THE famously generous Scots have dug even deeper over this past Covid year to help out those less fortunate than ourselves in the developing world.

And few have seen the benefits more than Argyll-based Magnus ­MacFarlane-Barrow, founder of Mary’s Meals which provides food for schoolchildren.

This year has been particularly challenging, with schools around the world forced to close because of the pandemic. But Mary’s Meals has risen to the task and is reaching1.6 million children, whether at home or at school.

He said: “Our model is all about serving a daily meal in a place of ­education and suddenly places of ­education are closed for months on end, and while there may be good ­reasons for public health you can’t just stop feeding children.

“We began providing rations of food to take home so that we ­managed to keep our promise to the children.”

The fuel for charity work in the developing world, of course, is the money which we donate, and with Covid triggering a global economic recession the worry was that funds would dry up.

READ MORE: How Mary's Meals has helped one family living in Liberia through Covid

MacFarlane-Barrow has been bowled over by the support. He said: “There was the fear that many of our supporters were facing new economic uncertainties and new hardships, probably many good reasons to stop supporting.

“And then our experience has been completely different. It not only held up, it grew in an incredible way.

“One of our core values for Mary’s Meals is that we have the confidence in the innate goodness of people and that’s something we have seen everywhere and in Scotland as always; that despite everything people are not ­going to forget the poorest ­children on Earth. It’s a really remarkable thing how Scotland has donated such a ­disproportionately high figure to Mary’s Meals. It is something that was born here, rooted here and I’m still sitting here in my wee shed in Argyll.

“It does seem that there is a ­tremendous pride in Scotland and ownership of this amazing thing.”

That is borne out, too, in the high-profile supporters who champion the charity.

The National: Magnus ­MacFarlane-Barrow, founder of Mary’s Meals which provides food for schoolchildrenMagnus ­MacFarlane-Barrow, founder of Mary’s Meals which provides food for schoolchildren

HOLLYWOOD superstar Gerard Butler, who was born in Paisley, has been front and centre of a video promoting the charity.

MacFarlane-Barrow said: “Gerard has become a good friend and he is a good man. And to be perfectly honest he would rather not be doing things in front of the camera but he does it because we ask him.

“And he knows that that is what is going to help us feed more kids.

“But he is just another genuine supporter of Mary’s Meals. He just loves our mission. He believes in it so he is just doing what he can in his particular position with his possibilities to help us, and it has been a huge help.”

The reach of Mary’s Meals has grown over the past 20 years since Magnus and his brother Fergus founded the charity. Their own story of spiritual awakening has been oft-told, of how they had been inspired by the sufferings of the people of the Balkans on a visit to the Marian shrine of Medjugorje, in the 1990s, to start a charity drive which later became Mary’s Meals. And how the family converted their guesthouse at home in Argyll into an international “family house of prayer”.

Today Mary’s Meals feeds children in 19 countries: Malawi, Liberia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Haiti, Kenya, India, South Sudan, Uganda, ­Ethiopia, Benin, Lebanon, Syria, ­Myanmar, Thailand, Ecuador, ­Madagascar, Romania and Niger. 

In Malawi, home to their ­largest school-feeding programme, the schools are currently closed but they are closely monitoring the situation.

In Madagascar, they are reaching 11,042 hungry children with their daily meals.

South Sudan has been particularly hard hit with rising numbers of Covid-19 cases and only children in their last year of primary school remain in classes.

Liberia, from where Jefferlyn, her mother Martha and father Jeff, featured in our case study below, hail has seen a brutal impact on children from the 14-year civil war.

And it forced most of the country’s children out of the classroom and destroyed the majority of schools. But still Mary’s Meals provides daily meals across the country.

ETHIOPIA is at the most clear and present danger and Mary’s Meals launched an emergency appeal last month for the Tigray region because of the civil war there.

Working with partners the Daughters of Charity, they have been able to distribute food parcels to around 3000 people.

The pandemic has taken a particularly heavy toll on those working and living in the developing world trying to deliver charity, both healthwise and in terms of poverty.

MacFarlane-Barrow reflected on their struggles, saying: “We’ve know people in our own teams who have had Covid. And there’s sadly a clear impact on the world’s poorest countries, economically, from Covid – signs of increased poverty, increased hunger, so that the need for Mary’s Meals is greater than ever. If we ­needed any more motivation in going forward with this mission and seeing it grow, then this is it.”

Mary’s Meals recognises the ­importance of education within the developing world in helping families out of poverty and has seen, too, how difficult it is to school during the ­pandemic.

MacFarlane-Barrow added: “We’ve all been in the same boat trying to learn how to home school and the like. But clearly there is a big disadvantage in the world’s poorest ­nations in terms of the lack of internet and computers – the types of things we take for granted.

“In some countries there has been response in terms of educational ­programmes on the radio to help ­parents, so it hasn’t just dropped off. The passion for education in the ­developing world is huge because they will know that that is the one ladder out of poverty.”

MacFarlane-Barrow believes the pandemic, while hitting us hard, may also have softened many in the ­developed world and made us think about others’ suffering more.

He said: “Last year in the ­pandemic all of a sudden those of us who had never thought of it before found our kids out of school and even ­people start to get worried about food ­supplies in supermarkets, and it makes you think about things in a ­different way.

“That can be no bad thing in the long run to think about all those ­parents who every day have to ­struggle with having to get their kids to school or every day are struggling with hunger.

“So I do think that any of us would wish for this, that is for sure, but I do think this pandemic does give us some opportunity to reset things and think of certain things in a different way.”

A message from Mary’s Meals: From the mums in the UK whose food has nourished and comforted us throughout our childhoods, including those who volunteer and fundraise for us, to the women who cook and serve our daily meals for children in their local communities, this Mother’s Day we celebrate them all.

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