last Wednesday, January 25, was of course a day of celebration for Scotland as poems were recited and neeps and tatties were piled onto plates to mark the birthday of Robert Burns but it was also a special day at Chirnside Primary School for another reason-.
The school had been selected to launch a campaign aimed at making a difference to the lives of youngsters in the third world.
The origins of Mary’s Meals can be traced back 20 years to 1992 when two Scottish brothers Magnus and Fergus MacFarlane-Barrow, watched the TV news from the Bosnian conflict with increasing horror. They were so moved that they decided to organise an appeal for food and blankets.
They quickly gathered a jeep load, joined one of the convoys leaving the UK, and delivered the aid to Medjugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a place of international pilgrimage they had visited with their family years previously.
On returning, their garage was full of donations from people wanting to do their bit. The donations kept coming which prompted the setting up of Scottish International Relief (SIR).
Fast forward 10 years to 2002- SIR was operating a simple famine relief project in Malawi when Magnus met a family that led to a whole new area of work. The mother was dying of AIDS and lying on the floor of her hut surrounded by her six young children.
The AIDS epidemic had created one million orphans in Malawi alone and when Magnus asked the woman’s oldest son what he hoped from in life, his stark reply of - “To have enough to eat and to go to school one day” was not easily forgotten.
It was this visit that prompted the birth of Mary’s Meals and a decade on, the scheme is feeding a staggering 600,000 youngsters every day.
So while they were all caught up in the tradition of Burns Day last week, the youngsters at Chirnside also spared a thought for their peers in Africa and those who tucked into some hearty Scottish fayre put at least 3p into special donation boxes that stood next to the Burns serviettes which adorned their tables.
The average cost of a meal in Malawi is just 4p so their coppers will go a long way to feed pupils who rely on going to school not just to be educated but also to have a good healthy meal each day.
And it’s not just poverty stricken children in Africa who are boosted by the support of Mary’s Meals- their efforts have changed the lives of children in a number of continents in countries such as Albania, Bosnia and Ukraine as well.
In addition to school feeding projects, Mary’s Meals also runs a children’s home project in Romania and is currently providing an emergency response to children and adults in famine-hit Somalia.
Chirnside Primary’s head teacher, Nick Tussler said it was for all these reasons why the school was so proud to be launching Mary’s Meals at a local level, adding that the children had really taken the plight of youngsters in the third world to their hearts.
“This campaign is a fantastic opportunity for the children to learn more about the world. They’ve discovered what life is like for those not as fortunate as themselves but turned it into a real positive by getting involved in something like Mary’s Meals- the impact of the scheme is quite staggering.
“Our primary 7 students have just completed a project on the differences between Scotland and Malawi; so they’ve had the chance to compare and contrast day to day life and how the two countries’ traditions differ.”
Burns Day was the first ‘Mary’s Meal day’ for Chirnside Primary and all of the region’s primary and secondary schools.
Two more will follow before this school year is out, with all the money raised throughout the region being spent on meals for children at two schools in the Malawian towns of Chizungulire and Likole. Collection boxes will be in schools all year round, giving them ample opportunity to continue to make a real difference.
Alastair McIntyre, Scottish Borders Council’s catering services manager, added: “We are very excited to be working with Mary’s Meals and to be able to make a real difference to the lives of so many young people in Malawi. We hope our pupils will take this opportunity to develop an understanding and relationship with the adopted schools through participating in school meals.
“A small amount makes a very big difference to the adopted schools and there are many other ways that our pupils can become involved.
“As well as helping others, being part of Mary’s Meals should help the children in the region develop their own values and realise how fortunate they are for what they have here. The kids don’t get any personal gain from being involved in Mary’s Meals but they get the satisfaction of knowing that they have made a difference to children their age in Malawi.
“And this isn’t a one off initiative, we’re going to keep it going in the region for a minimum of two years. Hopefully we’ll be able to develop our connection with the country even further and adopt a third school.”