Mary’s Meals feeds children facing hunger crisis in Zimbabwe 

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School feeding charity Mary’s Meals is reaching 6,000 desperately hungry children in the urban townships around Harare, Zimbabwe, as the COVID-19 pandemic creates immense challenges for highly vulnerable communities.

The Dalmally-based charity, which feeds more than 1.6 million children around the world every school day, is working with Mavambo Orphan Care to deliver an emergency food and hygiene distribution programme to the children, many of whom are living with HIV.

While schools are closed in Zimbabwe, the charity is providing a daily meal of maize porridge for families to cook at home. Good nutrition is essential for all children but especially those living with HIV whose anti-retroviral medication will not function effectively without it.

The pandemic has aggravated an already severe hunger crisis in Zimbabwe, with a recent UN report highlighting that the number of food-insecure people in the southern African nation is expected to surge by almost 50 per cent by the end of the year.

With the majority of these 6,000 children’s care-givers already living in abject poverty and relying on small businesses or market trading for survival, lockdown has left struggling parents with no employment options and zero income. At the same time, the COVID-19 restrictions have impacted farming and food supply chains, which has led to a surge in food prices and left poor families unable to feed themselves.

While starvation is the biggest risk to these communities in Harare and the Goromonzi district, great care is also being taken to protect them from the spread of COVID-19 while food is distributed. As well as take-home portions of porridge, families are being provided with soap packs and handwashing advice. Trained volunteers are overseeing the community distributions, which take place at open-air pick-up points with clear social distancing and hygiene procedures.

Nicole, 11, from the Highfield District in Harare, collects her porridge from a distribution centre at a closed school. When talking about the impact of the pandemic, she says: ‘It has really affected me because my mother is no longer employed. Now she is unable to do anything because we are always at home, and it was difficult to get food. I now feel happy that I get [Mary’s Meals] to eat.’

Alex Keay, head of programme partners at Mary’s Meals, said: ‘The situation for these communities is dire at the moment and without this programme the children we are helping to support would not be able to eat.

‘We are committed to working together with communities and trusted partners to bring the most effective help to those suffering the effects of extreme poverty and we are incredibly thankful for the support of everyone who chooses to stand in solidarity with the children we serve.’

Daniel Adams, executive director of Mary’s Meals, added: ‘Even amidst the immense challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, we are determined that our work won’t stop. The generosity of our incredible supporters means that we can keep our promise to the more than 1.6 million children who already rely on our meals, while reaching more children, like those in Harare.

‘As World Porridge Day approaches, I hope that many people will join with us to celebrate this humble dish – it is not only a lifeline to so many communities living in desperate conditions but also brings the hope that there can be a brighter future for their children.’

Mary’s Meals usually serves its nutritious meals in schools, attracting impoverished children to the classroom where they can gain an education that will one day be their ladder out of poverty. In Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia, the children are served steaming mugs of porridge enriched with vitamins to help them learn and grow. To help raise awareness of the difference this daily mug of porridge makes to the lives of hungry children, the charity celebrates World Porridge Day every year on October 10.

You can join Mary’s Meals on YouTube on Saturday, October 10, for its online supporter event, The Mary’s Meals Family Hour, at 10am. Prepare your favourite porridge dish and join members of the Mary’s Meals family from across the globe live from their kitchens! They will be sharing updates on their work and stories about the difference a mug of porridge can make to a hungry child, as well as hearing live from Malawi – where more than one million children enjoy a nutritious mug of porridge every day.