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Mary’s Meals: Argyll charity hits amazing total of TWO MILLION school meals

Mary's Meals founder Magnus MacFarlane Barrow with the mugs that serve the meals
Mary's Meals founder Magnus MacFarlane Barrow with the mugs that serve the meals

Argyll charity Mary’s Meals has announced it has reached the astonishing landmark of serving food to two million children in some of the world’s poorest countries every school day.

Mary’s Meals helps kids in deprived places across four continents attend – and concentrate – at school by providing food.

And as of today, the Dalmally-based charity is getting that daily meal to 2,058,099 children in 19 countries.

Not bad for a project that started with a headcount of 200 in 2002.

And not to mention their founder, Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, started his first international aid initiative from a shed in his dad’s garden.

Here, we talk to Magnus about that golden two million figure, his book about the charity, plans for the future – and how on earth Hollywood hunk Gerard Butler became the Mary’s Meals poster boy.

Two million and counting – but how?

Magnus always wanted to keep it simple. He saw need in his very first project in Bosnia in the early 1990s – the one started from his dad’s shed.

And what he saw was a very specific way to help children. He realised if every child got a meal at school, not only were they fed for the day, they were also at school and able to learn.

And, ten years after Bosnia, Mary’s Meals was born.

Mary’s Meals founder Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow

Magnus, 53, said: “Today, two million children ate Mary’s Meals in a place of education.

“We never would have believed this when we began back in 2002 – it’s an amazing thing.

“It’s really humbling – every single one of those meals is possible because of little acts of love.”

The landmark achievement will be officially celebrated later today in the remote desert region of Turkana, Kenya.

But Magnus warned: “There is no sense in celebrating this as a job done, it’s quite the opposite.

“In one sense, we’re never where we want to be – we have lengthening lists waiting for help.

“But it shows the innate goodness of people. I’m overwhelmed by people’s generosity.”

Who does Mary’s Meals two million help?

The obvious answer is millions of children. Huge numbers are in Africa, but also in education centres in India. The children of migrant workers in Thailand are fed regularly, as do young people trying to learn in prisons in Niger and Madagascar. Those in Syria and Haiti are also helped.

Gift, 11, attends Kabila Primary School in Zambia.

Before Mary’s Meals reached Gift’s school, he would often skip lessons and go scavenging for food.

Now, whatever is happening at home, he knows that he can rely on porridge every day at school.

He said: “Before Mary’s Meals came, I would go home during the school day and see if I could find groundnuts to eat.

“I don’t feel hungry at school anymore. I get energy when I eat the porridge.

“I want to make a better future for myself. School is the only way to do that.

“When I finish school, I want to be a doctor and I want to be in a position where I can help my family.”

Why Mary’s Meals?

The photos and words of children like Gift are a clue – but Magnus says it was a simple idea, not a grand one.

He added: “I didn’t have a masterplan. It just became the passion in my life.

“I spent time in the world’s poorest countries seeing food poverty was stopping children going to school.

“It’s a very simple intervention to break the cycle of poverty.

“I believe more than ever our vision that every child should receive a meal in their place of education.”

Gerard Butler: How to snare a celebrity

Quite a few years ago, Mary’s Meals made quite a stir with videos and pics of Hollywood star Gerard Butler being handsome and visiting one of the Mary’s Meals projects in Africa (not necessarily in that order).

Gerard Butler visits one of the Mary’s Meals projects

But the question is: Even with the Scottish connection, how did a charity-in-a-shed get one of the planet’s best-known actors to take on their cause?

The answer is typical of the charity’s outlook and involves Gerard’s mum.

In 2010, Magnus was made a CNN Hero and received his award from Butler.

Magnus remembers: “I had never met him before, but afterwards he was joking about having to get a photo of me with him to send to his mum – he made it very funny.

“He has done lots for us.”

From Inverness to Africa – with love

Peter Harkins from Inverness has been making every day of his retirement count as a lead volunteer for Mary’s Meals.

Peter, 74, said: “I’ve been a supporter of Mary’s Meals since its early work. The charity made a simple idea work in such a constructive way, while being efficient and cost effective.

After a lifetime in the motor trade, father-of-five and widower Peter now gives talks about Mary’s Meals to schools, churches and organisations.

He also collects backpacks for children in Malawi – donated by people in and around Inverness – before driving these to the charity’s warehouse.

Volunteer Peter Harkins

He added: “It’s all about ‘boots on the ground’ and every little act counts.

“It’s very rewarding to know that my boots – along with so many others – are working for more than two million youngsters in poverty-stricken and war-torn countries, giving them a chance in life.

“I’m proud see the charity’s simple idea working. Reaching this new feeding figure shows there’s no stopping Mary’s Meals.

“Bring on the next million.”

The charity, the book….

The two million milestone has prompted changes to another story – Magnus’s bestselling book The Shed That Fed A Million Children.

It has been updated with a new preface, chapter and epilogue and will be published by HarperCollins at the end of the month.

To find out more about the work of Mary’s Meals, volunteer or order a copy of book, visit marysmeals.org.uk

To join tonight’s celebration at 7pm, go to marysmeals.org/2-million

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