As southern Africa struggles through the dark days of one of the worst food crises in years, there is a steady and consistent beacon of hope radiating from an old shed in Scotland.
It’s where nonprofit Mary’s Meals is headquartered, which organizes an average of 1.1 million meals per day to children in need overseas.
Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow was a 25-year-old fish farmer in 1992 when he and his brother, Fergus, were having a pint at the local pub when they saw a news report about the war and refugee crisis in Bosnia. The brothers asked for local donations of food, medicine and other supplies, took a week off work, loaded second-hand Land Rover with supplies, and drove across Europe to help those in need.
When he came home from the life-changing journey, he founded Mary’s Meals, and still runs the global food charity from what he calls a “very lopsided and tired-looking shed” that once belonged to his parents in the remote Argyll countryside.
“I never planned to get involved in this kind of work,” MacFarlane-Barrow said. “I think Mary’s Meals just does a beautiful, simple thing that works.”
The nonprofit focuses on providing one, “very good” meal every day for children in schools in 12 countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Whenever possible, Mary’s Meals sources the food locally, buying from local farmers in the villages they serve to help the local economy. This allows Mary’s Meals to provide food familiar to the local culture.
In Benin, meals include akassa, a corn paste with beef or vegetable sauce, while a meal in Burma may include egg served with potato and noodles. In Malawi, a typical meal is maize and soya porridge fortified with essential vitamins and minerals.
The meals are served in schools as a way to encourage children to attend and get an education along with a meal.
It’s in Malawi where Mary’s Meals prepares the vast majority of its charitable meals — more than 800,000 every day – feeding roughly one in every four children in the nation. The country itself is at the epicenter of southern Africa’s current food crisis.
Two years of devastating floods and drought in the region has destroyed crops and triggered food shortages leaving half of Malawi’s population — about eight million people — hungry. While Mary’s Meals is continuing its mission, the nonprofit is working to raise awareness of the needs of families beyond the schoolchildren it feeds every day.
“Their food stores at home are empty and, in the face of their battle to survive, school can no longer be the priority – unless a guaranteed meal awaits them there,” MacFarlane-Barrow wrote recently on his organization’s website.
“It’s become normal to go one or two days without having any food at home,” Ndilibe, a 13-year-old student at Chilala Primary School (pictured below, right) said. “You worry where the next meal is going to come from. But my next meal will be the porridge from Mary’s Meals.”
Already, Mary’s Meals provides food from more than one-quarter of Malawi’s school children and works with 65,000 community volunteers to deliver them. They are uniquely positioned to understand and monitor the region’s food crisis.
The group estimates Malawi will need an additional one million tons of food aid in the coming months.
In the meantime, Mary’s Meals performs a delicate balancing act — feeding students is the only thing that is keeping some Malawian schools open, and the schools are the only place those students are getting a nutritious meal.
“The next few months are going to be extremely tough for everyone,” said WIlliam Sandram, the head teacher at Ndilibe’s school. “Without Mary’s Meals here, we would probably have been forced to close the school. Hunger is like a war. Bless Mary’s Meals for giving us some strength, like armor, to battle this hunger.”
A single donation of $19.50 pays for one child to receive a nutritious meal every school day for a year.
Even as it sounds the alarm, calling more to fight hunger in southern Africa, Mary’s Meals continues to forge that armor one meal at a time.
Share this article: