Celebrating five years of Mary’s Meals Czech Republic
To celebrate five years of Mary's Meals Czech Republic, we are republishing Magnus’ reflections from his first trip to Brno and the powerful sense of unity and action he felt from the people he met and the experiences they shared.
The discovery of a book written by our founder changed everything for Karel and Lucy, who started up Mary’s Meals Czech Republic, and what a remarkable journey they have been on ever since. Marking its fifth anniversary this week, the Czech team has grown from strength to strength over the years, inspiring communities and raising vital funds to help spread our story and support our mission.
Pivo, it turns out, is the word for beer in Czech, just as it is in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, where the summers are long and hot and where I have, on occasion, been forced to quaff one or two. The volunteers who have founded Mary’s Meals in the Czech Republic wasted no time in teaching me this word on our drive from the airport (I honestly didn’t even ask them) and it gave me quite a boost, finding myself well ahead of schedule – pretty much halfway there in fact – in learning essential Czech from a standing start.
I learned a lot of other things too, on this, my first, short visit to the Czech Republic. Especially, I learned some more about the depth of the innate goodness of people. I sometimes think I am a bit of an expert in this subject, having been, repeatedly, a witness of that innate goodness, which in lots of shapes and forms has been the unrelenting driver of the growth of our mission all these years. But the truth is that I feel ever more ignorant and inadequate when faced with the kind of startling generosity enacted here in Brno, the second city of the Czech Republic.
I was there to speak about Mary’s Meals at an annual Christian conference attended by 8000 people. Outside the gargantuan conference hall, a clutch of people, wearing familiar Mary’s Meals t-shirts, were busy serving likuni phala (made with local ingredients but tasting remarkably similar to the porridge we serve to the children in Malawi and Zambia). Milos, who had thought up the likuni phala tasting idea – and who has long supported Mary’s Meals in the Czech Republic before any formal organisation was born here – greeted me by telling me that they had already served 1200 bowls of porridge! This is just one way the group has been raising awareness of our work to provide nutritious school meals to some of the world's poorest children.
Meanwhile, inside the hall, another group of mainly young volunteers manned another table, where a constant queue moved toward a huge pile of books with the title ‘Bouda, která krmí milion dětí’ – the Czech version of The Shed That Fed A Million Children. And, yes, when I checked inside, our initial plan to take aid to Bosnia in 1992 was indeed hatched over “a pivo”.
The book was instrumental in the birth of Mary’s Meals Czech Republic, the founders of the organisation here having been passed a copy by a friend. Over a delicious lunch of apricot dumplings, Karel and Lucy explain to me that after reading the book they decided not only to found Mary’s Meals here, but to scrap their personal plans – which were at an advanced stage – to build a new family home. They show me the plans and artist’s drawing of the impressive house. It would indeed have been their dream home, on which they had worked for many years. And then their good friend Marian read the book and sold some of his land so he too could contribute to the mission. He is also one of the founding board members here.
So instead of a building a new home, Karel and Lucy are organising and funding the start-up of Mary’s Meals Czech Republic, including staff, and have bought 3000 copies of the book for distribution free of charge.
While we are talking, their 18-month-old son, Samuel, is playing on the floor beside us. He gurgles and holds up his toy house triumphantly towards us. And then I realise it isn’t a toy house at all, but an architect’s replica of the house that will never now be built. His mum and dad laugh uproariously and thank me for the chance they have been given to be part of Mary’s Meals.
I cannot answer them immediately, pretending the apricot dumpling is preventing me from doing so.