Scotland native Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow launched a charity organization nearly 13 years ago that is now feeding one million of the world’s poorest children, each and every school day. Mary’s Meals has grown into an international charity, helping children in 12 countries, and the program’s founder says it was relatively simple to do. But, MacFarlane-Barrow asks, who will feed the other 57 million hungry children?
In 1992, MacFarlane-Barrow and his brother watched a news report on the Bosnian War, then in full swing, and were moved to action. Their efforts snowballed—as Scotlanders responded with donations of food, clothing, and medicine—and the brothers ended up delivering the aid themselves to Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a place of international pilgrimage. After delivering the goods and returning home, the donations continued pouring in, filling the old tin shed at their parents’ home, so MacFarlane-Barrow kept up his charity work. For the next 10 years, he procured $17 million in aid, helping build homes for Romanian orphans, founding mobile clinics for Liberian refugees, and supplying food and other necessities to Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Mary’s Meals began in 2002, after MacFarlane-Barrow met a Malawi woman dying from AIDS, whose eldest son, just 14 years old, expressed that his greatest aspiration in life was to have enough food and to perhaps attend school one day. The charitable Scot understood that food and education should not be things a child needs to hope for, and he set to work feeding the poorest children in Malawi, starting with a cup of porridge in the morning. In recent years the charity has grown into an international organization, supplying hot meals in some of the world’s poorest countries including Liberia, Kenya, Malawi, Haiti and India. Mary’s Meals now feeds 1,035,637 children.
CNN awarded the charity’s founder with a CNN Heroes award in 2010, when the program had reached 400,000 children fed. Just five years later, that figure has more than doubled, and MacFarlane-Barrow continues to grow the organization, while promising to keep operating costs low. He still manages the program from his father’s tin shed, and the organization puts at least 93 percent of donations directly toward charitable activities, stretching the aid as far as it can go.
Niagara Falls turned blue on Tuesday, June 2, in a special illumination to honor Mary’s Meals and celebrate the release of MacFarlane-Barrow’s book, “The Shed That Fed a Million Children,” which chronicles the roots of the organization and, maybe, inspires people to simply be better. This year, Time named him on its 12th annual list of 100 Influential People.
Although the program began with simple porridge in the mornings, the students now receive several meals a day, ensuring proper nutrition where they may otherwise go without. The meals have improved not only children’s health but also their educations. School leaders have seen performance improve and graduation numbers climb, making it possible for these children—many of whom are orphans of AIDS and other epidemics—to escape poverty.
Images via Angela Catlin and Bruno Campagiorni