Messages from Malawi: life-saving cups of phala

In her latest blog, Fatima shares the story of Kodwani, a young boy for whom Mary’s Meals is providing a lifeline in this time of crisis.

When I arrived in Malawi just over a year ago, it was hard to imagine things being much worse for the people here. Sadly, over the course of the last few months I’ve been proven very wrong.
A horrible combination of floods and drought destroyed crops and devastated harvests, leaving many families on the brink of starvation. What should be lush green fields full of maize, are instead brown and dry with small wilted crop.

As the harvesting season came to an end I visited Kanjedza Primary School, situated in the severely drought affected area of Mwanza; this is where Mary’s Meals began feeding children a few weeks before. The head teacher, Mr Leonard Thangta, spoke to me about the difference the phala (porridge) was making to the children and introduced me to a shy 11-year-old boy called Kodwani Elleson.
As we walked to his home, along a narrow dirt path winding between small mud homes, my tummy grumbled loudly and Kodwani burst into a fit of silent giggles. Attempting to redeem myself, I joked that as I was fasting for Ramadan, he’d be putting up with my grumbles for the rest of the afternoon. He proudly remarked that I wouldn’t be hearing any grumbles from him as he had just eaten his cup of Mary’s Meals phala.

After a moment of silence, Kodwani quietly asked: “Do you also begin to feel dizzy (like me) when your tummy grumbles a lot?”

I felt my heart drop as I tried to think of something light-hearted to say. Thankfully, Kodwani instantly followed his question with: “Here we are, this is my home!” As we stood outside a small mud brick home with a piece of cloth hanging at the entrance.

His elderly grandparents and guardians, Angelina Elias, 60, and Chokochani Mechiesi, 74, welcomed me warmly into their home with smiles and hugs. As farmers, the family normally harvest their own crops for food but the drought meant they harvested nothing this year.
I asked Angelina how she kept strong and continued to smile. She replied: “You being here gives me hope. It gives us a reason to smile. At least with Mary’s Meals here Kodwani receives something to eat.”
I looked at young Kodwani, who was picking at the mat we were sat on and asked what makes him the most happy. He looked up, pondering for a second before answering: “Eating Mary’s Meals phala, my only meal of the day.” 

I was struck by his answer. A few months ago, I would have got an excited “football!” or “playing games!” On returning back to Kanjedza Primary School, I asked dozens of other children the same question and they all replied in a similar way.

The situation in Malawi is truly devastating and is going to get worse in the months ahead. But it is now more than ever that I can see the incredible difference Mary’s Meals is making. Very simply, in Malawi, these meals are helping to save lives.

Millions are going hungry. Help us reach more children now.