Mary’s Meals communications officer, Alison Gilchrist, reflects on her first visit to Zambia, where Mary’s Meals feeds 119,315 children every school day.  

Back to all stories | Posted on 16 July 19 in News

“Whenever children see Mary’s Meals, they see that food is there. They know that even if there’s hunger at home, they will come here and be able to eat and learn.”

This sentiment from Misozi, who co-ordinates Mary’s Meals at Mshawa Primary School, sums up perfectly what phala [porridge] means to school children in Zambia.

As a communications officer at Mary’s Meals, I read and write about the amazing way that one daily meal in a place of education can transform a child’s life. I recently had the opportunity to see this first-hand in Zambia’s Eastern Province, where we feed 119,315 children every school day. 

Children walk alongside the dusty roads I travel along as I leave early on my first morning in Zambia to visit a school that serves Mary’s Meals. It’s a considerably cool winter by Zambian standards so children are wrapped up; gloves, scarves, and some with jackets over their school uniform. I wonder what their morning has been like. Children must have some basic needs met in order to learn. Are they on their way to a school that serves Mary’s Meals? Have they had enough food to eat before they arrive at school? How long is their walk to school? 

Once at Mshawa Primary School in Kasenengwa District, it’s clear that the feeding programme is having a positive impact on life at the school and the local community. Children quickly form an orderly line outside their classroom and are led by the headteacher towards a temporary kitchen where volunteer cooks serve them phala. 

Mary’s Meals started feeding at Mshawa Primary School only a few months previously, and already the community and the school PTA has begun gathering rubble and stones to build a permanent weather-proof kitchen for the children. 

Chatting to volunteers who serve the porridge, they remarked that it is common to see children running down the road with their mug in hand eager to receive porridge. Children will occasionally forget their schoolbooks but never their Mary’s Meals mug, they noted. 

Head Teacher Margaret Undi Zulu shows me around Mshawa Primary School. She enthuses such joy as she talks about the difference in the children:

“Previously we had big challenges around absenteeism, but now with the help of porridge our teaching is more effective. No child cries for hunger in class anymore.” 

But life is often complicated here, and on the hour-long drive back to Chipata, where Mary’s Meals in Zambia is based, I see children working to fix potholes in the road. Since Mary’s Meals started feeding at Mshawa Primary School, there has been a rise in attendance. These children, who might otherwise be working or begging for their next meal like the children fixing potholes, are instead sitting in a classroom with a full stomach, learning how to read and write.