Photo provided by Mary’s Meals: Mavambo partner, Nov 2020
Mary’s Meals works in 19 countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and the Caribbean. The charity provides life-changing meals to some of the world’s poorest children every day they attend school. It is a simple idea that works. The promise of a daily meal attracts hungry children into the classroom, where they receive a basic education that can provide an escape route from poverty.
One of the countries it works in is Zimbabwe. Oak’s first grant to Mary’s Meals in Zimbabwe, made in 2018, supported a school-feeding programme in Matabeleland North, a province in the west of the country. These efforts helped reduce hunger, and promoted access to and participation in school.
The aim of the project was to help increase community support for education, and provide families with a social safety net in times of food insecurity. By September 2019, which marked the end of the first year of the project, 18,302 children in 40 schools in Matabeleland North were receiving school meals.
During the Covid-19 crisis in 2020, hunger and need had reached acute levels in many countries. This includes Zimbabwe, where the loss of daily meals when schools closed was a problem for many children and their communities.
The city of Harare, Zimbabwe, was one of the areas worst affected by Covid-19 in the country, with 40 per cent of all recorded cases. The restrictions put in place by the Government to mitigate the spread of the virus prevented many Zimbabweans living in urban areas from earning a living. Surveys conducted in 2020 indicate that nearly 500,000 Zimbabwean households have at least one member who lost her or his job, causing many households to fall into poverty and worsening the plight of the existing poor. This lack of income has led to Harare experiencing increased levels of food insecurity.
Mary’s Meals sprung into action during the lockdown in 2020. Staff tried to find ways to reach children at their homes, working with governments, community leaders and other not-for-profit organisations. One of the organisations that Mary’s Meals worked with in Harare was Mavambo Orphan Care (MOC). Through MOC’s network of community health workers, they worked to reach as many children as possible with nutritious meals, despite the restrictions.
“Coronavirus has affected us in terms of food security, as we are not able to access three decent meals as before,” says vendor Mercy Mutuwa from Harare, who received meals from MOC. “I’m a full-time vendor and our chances to trade have been reduced. I was relieved to know that MOC will be supporting us with food. These meals will go a long way.”
“We are very glad to be working with Mary’s Meals to bring urgent support to families during this time of crisis,” says Danny Gomwe from MOC. “The food is making a world of difference to vulnerable children, especially those living with HIV who need good nutrition to ensure their antiretroviral medication is effective. The need for food in these communities far outweighs available food, so the support we are working together to provide is life-saving.”
As schools reopen, Mary’s Meals is able to serve daily meals at school to thousands of children once again, giving them the energy to learn and thrive. As of 2021 Mary’s Meals is now reaching 74,336 children across Zimbabwe. If you want to find out more about Mary’s Meals, please visit marysmeals.org.uk, or watch this video. Oak’s grants to Mary’s Meals fall under our Special Interest Progamme (SIP), which reflects the Trustees’ interests in making dynamic, diverse, large, innovative, and challenging grants. You can read more about the SIP programme here.
 World Bank– Zimbabwe Economic Update: Overcoming Economic Challenges, Natural Disasters, and the Pandemic: Social and Economic Impacts, June 2021, Issue 3