A FRIENDLY breeze dilutes the thick, hot air as Esther Mataka sits outside her home in Chipini, a rural village in Southern Malawi.

There’s a slight scent from the eucalyptus trees that surround the property. The trees make silver lines against a backdrop of primary colours - an unbroken blue sky, the flame red of flowers on a royal poinciana tree.

Mataka is talking of her granddaughter with the same sense of pride that unites grandparents the globe over.

Miracle Chikole, seven years old, is in standard three at the nearby Chipini Primary School and she, we’re told, is a keen student and bright young girl.

HeraldScotland: Press pics showing visit to Malawi visiting various schools, where Mary's Meals serve their school meals, to mark the 20th anniversary where the charity began. Location: Chipini Primary School. Pic shows: Esther Mataka at her home.

“Miracle is such a well behaved child who loves school," Mataka says, speaking with expressive hand gestures.

“She refuses to miss school - there is nothing that will stop her going.

“After school she also has extra part time lessons.

“I hope Miracle will be independent and become a medical worker when she is older.”

Mataka has ambitions for Miracle and the schoolgirl has big shoes to fill. Her grandparents, Esther and Wilson, who have been married for 45 years, raised eight children in this small house and all have their own success stories.


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Two are teachers, one at Chipini Primary; one is a journalist in Blantyre, the nearest city; another is a social and development worker with the ministry of agriculture.

Another grown up child is a medical worker at one of the district hospitals, another is an electrician, while her youngest son is studying crop science at college.

HeraldScotland: FREE TO USE PICS. October 2022. Press pics showing visit to Malawi visiting various schools, where Mary's Meals serve their school meals, to mark the 20th anniversary where the charity began. Location: Chipini Primary School. Pic shows: Esther Mataka

As we talk, a small lizard dances its way along a rock, stopping to lounge and flick his tail.

Around the small holding are wooden structures built for the animals: a dookit for pigeons, a pen for the goats, another for the chickens.

The royal poinciana trees, native to Madagascar but now general across hot climates, are also known as flamboyant trees.

Mataka has a Jacaranda tree in the garden too, its violet flowers blooming spectacularly.

“I love being here because of the trees,” Mataka says, “They provide shade and they also provide shelter.

“Every day I ensure the trees are watered and not cut down.”

It is, on its surface, idyllic and peaceful, but the reality is a hard life of scarcity and constant work. Wilson Mataka is a tailor in the local trading centre and, despite being well into his 60s, still heads to work every day.

His wife farms the land and tends to the animals, helped by Miracle’s mother, who also lives with them.

Inside the small brick house armchairs sit on a bare concrete floor and bedrooms off to the sides are covered by makeshift curtains; one is cloth printed with the logo of an international aid organisation.

HeraldScotland: FREE TO USE PICS. October 2022. Press pics showing visit to Malawi visiting various schools, where Mary's Meals serve their school meals, to mark the 20th anniversary where the charity began. Location: Chipini Primary School. Pic shows: Esther Mataka

It is dark and cool and a picture of Jesus hangs on the wall. He is kneeling with outstretched arms, his face tilted up to gaze into a sunbeam.

Their adult children are now in a position to help out financially, but the fuel crisis is biting and her son, who has a car and would normally drive out regularly to see them, can’t afford the fuel.

Currently visits are few and far between and the couple miss them.

Food can also be scarce and child malnutrition a widespread problem. In this rural village, 20 years ago when the couple’s children were at school, the area was gripped by famine caused by acute food shortages.

But it was here that the Scottish-based charity Mary’s Meals began its school feeding programme, simultaneously in Chipini Primary School and in the urban setting of the town of Chilomoni.

The premise was incredibly simple: give children one meal a day to encourage them to come to school and let them learn on a full stomach.

Early every morning the pupils are given a hot cup of Likuni Phala, a porridge of maize and soya fortified with vitamins and minerals.

HeraldScotland: Schools where Mary's Meals serve their school meals, to mark the 20th anniversary where the charity began. Location: Chipini Primary School. Pic shows: children queuing for their morning porridge.

Mataka’s two eldest children were too old to benefit from the Mary’s Meals programme but her six other children and now Miracle have seen its life-changing effects.

“I will say everything good as far as the school feeding programme goes because I have really seen the benefit for my family,” Makata says.

“Most of our meals are twice a day, mainly lunch and dinner but we don’t have the ability to manage the breakfast.

“When Miracle eats porridge at school she can concentrate but I would not be able to provide food on a day to day basis.

“Myself and my husband did not go to school but because of that we pushed up our kids to accelerate through education and Mary’s Meals feeding programme has really eased the process.”

