Greg Mortensen became one of my hero’s after I read “Three Cups of Tea” and learned more about him. Now I support and promote his work through his charities, Central Asia Institute, Pennies For Peace and The Girl Effect whenever I am given the opportunity.
Today, however, I have learned about the good works of another man that I would like to share with you. Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, a Scotsman who founded Mary’s Meals in 2002 which feeds over 400,000 children in 15 countries around the world.
It all began with an idea born in a pub as he and his brother Fergus watched a news story about refugee camps in war torn Bosnia in 1992. At that time the two brothers were salmon farmers. They had visited Bosnia as teenagers and remembering the warmth of the people in Bosnia, wanted to do just one small thing to help. So they both took a week off from work and set about collecting food, clothing, medicine and blankets and loaded it all in an old Land Rover. They then drove to Bosnia, delivered their goods and came home thinking they had accomplished their one small good deed.
Arriving home, however, they found that people had continued to give a mountain of goods while they were gone. "I was touched by the overwhelming generosity of others," MacFarlane-Barrow remembers. "I saw all of those donations in our family home and thought, 'Wow, people really are good,' and it inspired me to be good too." During the Bosnia war he would return to Bosnia 22 more times delivering goods. Magnus then quit his job and sold his house after giving much thought and prayer and dedicated himself to helping people in need.
Mary’s Meals, named after the Virgin Mary, came to be in 2002 after working in Malawi where he met a teenager who just wanted a decent meal and to go to school. The idea behind Mary’s Meals is to provide a daily meal at school usually consisting of a mug of maize-based porridge. A meal that helps students focus on and continue their studies. "Pass rates go up dramatically in the schools where we start providing Mary's Meals," he says. "We've seen huge improvements in attendance rates and academic performance."
The program is now in 500 schools in 15 countries. The most recent challenge came with the earthquake in January in Haiti. So much of the infrastructure they relied on was destroyed which in turn caused them to expand their mission now feeding about 2000 elderly Haitians and rebuilding eight schools and creating temporary classrooms. They also provide additional food and medicine to the community of Cite Soleil.
MacFarlane-Barrow is driven by his faith but says: "We are very careful to never link feeding and faith. We serve those who are in need ... period. When I think of Mary's Meals I think of it as a series of lots and lots of little acts of love. I've learned ... that every small act of kindness does make a difference."