I met 13-year-old Yunis and his eight-year-old brother Frances by accident.

I was visiting a school, which serves Mary's Meals, around 50 kilometres from the commercial capital Blantyre. We made a wrong turn in the car and ended up near a small piece of farmland near the school. After stopping to ask for directions I noticed two young boys herding goats.

The boys were thin and frail, and at the time I thought they couldn't have been older than six or seven because of their tiny frames. They looked exhausted as they tended to the animals in the scorching midday sun.

Loading article content

My colleague Jacqui and I decided we should find out why they weren't in school. The older boy replied and said they didn't have any food so they had to work for a living. Having been in Malawi for a number of months now, I am realising this is a familiar trend.

Malawi - home to Mary's Meals' largest school feeding programme - remains one of the poorest countries in the world and faces huge challenges in education, access to healthcare, and widespread child malnutrition.

As a result, many children don't go to school simply because they're too hungry. Instead, children like Yunis and Frances, work on the streets or on small pieces of farmland in order to make enough money to eat. It's a huge challenge for Malawi, but one Mary's Meals is helping to overcome.

By providing a nutritious daily meal in a place of education, Mary's Meals is enabling children who would otherwise be working or begging to attend school and learn so they can reach their full potential.

Jacqui and I had a discussion about Yunis and Frances' situation and decided it was best to involve the deputy head teacher from the local school. Hudson M'bawa has worked in the area for several years and is experienced in the local culture and traditions, so he would know how to the handle the situation sensitively.

Together we travelled back to the small piece of farmland where Yunis and Frances were working to find out more about their situation. As they told us their stories it emerged the brothers were living with their elderly grandmother, who didn't have enough money to support them.

"Often parents or guardians will send children to work because culturally they don't see the benefit of education or because their poor financial situation means they need their children to work," explained Mr M'bawa.

"But if families are made aware of the goodness of education then I think this will start changing."

As we continued speaking to Yunis and Frances we discovered neither they nor their grandmother had realised that if they went to school they'd also be receiving a mug of porridge from Mary's Meals. Each school meal we provide is fortified with vital nutrients and vitamins helping children to both concentrate in class and grow up to be strong and healthy.

"I want to go to school," explained the elder brother Yunis. "I prefer that to working as I can see my friends and I can learn," he added, his eyes lighting up at the prospect that going to school could be possible.

Mr M'bawa said he would hold a meeting with their grandmother to explain the benefits of education and also that they'd be receiving food at school, reducing the financial burden on her to provide them with a meal. Mary's Meals currently feeds over 686,000 children in Malawi each day, in 516 schools across the country.

A month later we arrived back at the school. Yunis and Frances came running out of the classroom with big smiles on their faces. The two malnourished boys I saw a few weeks earlier looked like different children. They'd put on weight and their complexions looked much healthier.

"The boys have been coming to school every day," Mr M'bawa explained. "They've been taking the porridge and seem much happier".

Frances and Yunis will still face many challenges, but a daily dose of good food in school provided by Mary's Meals is going a long way by helping them off the streets and back in school, where every child belongs.