Messages from Malawi: one thing remains constant

From rural to urban, our communications officer Fatima explores the different schools where Mary’s Meals are served.

Working in Malawi I have the privilege of travelling across the country to see Mary’s Meals’ mission in action – the serving of meals every school day to the world’s poorest children.    

Realising this mission, Mary’s Meals reaches some of the most remote schools in rural areas of Malawi where hunger is common and school enrolments number just a few hundred. In densely populated urban areas, a cup of nutritious likuni phala (porridge) is also served in schools which can be filled by thousands of pupils.  

The drive to a rural school requires stable hands and quick feet as the car wobbles from side to side on rocky dirt roads. Passing scenery is filled with mountains, vast fields and clusters of mud houses with thatched roofs.  

The journey to an inner-city school is a little different. Roads are bumpy here too but they wind in and out of over-crowded and bustling narrow markets; white painted mud homes engulf hills and there are minibuses everywhere hooting at passers-by for their attention.  

On reaching an urban school like Mbayani Primary School, I’m surrounded by confident, excited children neatly clad in their school uniforms. They sing and chant ‘Mary’s Meals’ alongside ‘chamburani’ which means ‘my photo!’ as they strike poses in front of me.  

Mbayani is school to more than 10,000 enthusiastic and hungry children to whom Mary’s Meals is well-known. There are more than a dozen bricked classrooms – only some have desks and chairs. With an average of 80 children per class, committed teachers teach different pupils in the morning and afternoon to accommodate the large numbers.  

Head teacher, Mr Beard Saivelisi says: “You people are like family to them and Mary’s Meals are the reason they are no longer hungry in class.  

“Mary’s Meals is prepared by alternating volunteers in the morning and afternoon. They arrive at 6am to cook 36 pots per day! Some of these children are from very vulnerable families whose parents earn very little – for them Mary’s Meals is the only reason they continue to attend school. It fills their bellies and feeds their minds!”  

In contrast, on arrival at a rural school like Ntungulutsi on the outskirts of Blantyre, I am greeted by groups of children, some in their school uniforms and some barefooted, with shy smiles. With their cups in hand they nervously follow my every move – at first hiding from the camera and then gradually grabbing sideways glances with cheeky grins.  

Like many rural schools, Ntungulutsi is small with two bricked classrooms and four simple wooden ones. With an average of 50 students per class, lessons are often taught under the shade of a tree.  

Head teacher, Mr Patrik Partson said: “These children rarely see a car let alone a camera! A lot of them feel privileged to be receiving Mary’s Meals. 

“The phala gives the children much needed energy. It gives them the encouragement and hope that they need to travel long distances, attend school and keep happy.”  

Despite the differences between urban and rural schools, one factor remains constant: cups of likuni phala are transforming children’s’ lives and are the cause of much joy.