It’s a stark, wholly unnecessary reality that we live in a world where one in ten people are undernourished – despite there being more than enough food produced. Children are suffering most profoundly with 20% of the world’s under-fives permanently stunted by malnutrition, whilst hunger prevents millions from attending school.
I started my career as a fish farmer in Argyll, Scotland. In 1992, during the Balkan conflict, my brother Fergus and I were so moved by the scenes on television that we took a week’s leave from our jobs, loaded a jeep with aid and joined a convoy travelling to Medjugorje, in Bosnia, to distribute it. On our return, donations continued to flood in resulting in me eventually driving from Scotland to Bosnia a total of 23 times to deliver vital supplies. I never returned to my old job and instead set up a registered charity, named Scottish International Relief (SIR).
During a trip to Malawi in 2002, I met with a family whose predicament was to spark a change in not only my own life, but in the lives of thousands of others. Lying on the floor of a hut was a mother named Emma, who was dying of AIDS. Her six children were gathered around her and I asked the eldest, 14 year-old Edward what his hopes and dreams were and he answered: “To have enough to eat and to be able to go to school one day.” His response ignited the work of Mary’s Meals which, through locally-owned school feeding programmes, now feeds over 2 million children every school day in 19 of the world’s poorest countries.
World hunger is not inevitable. It can most certainly be solved. Clearly the international community believes this too, given the second Sustainable Development Goal aspires to ‘Zero Hunger’ by 2030. I passionately believe that the key to achieving this goal is universal school feeding.
Today’s hunger creates a horrible cycle of poverty that can be broken by the simple promise of a meal, bringing the hungry child into the classroom and giving them the ‘fuel’ to learn
The consistent and long-term provision of school meals to the world’s poorest children meets the immediate need of the child for food, whilst at the same time their education is enabled by serving that meal in school. In turn, that education provides a ladder out of chronic poverty and hunger. Without the promise of a school meal, millions of children are robbed of their education and their future, whilst working, begging or doing whatever they need to do to get enough food to eat. Millions more attend school too hungry to learn. In this way, today’s hunger creates a horrible cycle of poverty that can be broken by the simple promise of a meal, bringing the hungry child into the classroom and giving them the ‘fuel’ to learn.
The meals are served by local volunteers and consist mainly of locally-grown food. This is truly a locally-owned solution – and therefore sustainable. The 2 million meals served each day are funded through the support of a global grassroots movement of people who share a little of what they have so that children might eat. They do so in the knowledge that on average it costs only £15.90 to feed a child for an entire school year, largely made possible by the tens of thousands of volunteers who freely give their time to cook and serve the meals in some of the world’s poorest communities.
Mary’s Meals isn’t just a nice idea. It works. Through independently verified impact assessments and in the transformed lives of young adults who once ate Mary’s Meals at school, we have the evidence to prove it. If we are serious about finding a solution to world hunger, we need first of all, and with great urgency, to commit to every child receiving a meal each day in their place of education. In this way, we can ensure than no 14 year-old will ever think of food and education as some distant dream.