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Global charity Mary’s Meals expands school-feeding program to Mozambique

Children are pictured in an undated photo posing for a photo in in Mozambique. Mary's Meals, a global charity organization committed to ending child hunger, has expanded its school feeding program to Mozambique, a country reeling from an El Niño-induced drought and devastating floods that continue to plunge millions of people across Southern Africa into extreme hunger. (OSV News photo/courtesy Mary’s Meals)

(OSV News) — Mary’s Meals, a global charity organization committed to ending child hunger, has expanded its school feeding program to the southern African country of Mozambique — a place reeling from a climate change-induced drought and devastating floods that continue to plunge millions of people across southern Africa into extreme hunger.

The charity currently serves 2.4 million children worldwide by providing daily school meals in regions where various factors hinder access to education, including hunger, conflict and weather-related disasters.

Over 1.5 million children already benefit from Mary’s Meals in Mozambique’s neighboring countries, such as Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi — each of which has declared a state of emergency due to drought.

The expansion into Mozambique aims to bring vital nutrition to more than 5,000 children residing in the Mabalane District of Mozambique’s Gaza province, according to Mary’s Meals Catholic founder and CEO, Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow.

“We always want to reach the places where life is most difficult for children, where people are suffering the most,” MacFarlane-Barrow told OSV News.

“We know that a child who is hungry can’t focus or learn. Often, hunger prevents children from going to school. School meals address the immediate need for food and access to education,” he said.

The Mozambique program was launched May 20 across 30 schools as a collaborative effort between Mary’s Meals and the Mozambique School Lunch Initiative, a local nongovermental organization.

MacFarlane-Barrow said it will be critical for a country where 38% of children under 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition.

According to the Global Survey of School Meal Programs, only 3% of schoolchildren received school meals in Mozambique in 2021.

“Estimates show that less than 5% of children at the grade-three level are achieving sufficient competency in literacy and numeracy, and approximately 19% of all school dropouts are associated with chronic malnutrition,” MacFarlane-Barrow said.

Mozambique is the 11th African country and the 17th in the world where Mary’s Meals is involved in providing schoolchildren with meals.

Mozambique’s needs in this regard are huge. The country has endured drought and several tropical cyclones since 2007, and 65% of its people still live below the poverty line.

“We know that poverty and hunger affect the most vulnerable, and often, that is children. It also impacts their ability to gain an education, which can help break the cycle of poverty. School-feeding programs are an effective way to alleviate immediate hunger while promoting access to education,” MacFarlane-Barrow told OSV News.

In a comprehensive five-year impact study, Mary’s Meals evaluated the effectiveness of its school-feeding programs across three African nations: Zambia, Malawi and Liberia. The combined reach of these programs extended to over 1.5 million children.

“The study showed that in schools where meals were provided, school enrollment increased by an average of 25%, and in Malawi, there was a reduction in children leaving school early due to hunger from 29% to 12%. In Zambia, the percentage of children reporting that they never had trouble concentrating rose from 35% to 75%, and in Malawi, the percentage of children who felt happy at school rose by 25%,” MacFarlane-Barrow told OSV News.

He said that in Kenya, the charity expanded its school-feeding program to 60,000 schoolchildren in the Turkana region.

Before that, 74% of children reported being hungry at school, the founder of the charity pointed out. In the post-expansion studies, that number dropped to 3%, while 96% of students reported that they concentrate “well” or “very well” in school following program implementation.

Additionally, 81% of children didn’t leave school early because of hunger, and 68% of households reported a change in their child’s health, including increased weight, happiness, energy, fewer illnesses and improved general health, MacFarlane-Barrow pointed out.

The founder emphasized the organization’s commitment to sustainability, highlighting the collaboration with the Mozambique School Lunch Initiative as a critical step toward achieving lasting impact.

Such collaboration, he said, ensures that there is “a consistent food supply, volunteers to help deliver school meals, and program monitoring and support.”

He said MSLI’s network of local farmers ensures that agricultural production meets school needs, while Mary’s Meals provides financial support, training and monitoring so health and educational outcomes can be evaluated.

“Our goal is a future where children and communities, equipped with an education, are set free from poverty and dependence on aid,” MacFarlane-Barrow said.

Ngala Killian Chimtom writes for OSV News from Yaounde, Cameroon.

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