Mataka, a devout Catholic, wears a small gold cross around her neck on a chain of blue beads, her only adornment.

The grandmother tells me she believes her family’s success is due to the grace of God, and who can say for sure. Certainly hard work by human hands has had a lot to do with it too, and support from the Mary’s Meals feeding programme.

HeraldScotland: Press pics showing visit to Malawi visiting various schools, where Mary's Meals serve their school meals, to mark the 20th anniversary where the charity began. Location: Chipini Primary School. Pic shows: children queuing for their morning porridge.

Deputy headteacher at Chipini, Godswill Chikomo, is well aware of this hard graft. As Mary’s Meals set up in his school, in January 2003, the roll has risen to 1465 pupils and the drop out rate of children has plummeted.

The 39-year-old said: “It has been a great help to the school and the community.

HeraldScotland: FREE TO USE PICS. October 2022. Press pics showing visit to Malawi visiting various schools, where Mary's Meals serve their school meals, to mark the 20th anniversary where the charity began. Location: Chipini Primary School. Pic shows: headteacher,

“It has been of great relief to the parents because they don’t need to panic, they know the children will have food to eat.

“Many of the learners come here because they know they are not going to just learn, they are going to eat.

“Children here are vulnerable. Most of the parents don’t work and they rely on farming but with the climate here it is too hot for much success with the crops.”


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For many of these learners the porridge will be the only meal they have in a day, waiting 24 hours to return to school and eat again.

Two years ago, when things were particularly hard in the community at the start of the pandemic, the feeding programme had to be briefly suspended when the store room was broken into and the porridge stolen.

Chikomo added: “We saw then the real importance of the programme because we had to suspend the feeding and the roll immediately dropped.”

Florence Mbasa has seen the feeding programme from all sides. Sitting with her infant, five month old Latifah, in her lap she talks of the benefits of Mary’s Meals to her family.

HeraldScotland: FREE TO USE PICS. October 2022. Press pics showing visit to Malawi visiting various schools, where Mary's Meals serve their school meals, to mark the 20th anniversary where the charity began. Location: Chipini Primary School. Pic shows: Florence

Mbasa attended Chipini Primary from 2001 to 2009 and she remembers how hard it was to attend school and learn before the feeding programme began.

Her parents also relied on farming to feed their three children but they could afford only one meal a day, skipping breakfast and lunch to wait for dinner.

The 38-year-old, now a mother-of-four, said: “I remember being so excited when the feeding programme started because my parents could not afford a morning or lunchtime meal for us.

“The porridge made a big difference here because before the porridge families would miss school.

“Previously when there was no porridge we would abscond from school because we were so hungry.


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“But when the porridge came we would all come to school together knowing we would get a meal here.”

Mbasa runs a shop now, using the maths and life skills she learned at school, and sells small items: soft drinks, rice and beans, body lotion and soaps.

The fuel crisis is hitting business hard, the cost of bringing the goods from the wholesaler in Blantyre has risen and so her prices have to rise too.

She said: “I also stock cell phones, and radios. But it’s hard for people here in the village to buy a phone.

“I might have the phone in my shop but it might stay a while before somebody buys it.

“Mostly here business is hard. When people have sown their crops and they have reaped, then you have business but with the hike in the cost of commodities the business is not doing well.”

Mbasa adjusts her dress to breastfeed Latifah as she talks about how hard it would be for her family without Mary’s Meals.

Sometimes, when business is good, she can give her children a little money for snacks, but at other times she can hardly feed them at all - a story universal to Chipini.

She adds: “I am worried about the future, I am worried about what the future will be like, especially because my business is not doing well.

“As a parent sometimes I lack and do not have enough to give to the children but the children do not complain because they know they will be coming to school to get porridge.”

HeraldScotland: FREE TO USE PICS. October 2022. Press pics showing visit to Malawi visiting various schools, where Mary's Meals serve their school meals, to mark the 20th anniversary where the charity began. Location: Chipini Primary School. Pic shows: children

Mary’s Meals provides a daily meal in a place of education to the world’s poorest children in 20 countries, including Ethiopia, Haiti, Malawi, South Sudan, Syria and Zimbabwe.

Make a donation until January 31, 2023, and it will be doubled, up to £1.5 million by a group of supporters, meaning Mary’s Meals can reach even more hungry children around the world with life-changing, nutritious school meals.

A donation of £15.90 to Mary’s Meals will feed a child for a whole school year.

To help hungry children, call 0800 698 1212 or see www.marysmeals.org.uk to donate online.