Shona Shea, senior content manager at Mary’s Meals, recently visited Tigray, Ethiopia, a region in a dire situation caused by drought, displacement and conflict ...

A FEW weeks ago, in Tigray, Ethiopia, I sat with mothers who are terrified of the months ahead and worried about how they will feed their children; and fathers who cried about what the war has done to their families and how they have lost all hope, and children – children who just looked at me and couldn’t say anything at all.

As a mum, I worry about my children. Sometimes if I stop and think about it too much, my need for them to be safe and well is a bit overwhelming and the thought of something happening to them is, well, quite terrifying.

READ MORE: Pat Kane: There is honour in Stephen Noon’s words

That’s why, when I visited Ethiopia, Rahwa, a young girl with a disability that I had met five years before, was one of the first children that I thought of. My biggest fear was that she may not have survived the dreadful two-year civil war given how vulnerable she already was.

When I first met her, she couldn't hold a pen. She couldn't feed herself and her two-year-old brother was feeding her. She talked about her friends, but the people she was talking about were actually her teachers.

Nowadays, Rahwa is thriving in school, not only holding a pen but writing herself. The daily servings of Mary’s Meals have helped her to concentrate in class and given her the stability she needs to further her education. Her teacher told me: “Rahwa is notably more engaged, freely interacting and playing with her peers. Previously, there was a noticeable distance among the children, but now they comfortably sit together.”

As soon as I saw Rahwa, after all these years, the relief I felt that she was alive was quite overwhelming. I instantly recognised her and seeing her sitting in class, writing and talking with her friends was really special. Those were things she could only dream of all those years ago, she spoke about her life in a very different way from the first time I met her.

Life still isn’t easy for Rahwa. She had an incredibly difficult start to life – her father left, as did her mother’s second husband due to “the burden of her disability” – and she is still a fragile and vulnerable little girl. But the change in her is remarkable, and a lot of that change can be attributed to the availability of a daily school meal from Mary’s Meals encouraging her into the classroom.

Her mother said: “I greatly appreciate the support we receive with our meals, as it eases my burdens. While the provision of meals benefits the entire community, it's especially invaluable to me. I'm relieved knowing that I don't have to worry about what to feed my children or find the time to prepare meals, as the school provides for them. They can even enjoy breakfast together with their siblings. It's incredibly helpful.”

READ MORE: Roz Foyer: Media must step up to the plate amid rise of far right

On my last day in Ethiopia, our friend and partner said that he hoped the visit had given us a renewed sense of purpose and determination, to try to provide more school meals that wouldn’t just ensure survival, but would "open up hope for a prosperous future for all our children". Despite the desperate circumstances, the parents I met dare to hope for more than scraps of food for their children.

They want them to have a better life than they have had. Isn’t that what all parents want? Like Rahwa’s mother, I want a prosperous future for my children, but there can’t be one for them while children in Ethiopia are too hungry to attend school.

Sadly, unlike Rahwa, so many children in Ethiopia and around the world are out of education because of debilitating hunger. How many futures will be lost if those of us who know fail to act?

Mary’s Meals is running an appeal, Crisis In Ethiopia. The charity’s local partner is ready and waiting to extend their school feeding programme to more schools, in areas of great need across the region. Please help us change the lives of more children like Rahwa.

To provide these desperate children with food, education and hope of a brighter future, visit: