In Malawi, happiness is spelt P-H-A-L-A

Our communications officer Mary discovers why our work wouldn’t be possible without the thousands of volunteers in Malawi who give their time every day.

Mary Stokes
Mary Stokes
Communications officer, Malawi

I've been working for Mary's Meals for just over two months now and, in that time, I've been blown away by the army of incredible volunteers that make this wonderful feeding programme possible in Malawi.

The strength of the thousands of volunteers who form the backbone of our work here, has repeatedly left me in awe…and smiling!

Every school day these committed individuals, unbelievably over 80,000 them in Malawi alone, get up before dawn and walk for up to an hour in the dark to get to school to prepare and serve a piping hot cup of phala (porridge) to each and every child before the start of that day’s classes.

It’s a mega undertaking, and yet each of the volunteers are wholly committed to the task.

I recently chatted to some of the women who support Mary’s Meals in Malawi, including 51-year-old Mifa who has volunteered for a year.

Seeing how her children and those in her village are now eager to go to school, is all the motivation Mifa needs to give up her mornings to cook for Mary’s Meals. And she will continue to volunteer next year, even though her daughter will have moved on to secondary school.

“I need to continue to give the children a future,” she says emphatically. This incredible selflessness is evident in every volunteer, I have met.

Two of Mifa’s children are in, or have been accepted to, college, and she is determined her younger children will also follow in their footsteps, even if it means she has to make sacrifices.

Over the past month and a half, I’ve met women walking with buckets of water on their heads to prepare the phala. I’ve seen women stirring the enormous pots of phala with a baby strapped to their back – anything to be able to give their children, and those of their neighbours, a hot meal before school.

And it’s in talking to these volunteers, that I am coming to understand the great impact the programme is having in the country.

“I became a volunteer because it helps the children stay in school,” explains Joyce, who volunteers at Makanjira Primary School in Blantyre district. “I see how eager they are to learn because they can now concentrate in class.”

Time and time again, I have heard these strong women tell of how the phala is encouraging children go to school, and how they are growing healthier because of it. It’s a privilege to see their strength and commitment to providing a brighter future for Malawi’s children.