusting to the light of day.
He surprises us by shaking our hands solemnly without shyness. Nelia, who runs the Mary’s Meals centres here for children below school age and has come along with us, helps him tie up his trousers.
At 12 years old Lette is the head of this household, while Andersen is just 4 years old. They have rented out their own little hut, and while they live in a one room annex, the money from the tenant helps them to survive.
Lette cries as she speaks to us about the loss of her mother two years ago, her father having passed away some years before. She tells us that sometimes the hunger gives her stomach pains and makes her feel like vomiting.
Lette says that when she feels this way, she always thinks back to how, when her mother was alive, she never went hungry. “But it isn’t hard to look after my brothers,” she says, trying to smile.
After breakfast, Lette gives her little brother his morning bath, stripping off his clothes and pouring a basin of water – just warmed on the fire – over him. She scrubs him with soap, seeming to take delight in the lather she works up in his hair, before meticulously checking his ears and eyes and washing a last bit of ‘sleep’ from them.
Then, after dressing him gently, she hoists him on to her back and walks the mile or so over bridges and up steep paths, and drops him off at the Mary’s Meals centre for children under six years old.
There we watch him play with the other kids. There are over a hundred children, many of them orphans, at this centre run by local volunteers.
Later, they queue up for their morning porridge. The Mary’s Meals volunteers tell us Andersen was very malnourished when his big sister first began taking him here six months ago, but now he is healthy.
Lette meanwhile has already headed home to get ready for her own day at school. She has an exam today and after that she will eat Mary’s Meals herself.
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