Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow grew up in Argyll, Scotland. In 1983, a pilgrimage to the Marian shrine of Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina renewed his family’s Catholic faith and led Magnus’ parents to convert their guesthouse into a retreat centre or ‘Family House of Prayer’.
Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina
Magnus and his brother Fergus were enjoying a pint in their local pub when they saw TV news reports of the Bosnian conflict. They felt moved to help those suffering.
After spending much of the night talking about ways to support the Bosnian relief effort, the brothers decided to organise a local appeal. Food, clothing, medicines and donations of money soon began to arrive at their home.
Barely three weeks later
Magnus and Fergus grabbed a week’s holiday from the fish farms where they worked, bought a second-hand Land Rover, and joined an aid convoy. They delivered the donated goods to Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a place of international pilgrimage.
A week later
Believing their good deed was done, Magnus and Fergus returned home to Argyll expecting to resume their jobs as fish farmers. But public donations had continued to flood in, filling their parents’ shed with goods.
Two weeks later
Magnus decided to give up his job and take a ‘gap year.’ He sold his small house so he could drive aid out to Bosnia-Herzegovina for as long as the public kept donating. The public did not stop and Magnus never returned to his old job. It soon became necessary to set up a registered charity, Scottish International Relief (SIR).
1992 - 2002
Over the next 10 years, SIR expanded. It began building homes for abandoned children in Romania, helped returning refugees in Liberia by setting up mobile clinics, and continued to deliver material aid to Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina as well as funding many additional projects.
Magnus met a lady called Emma while SIR was providing famine relief in Malawi. She was dying of AIDS and lay on the floor of her hut surrounded by her six young children. Emma said all that was left for her was to pray that someone might care for them after her death.
Magnus asked her eldest, Edward, what he hoped for in life. He replied simply: “I want to have enough food to eat and to go to school one day.”
Edward’s words helped inspire the founding of Mary’s Meals, which aims to provide chronically hungry children with one meal every school day.
Magnus was presented with a CNN Hero award by Hollywood actor Gerard Butler.
He praised Magnus for our work and said: “Every day Magnus lets children know that they matter, that someone thousands of miles away cares about them.”
Alongside our feeding programmes, which were reaching half a million hungry children, our emergency relief work also continued.
We joined forces with our long-standing friends in Malawi and a South African charity – Gift of the Givers – to deliver as much emergency food aid as possible to help keep more than 40,000 starving people in Somalia alive.
With school feeding having become the sole focus of its work, SIR officially changed its registered charity name to Mary’s Meals. We consist of, respect, and reach out to people of all faiths and of none.
The number of children receiving Mary’s Meals continues to grow thanks to the generosity of our supporters. We move closer to feeding one million children every school day.
Mary's Meals today
We’re now feeding 1,187,104 of the world’s poorest children every day they attend school.
Our simple but effective approach has gathered momentum and today we serve children across Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and South America.
Mary’s Meals also supports a home for young people with HIV who were abandoned as children in Romania.