Empty classroom in Tigray, Ethiopia

Nowhere to turn

Once joyful and friendly, 12-year-old Mahlet now battles with hunger and trauma following the two-year conflict in Tigray

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Ara Primary School in Tigray, Ethiopia, is a shadow of its former self. Once a thriving, bustling education hub, it is now much more subdued with emptier classrooms and quieter corridors. There are far fewer teachers at the school than before; some left to work elsewhere as pupil numbers dwindled, while others went to fight in the war and didn’t return. There are also around 300 pupils who didn’t come back to school when the conflict eased. 

Staff say that some ex-pupils are now working as housemaids or looking after cattle. And as the situation worsens, they fear even more children could be lost to similar fates, as the battle with hunger becomes too vast to overcome. 

One of the pupils here is 12-year-old Mahlet, but her attendance is in constant jeopardy because of a lack of food at home and there is currently no school feeding programme to support her. Since there are no meals being served at school, Mahlet says her mother “worries all the time” because she has no food to give her. 

Mahlet from Tigray, Ethiopia

The pre-teen understands the importance of school, and how much fun she would have there if she didn’t feel such hunger: “School is important because I play with others and learn, and it helps me leave the worries I have at home behind because my mother has no food for me.”

It’s clear that no-one has been left unscathed by the years of conflict, let alone children. The trauma of the past few years seems to have altered Mahlet’s once joyful and friendly disposition. Her teacher says that she is now shy, overcome with emotion, and cries sometimes when she is spoken to, so Mahlet’s mental state is also taking its toll on her schoolwork and grades.

When she’s not at school, Mahlet does whatever she can to get out of the house. She says: “I hate sitting at home because there is no food and nothing to prepare. I boil coffee for my mother or help other people who have nobody to help them.”

Those who have returned ask to go home during class as they are too hungry to stay and learn, but when the local community heard that Mary’s Meals was visiting the school, 15 children turned up to register in the space of a few hours. We know that reliable school meal provision will bring many more children back to these classrooms and enable them to take the first steps back to a life with better prospects.

We are fully committed to raising awareness of the desperate need in Tigray and supporting our local partner, Daughters of Charity, to reach even more children with vital meals in the coming weeks and months. 

We know that daily school meals will not only address Mahlet and her classmates’ immediate need for food, but also increase their capacity for learning at a time when they desperately need an opportunity to re-engage with education.

Help us to walk alongside communities in Tigray and offer vital sustenance to children who have already suffered so much. You can be a part of bringing the Mary’s Meals school feeding programme to Ara Primary School and ensuring these children don’t end up a lost generation.

To find out more about the Mary’s Meals Crisis in Ethiopia appeal, please visit www.marysmeals.org.uk/campaigns/crisis-in-ethiopia