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Partner Spotlight: Mary’s Meals

Steven Harvie

A lifeline in tough times

Mary’s Meals is one of the partners that are receiving funds through student’s participation in the Hunger Challenge. Mary’s Meals sets up school feeding projects in some of the world’s poorest communities, where poverty and hunger prevent children from gaining an education. Meet two young people impacted by their programs, Simeon and Yvonne.

Simeon, 10 years old

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Many families in Simeon’s community will go hungry this year. The crops that most people in this part of Malawi depend on for their survival have not grown well and the harvest is expected to be poor. Simeon’s parents are in the process of picking maize and pigeon peas on their small piece of farmland. So far, only two bags of food have been harvested. It will not be enough to keep their four children’s tummies from rumbling over the winter months. Thankfully, no matter how little there is to eat at home, 10-year-old Simeon is guaranteed a filling and nutritious meal each day at school. “Porridge takes away my hunger,” he says with a smile. “When I come to school hungry, it gives me strength. I concentrate better in class when I have eaten.”

Early every weekday morning, a group of volunteers arrives at Ng’onga Primary School to prepare huge pots of steaming porridge for more than 850 children. The food is served in colorful plastic mugs, which Simeon and his friends clutch eagerly in their hands. When times are tough, the promise of Mary’s Meals offers a lifeline for families struggling to make ends meet. This term, Simeon was one of the top students in his class. “School is important because it helps you make your future,” he says. “My favorite subjects are math, English and Chichewa. I want to be a doctor when I finish school, so I can help sick people.” Once he’s done his homework, Simeon likes to play hide-and-seek, or enjoy a game of football with his friends. “My best friend is Lloyd,” he says. “We look after each other and share food and money when the other doesn’t have anything.” Daily school meals fill Simeon’s empty stomach, helping him to gain a precious education, enjoy his childhood, and follow his dreams.

Yvonne, 11 years old

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Yvonne would like to be a teacher when she finishes school so she can educate other children growing up in Malawi. She recognizes the importance of an education and her favorite subjects at her rural Kalira Primary School are English and Chichewa, the official languages spoken in Malawi. Yvonne, 11, wakes up before sunrise and carries out household chores before leaving for school on an empty stomach. At school, Yvonne receives a daily mug of porridge from Mary’s Meals. The food is helping to attract children to the classroom where they are able to learn. “Porridge makes me full. I don’t feel hungry anymore,” said Yvonne. “It tastes really good. When I have eaten, I can listen attentively in class, and understand what the teacher is saying.”

Yvonne’s family grow maize, sweet potato, ground nuts and pigeon peas, however this year’s harvest wasn’t good and they often struggle to find enough food to eat. Even with Yvonne’s father working away in Johannesburg, it’s clear that resources are tight for the family. The headteacher of Yvonne’s school says that the hunger situation is bad this year given the poor harvests.

When we meet Yvonne, she is wearing her school uniform despite it being a non-uniform day, suggesting that she might not have another outfit she could readily wear that day. She has no coat, jumper or shoes on even though it is raining on and off and quite cold that morning. Her uniform however is very neat. Talking about the future, Yvonne said: “The thought of finishing school and getting a job makes me happy.”

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Students’ efforts through the Hunger Challenge will support the expansion of school-based feeding programs in Malawi and India will allow 10,256 children to receive a meal every school day in their place of education for an entire school year.