A group from Artemis Investment Management, tell us about their trip to see first-hand the difference Quadrathlon funds are making to impoverished children receiving Mary’s Meals.
In November, we travelled to Malawi and Zambia to visit Mary’s Meals and to witness the impact of Artemis Quadrathletes’ fundraising.
Mary’s Meals is a global movement that sets up volunteer-led school feeding programmes in some of the world’s poorest communities, enabling impoverished children to gain an education that can help set them free from poverty. It costs just £12.20 – around the same price as a single main course in a UK restaurant – to feed a child with Mary’s Meals for a whole school year, and 93% of funds are spent on charitable activities.
The funds raised through the Quadrathlon currently support four schools in the southern region of Malawi.
Our trip began with a visit to Dowa, about a 90 minute drive away from the capital, Liliongwe, where we were staying. Chiletso – the Mary’s Meals coordinator for Malawi Central Region and our guide while in Malawi – drove us to a refugee primary school where Mary’s Meals has been providing porridge since August 2007.
This was by far the largest and most diverse school we visited, with 5,190 students in attendance. Many pupils hailed from Somalia and Rwanda, but the majority were from the Congo. During our tour with the headmaster, the positive impact of Mary’s Meals was clear. Attendance is growing week on week thanks to the feeding programme.
Volunteer cooks spend around four hours each day cooking up large quantities of maize porridge, making the kitchen very hot and smoky. Despite this, the cooks were smiling and friendly and one of them even gave us a little dance! When the porridge was ready, the excitement was tangible, with children keen to fill their mugs, then hastily gulping down the meal. It was difficult to not feel a little overwhelmed at their joy.
Chiletso then drove us to Ndunje Primary School. The atmosphere here was very calm and disciplined. Mary’s Meals has only been working with the school since 2014, but the positive effects could already be seen. Attendance has risen to nearly 1,300 – as have the pass rates of students – and more pupils now continue on to secondary school than before. Classes consist of nearly 100 students, yet there was none of the restlessness we had witnessed in the refugee school. The children patiently waited in their classrooms and formed orderly queues to collect their meal.
Many children in Malawi do not have basic learning tools such as pencils and notepads. To complement its main activity of school feeding, Mary’s Meals encourages supporters to donate backpacks for the children filled with essential items such as toothpaste, pens, notebooks, flip flops, and teaspoons.
We were invited to witness a backpack distribution. The team had driven five hours from the Mary’s Meals office in Blantyre with a truck piled high with sacks of backpacks! We visited two schools to distribute the gifts: Mgonda Primary School, where more than 700 students attend from 24 villages, and Chingondo Primary School, which has 441 pupils and has been helped by Mary’s Meals for eight years.
At both schools we split into two groups and helped unload the truck. The classrooms were tightly packed and we counted the number of boys and girls in each class, sometimes two or three times just in case we’d missed anyone, the pressure to get the numbers right was immense!
The children bent down to us as they received their bag, a sign of gratitude and respect. They patiently sat clutching their new backpacks, looking a little bewildered (Mary’s Meals doesn’t inform the schools they will be visiting so the bags are a huge surprise).
Once the bags were handed out, the team started a countdown. Watching the children’s expressions change from confusion to excitement was heart-filling. There were beaming smiles all round as they pulled out the first item from their bag, and the buzz in the atmosphere was amazing. The children started chattering amongst themselves and showing their friends what they had been given. Some even started singing to say thank you!
The trip was an unforgettable experience in so many ways. It was incredibly humbling to visit Mary’s Meals, see the good work they are doing, and witness the benefits the students, schools and communities are reaping. It was especially brilliant to be involved in the Backpack Project. Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate the effect that such basic items can have on people’s wellbeing when you are physically removed from the situation, but none of us will forget the excitement and gratitude the children had when they opened up their backpacks.
We were made to feel so welcome everywhere we went and it was sad to leave such warm friendly people. We are extremely grateful to Mary’s Meals for organising an amazing, memorable trip and massively thankful to the Quadrathletes, whose fundraising is transforming the lives of these children and their families.