As she visits our school feeding programme for the first time, new communications officer, Mary, describes why she made the move from Argentina to Malawi.

Mary Stokes
Mary Stokes
Communications officer, Malawi

Two months ago, when I announced to my friends and colleagues that I was moving to Malawi, the first question they usually asked was ‘where?’ followed by ‘why?’.

Their questions were understandable; I was just a month shy of five years living and working in Buenos Aires. I had put down roots, I drink maté without sugar, and I had fully internalised the sleep-averse lifestyle of my fellow porteños.

What they didn’t know is I’m actually the second of my family to make a move to Malawi. From 1925, my great-aunt Bertha taught in both Malawi and neighbouring Mozambique for over 30 years. As a child, I was in awe of her adventurous spirit and linguistic abilities, which it turns out we seem to share. So, when I was offered the opportunity to work for Mary’s Meals in Blantyre, I couldn’t refuse.

Unlike Argentina, here in Malawi the day begins at dawn. And that means 05:30. Thankfully, I’m an early riser, so the pre-dawn start to get to Kanje Primary School isn’t too much of a shock to the system. This is, after all, my first experience of school feeding.

As we pull into the school yard, the volunteers, dressed in their colourful wraps (or ‘chitenje’ in Chichewa) are already hard at work preparing three enormous pots of likuni phala (vitamin-enriched maize porridge). 

I am immediately struck by the truth of Malawi being the ‘warm heart of Africa’. Despite being busy, and having started before dawn, we are graciously welcomed into the kitchen, and shown in detail the fruits of their labour. When full, each pot feeds 300 children!

For each volunteer, the effort is more than worth the rewards of seeing the children in school and ready to learn. Each of Flora’s school-age children receive phala at Kanje. Choosing to speak to us in excellent English, she proudly recounts how her eldest son is now a doctor; a hope she holds for the learners now receiving Mary’s Meals here.

Open quote mark Porridge is encouraging learners to come to school. These learners will become doctors, nurses, teachers and even presidents and develop this country. Close quote mark
Flora, volunteer, Malawi

At 06:55, the school bell rings, and I see the first learners eagerly appear, mugs in hand, in the courtyard. It’s a cold morning, so for the children, many dressed in just light shirts and shorts or summer dresses, the promise of something hot seems doubly appealing. 

Thankfully, they don’t have to wait long, and just five minutes later, it’s time to eat.

With every cup served, it is such a joy to see all the children enjoy a hot meal before beginning class. 

There are stories like Flora’s in every school of this beautiful, warm country. I cannot wait to hear them. It’s the very reason I made the move from Buenos Aires to Blantyre and, so far, I couldn’t be happier to be here.