Rotary Club of Belfast

Mary's Meals

John McKennaMM 12Guest speaker John McKenna, a volunteer with the charity Mary’s Meals, in a most informative, well-illustrated and inspiring talk to the Club Monday 18 January, described its origins, development and impact. He pointed out too many children wake up and go to bed hungry; hunger remains the number one health risk in the world today killing more people each year than AIDS, malaria and TB combined. 200m children’s lives are at risk because they are malnourished, and 59m children around the world are missing school because of poverty having to work in fields, beg on street corners or scavenge among rubbish to find enough food just to survive. They are striving for every child to get one meal in their place of education and that all of those who have more than they need share with those who look for even the most basic of things cannot be realised.

It all began, like many good stories, in a pub! In 1992 two Scottish brothers Magnus and Fergus MacFarlane-Barrow, decided to organise a local appeal for food, clothing, medicines and donations of money for the conflict in Bosnia and transported, during a week’s leave from work, the donated items in a Land Rover. Having been inundated with more food, clothing etc., Magnus never returned to work and set up the Scottish International Relief Charity (SIR). However it was the words of a young boy whose mother was dying in Africa in 2000 “I want to have enough food to eat and to go to school one day” that inspired the evolution of SIR into Mary’s Meals. This simple idea has however had a big impact - Mary’s Meals is now feeding 1.6m hungry children living in 19 countries MM 03across the globe and this provision of one daily meal in a place of education (which may be the only meal they get in a day!) not only feeds the child’s body but also helps feed their mind too, giving them the energy to learn and play and provides families with a greater incentive to enrol their children in school. John pointed out that all schools in an area must participate and that their research has shown when a school provides Mary’s Meals hunger is reduced, there is improved school enrolment and attendance levels, attainment, community support for education, and children are happier! He emphasised that they are beginning to see a new generation, those once fed by Mary’s Meals who have completed their education, finding its voice by going on to become doctors, teachers and even professional athletes.

MM 07John advised it costs just £15.90 to provide a child with Mary’s Meals every school day for a whole year - that’s just 8 pence per meal and revealed that running costs are kept low as it is volunteer-based both for fundraising and at the participating schools; which means that 93% of donations go directly to feeding children. He noted that with the coronavirus restrictions families had come to the schools to collect food for a week and that this might have a follow on for the provision of meals out of school terms.

Thanking him President Ken noted the wonderful look of joy on the children's faces.

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