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Forgotten Children

Grandir Dignement became part of the Mary’s Meals family in 2018.

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Grandir Dignement is one of our valued local partners in our school feeding programme, serving meals to children in detention centres in Niger and Madagascar. Many of these children, some as young as eight, are still awaiting trial and have not been found guilty of any crime.

Grandir Dignement empowers children in these detention centres by fighting for juvenile justice and working to improve educational outcomes. The Mary’s Meals school feeding programme works well alongside Grandir Dignement’s work, which strives to bring renewed hope to children in an especially vulnerable situation. Members of the team see first-hand the valuable impact our meals have within their organisation’s mission to educate children living in such difficult circumstances.

Dinot, a faciltator at one of the centres in Madagascar, says: “when there was no Mary’s Meals, the young people suffered a lot.”

They know they won’t be let down

The teaching that Grandir Dignement provides is hands-on and requires more participation than you might expect, as Fetra, an educator, explains: “For the training I give in agriculture and animal husbandry, it is important to be fit and have energy. The meals allow the young people to be efficient, attentive, and motivated. Many of the children come from poor families and they gain weight by being here. It's positive for them and it allows them to be more active during our classes.”

Josselin is a student here and agrees that the classes need a great deal of focus: "When I do additional classes I have to concentrate a lot. Sometimes I go four hours without eating, because I work too hard. But fortunately, thanks to Mary’s Meals, I don't just eat rice anymore. I love the days when we have chicken, it gives me strength.”

This is a view shared by 16-year-old Tafita, who reflects on the transformative effects the meals are having on him. "My favourite meal is the one where we eat chicken. It gives me strength, vitamins, and calories. My hope for the future is to find a job and learn to drive, because I dream of being a driver and having a big house in Antananrivo [the capital city] and a family.”

Many of the children have complex family relationships and for those who do receive visits, often their families are not in a position to bring food. Dinot says: "Families or some churches and associations give a little rice, but when there was no feeding programme, the young people suffered a lot. Many of the young people here do not have family visits so apart from Mary’s Meals, they only eat cassava in the morning (provided by the prison administration).

“The Mary’s Meals programme is a complete package, because there are fresh vegetables three or four times a week, or pulses and proteins such as meat, eggs, fish. “The children here are vulnerable. If they don't eat, they will be malnourished and won't be able to follow the activities. The young people now know they will not be let down. They love the food.”

Held without trial

Throughout the world, it is estimated (1) that 260,000 children are in conflict with the law (2). The detention of children is an unfortunate reality for societies across the globe. Aged between eight to eighteen, a great number of the children we are serving in these settings have been detained in connection with petty theft, minor or ‘status offences’ (3). Many of them, mostly boys, come from single-parent families and have faced lifelong livelihood issues, and many have been exposed to violence and exploitation while growing up. The minors are typically from the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods and rural areas in Madagascar where large parts of the population live in extreme poverty. Many of the children in the detention centres are imprisoned without trial, and challenging their imprisonment requires money they do not have. When these factors combine with a severe shortage of food, the situation for many is alarming. When these children leave detention and enter society, they may leave malnourished, often without the skills necessary to live independently.

Grandir Dignement tackle this issue head on, offering education that is designed to be as comprehensive as possible, with extracurricular skills taught after the typical day of classes. Grandir Dignement provide medical, social, and legal support, and set up recreational and educational activities. They also have programmes aimed at supporting children once they are released from detention, to help them reintegrate into society and reduce the likelihood of reoffending. The conditions that children face in detention centres in Madagascar are made worse because of broader issues across the country.

In the area of Madagascar where we work, most of the population live in poverty. Food insecurity is rife; economic and climate crises are common, and living conditions for these children before detention are likely to have been very challenging. However, dehumanising prison conditions and a lack of respect for their basic needs exacerbates their vulnerability. These children are even more susceptible to neglect, abuse, violence, and exploitation and these conditions only worsen if staffing levels are undermined by other crises in the region (4). Without vital nourishment and the opportunity to learn, the situation is bleak. Once these children are detained, they can quickly be among one of the most invisible groups in society across the world.

Growing up with dignity

Grandir Dignement became part of the Mary’s Meals family in 2018. The impact of the school feeding programme on the educational offering in the detention centres was readily apparent.

Fetra has been working as an educator for Grandir Dignement for ten years. In his words, Mary’s Meals complements their curriculum well: “The children here receive a varied menu, incorporating chicken, beef, beans, pulses, rice, and an assortment of vegetables. The vital support from Mary’s Meals means the children can focus and concentrate more. Grandir Dignement’s work helps improve social skills, gives the young people a sense of responsibility, and teaches them practical skills around food preparation, hygiene and health and safety, which will help them be more independent when they are released.”

Since Mary’s Meals has been introduced here, classrooms in the detention centres are full of focused youngsters, intent on getting an education, a welcome sight to the instructors that work there.

Fetra says that the impact the meals have had is also important for him personally: "I started working for Grandir Dignement 10 years ago. I have been there since the beginning. I have seen how their food provision has evolved over time, and I can see that the children are healthier since we started giving them complete meals, thanks to Mary’s Meals.”

Working with Grandir Dignement to continue bringing Mary’s Meals to these vulnerable children, we can ensure that stigmatised young people in Madagascar have the chance of a future with dignity.


(1):'s%20Fund,behind%20bars %20around%20the%20world. “Most countries keep no accurate records of the numbers of children who are locked up for breaking the law. Furthermore, getting a sense of the numbers of children behind bars is complicated by the fact that some governments hold children in several kinds of facilities, including adult jails and prisons as well as juvenile detention centers.”


(3) ‘Status offence’ varies by state and country but involves conduct that would not be a crime if it were not conducted by a minor. Examples of this commonly include violating a city or county curfew, underage possession and consumption of alcohol, underage possession and use of tobacco, running away, ungovernability (being beyond the control of parents or guardians), and many others. Children who commit these status offences can be held at detention centres for an indefinite period.


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