When we arrive, the community are seated on the ground around a temporary shelter in a big semi circle. There must be 200 people here, and they are clearly happy that school feeding will begin next Monday.
The Mary’s Meals team are demonstrating how to cook likuni phala (the maize-based porridge that we provide for children in Malawi) on a newly-delivered, ecologically efficient ‘rocket stove’.
There are already 800 children at the school, and with the programme starting, enrolment and attendance are sure to increase.
A team of volunteers is gathered around the stove preparing the huge pot of nutrient enriched porridge as Peter, one of Mary’s Meals monitors, demonstrates how to make best use of the stove. The rocket stoves use only 30% of the firewood of traditional fires. Just a few sticks of firewood are enough to cook a pot that will feed 300 children.
The intrepid team of monitors is absolutely crucial to the programme. They use motorbikes to visit each school three times a week to provide encouragement, on-going training for the volunteers who prepare the daily meals, and to give the logistics team the information they need to keep the schools supplied with likuni phala.
Geofrey, Mary’s Meals Expansion Manager, has organised a meeting with the head teacher and the traditional village leader who explains in Chichewa some of the challenges of living in the area. The plots of land have been subdivided over the generations and each is barely enough to meet a family’s needs. It seems that every piece of available land is being used to grow something.
A bad harvest or a natural disaster, a drought one year, a flood the next, can mean the difference between eating and going hungry.
The community are working together with Mary’s Meals to make the project a success. Beside the school is a huge pile of bricks that local men have made themselves for the school feeding shelter and store which will be built in the coming weeks.
The women have formed a team of volunteers who will take turns to arrive at 6am each morning to prepare the porridge. A local committee will meet regularly and monitor the delivery of the programme, and the Head Teacher and the volunteers will meet with the local monitor Patrick three times a week.
This sense of partnership, on-going care, attention and ownership by the community is what will make this new programme a success.
Before leaving for the next village, we are served a cup of likuni phala from the bubbling pot to give us strength for the journey.