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Messages from Malawi: why it's the simple things in life that matter

Within hours of touching down in Malawi's commercial capital Blantyre, I hardly have time to catch my breath before I find myself being driven to a local school by Mary's Meals' expansion manager, Florian.

"We're off to see a backpack distribution," he tells me. "I warn you the children can get very excited when they receive them," he adds.

The Mary's Meals Backpack Project runs alongside the school feeding programme-which provides a daily meal to over 894,000 children every day they attend school-as an additional incentive to encourage children into education.

Schools, businesses and individuals in the UK are asked to fill backpacks with basic educational materials to send to children receiving the daily meal.

After a short car journey along a bumpy road, we arrive at Bangweccap Primary where Mary's Meals is feeding nearly 3,000 children attending the school every day.

As I get out the car, I see in the distance a truck loaded with thousands of backpacks reversing into the schoolyard.

Florian informs me that the children have no idea what they're about to receive. For most, he says, it will be their first ever gift.

I'm then led into a classroom where about 100 children are sat on the floor reciting words in English from a blackboard at the front of the class. I am immediately struck by how attentive and well behaved the children are. Every one of them seems engaged, their eyes glued to the teacher standing at the front of the class.

The teacher asks the children in Chichewa (the Malawian language) to get out their exercise books. As they do, I notice a little girl who was probably no older than 10, taking out her book from a tatty black carrier bag with several holes in-it looks as though she's been using it as a school bag for several months.

It then dawns on me how much the backpacks will mean to these children, many of whom don't even have shoes to walk to school in.

The teacher introduces us to the class: "This is Florian and Jo from Mary's Meals," she explains.

"HELLO FLORIAN, HELLO JO, YOU ARE WELCOME", the children chant in unison.

Florian tells them the good news about the backpacks. From the looks on their faces they seem confused. They begin looking at one another with puzzled looks, many unable to comprehend what is happening as the sacks of bags start arriving inside the classroom.

Then smiles begin to spread across their faces and excited chatter fills the room as the bags are handed out.

Some of the children look at the backpacks in amazement, as if they've never seen anything quite like it before. I then look around for the girl with the tatty carrier bag I noticed earlier. She's been given a brand new pink backpack and is beaming from ear to ear.

She and her friend examine the contents of their new bags. One of them finds a tennis ball, some note books and a new pair of leggings; the other has been given a ruler, some pens and pencils and some new shoes.

I wander outside and can hear classrooms across the school filled with laughter and excitement as the bags are handed out.

Patrick Masiye a standard six teacher walks over to talk to me.

"Can you pass on a message to the people that donated these backpacks?"

"Of course," I replied.

"Can you say thank you, they have made these children so happy, they're now proud kids." he says.

I suddenly felt grateful that I had the opportunity to witness first-hand the joy something small can bring the faces of so many children.

If this was day one in Malawi, I can't wait to find out what day two, day three and the coming weeks will bring.

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