Mary’s Meals celebrates first year of school feeding in Zambia!

Fatima is our Communications Officer in Malawi. She recently made her first trip over the border to Zambia, where Mary’s Meals is celebrating the first anniversary of our school feeding programme in the country.

Back to all stories | Posted on 21 Oct 2015 in Blog

Chipata Township is a small yet bustling town in Zambia’s Eastern Province.  It’s a dry, dusty, orange tinted place with lots of motorcycles. Like Malawi, it shares the same warm sunshine, wake-up call of hungry goats, kind people and, more recently, Mary’s Meals.

Mary’s Meals began its feeding programme in Chipata one year ago this week. Over the course of the year the programme has more than doubled; from feeding in 25 schools across the town to now providing over 40,000 children across 64 schools with nutritious likuni phala (maize and soya porridge, fortified with essential vitamins and minerals) every school day.

I recently had the privilege of visiting some of the schools, children and communities in Chipata who now receive Mary’s Meals to see the difference it is making to their lives.  I see the programme in action in Malawi almost on a daily basis and before visiting Zambia I thought I truly understood the impact of Mary’s Meals and was fully prepared for anything I was going to see or hear.

But as we drove each morning on winding dirt roads and over dry streams, through villages where there was no school feeding, I witnessed a very different scene to the one I anticipated. Schools were half empty, almost abandoned and desperate teachers were eagerly waiting at the school gates beckoning at passing children to attend.

Young children unable to attend school occupied with daily chores

As the sound of the school bell echoed behind us, we could see young children in brightly colored zitenje (wraparound skirts) pumping water from boreholes, infants wandering around on roadsides with bloated bellies from malnutrition, their parents waving down passing cars – including ours – for casual labour. This was different to anything I’ve seen and that’s when it hit me – this is what life is like for a community without Mary’s Meals. Perhaps this is what Malawi was like when Magnus met Edward.

As we arrived at schools where the school feeding programme had recently been introduced and visited families whose children were benefitting from Mary’s Meals, the difference was incredible. Everyone, from the mothers and children to the teachers and entire community were full of life.

Children on route to Mungu Orphan School at 7.00am where they’ll receive Mary’s Meals

As the sun rose on the horizon, young girls appeared outside their homes neatly clad in their school uniforms in a hurry to complete the morning chores before making their way to school. Groups of mothers could be seen laughing and singing whilst setting up their roadside market stalls without the worry of what their children were going to eat for breakfast.  

Head teacher Mrs Sinbogani stands for a quick photo before she goes back to teaching 

And the schools were full! Headteacher of Chisitu Adventist School, Mrs Sinbogani told me: “Ever since Mary’s Meals began feeding at the school, absenteeism has reduced dramatically and the school enrollment figure has doubled.”

She broke into a broad smile and added: “Since Mary’s Meals we have had a surge in students who are hungry to learn. Mary’s Meals is feeding that hunger so they can grow to be healthy, independent and intellectual individuals. You have to continue and expand this programme throughout Zambia.”

I could see the children looked healthier. They were smiling and laughing and I couldn’t keep up with their energy levels – they seemed to have enough to concentrate in class, play games after school and then help with the evening chores at their homes.

Students at Mungu Orphan school eat their Phala filling them with energy for the rest of the day

The impact of Mary’s Meals is phenomenal and word of the feeding programme is spreading quickly through the villages of Chipata.

“So, Mary’s Meals are you coming to our school next?” asked a group of children at Dambe School as they demanded I continue to play jumping jacks with them.  While catching my breath between landing down and eventually jumping up again, I happily replied: “Well maybe if you attend school, Mary’s Meals might be there from next week. But, only if you promise to attend every day!” They stopped jumping, took in a few deep breaths and shouted at the top of their lungs, “We promise!”  And it was true, Mary’s Meals had begun training the Dambe community on how to prepare and serve the porridge and feeding was to begin the following Monday.

As the day drew to an end and the sun set over Chipata, I felt the importance and difference of Mary’s Meals. Providing a daily meal in a place of education is a simple solution to hunger but it means so much more than simply filling a belly. It creates community spirit, inspires dreams, feeds hope and is empowering individuals to a better future.  

Find out what's going on at Mary's Meals.