Thanks be to God for Mary’s Meals
Our Executive Director, Daniel Adams, offers a few reflections as he prepared to leave his staff role after 12 years.
“I want my grandchildren to learn and then their generation will be better off than mine,” 63-year-old Ellen Chikeweze told me. We were sitting chatting on a simple rattan mat outside Ellen’s home in Thyolo, under the relatively gentle warmth of the early morning Malawian sun.
That was 2015, the year we reached the significant milestone of providing one million children with nutritious meals every school day.
As I prepare to leave Mary’s Meals later this week, after 12 joyful years of being able to serve this important mission, I’m reflecting a lot on the extraordinary privilege of days spent like that one, eight years ago, with Ellen and her family.
Having been welcomed with a big smile and a ‘Muli bwanji?’ (‘How are you?’), I sat down with Ellen and she told me – a Scotsman 7,000 miles from home – her family’s story; their causes of pain and their reasons to hope.
Despite Malawi being a country with one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the world, it was no less shattering to learn that both of Ellen’s daughters had died from AIDS, leaving behind seven children between them. Their wives gone, the children’s fathers simply upped sticks and moved away.
In her 60s, then, Ellen was directly raising a young family for the second time, including four-year-old Vincent whom she cradled closely and lovingly on her lap throughout the duration of our conversation.
“I have nothing to give the children to eat some days except some tea with a little sugar,” Ellen said, her village of Ndalama surrounded by Thyolo’s vast and lush tea estates. She continued, “But thanks be to God for Mary’s Meals.”
All seven of Ellen’s grandchildren were able to rely on the promise of our daily meals, because – providentially for the Chikeweze family – Mary’s Meals had begun feeding at both the local primary school and the nursery that little Vincent attended.
Filled with gratitude that her family would eat because of the generosity of strangers, Ellen became a volunteer cook like thousands of mothers and grandmothers in her country.
I have been blessed with many encounters like that one with Ellen these past 12 years, in different communities across Malawi, Zambia, Liberia and Kenya.
All of them begin with the kindness of a ‘Muli bwanji?’, a ‘How da body?’, or a ‘Habari yaku?’. All of them end with a sense of much optimism for what’s to come – a future where Ellen and the others’ once-hungry children can grow up well-nourished and with the benefit of an all-important education.
I have been fortunate too in my time to be greeted with many a ‘Kako si?’, a ‘Wie geht’s?’, a ‘Come stai?’ – or, closer to home, a ‘Hoo’s yersel’?’ – before learning all about the astonishing fundraising efforts taking place relentlessly across so many countries to sustain and grow this beautiful work of love.
Mary’s Meals has given me so much. I am thankful for all the happiness, friendship, support, success and deep sense of calling I have experienced in these special years in my life. While I now feel called elsewhere at this point in my professional journey, I will go on loving this mission very much.
For all the gifts Mary’s Meals has given me personally or the tangible joy it provides each day to our supporters and volunteers, this is eclipsed many times over by everything it promises and delivers for the world’s poorest children.