By Daniel Adams

THE county of Turkana, in north-west Kenya, is among the poorest, most vulnerable and most chronically undernourished in East Africa.

My recent experience of flying into Lodwar, Turkana’s largest town, felt both extraordinary and disconcerting. A parched palette of beige, brown and yellow dominates this almost lunar landscape. From the air, it struck me as unusually beautiful and gave the impression of vast emptiness. But this incredibly dry, semi-arid environment – seemingly hostile to human habitation – is anything but empty. It has been home to the vibrant and resilient Turkana people for centuries.

The harsh climate and soil conditions here render much of the land unsuitable for growing crops and so the people – semi-nomadic pastoralists – rely on raising livestock to live. But the world’s changing climate is increasingly endangering this age-old way of life and turning the Turkana people’s daily existence into a desperate struggle for survival. Rainfall is increasingly erratic, with persistent water shortages leaving communities and their animals exposed to drought and hunger.

One man I spoke with despaired at the continual disappearance of watering holes which he says have sustained his family’s herds for decades.

Mary’s Meals began working in Turkana in 2005. Here 85 per cent of children currently live in poverty and 50 per cent are out of school. Today, we provide close to 24,000 children across Turkana with a nutritious daily meal in their place of education.

The people here have a well-used saying; “no smoke, no school”. Put another way, if fires haven’t been lit at school to cook food to feed them, then the classroom holds little allure for children in this place. They simply have no energy to learn and the daily struggle to find food elsewhere takes precedence over the need to gain an education.

And so, the importance of Mary’s Meals is clear. By providing these little ones with one good, hot meal every day, we attract them to their local school – often under a simple tree which affords just enough shade for lessons.

Instead of being forced to work, beg or even forage for food to survive, the generosity of our supporters means these children are sitting with full stomachs learning how to read and write.

And we firmly believe that the children who are receiving Mary’s Meals today – in Turkana and across 18 countries – can grow up, better nourished and better educated, to become the men and women who will lift their communities out of poverty and eventually end their reliance on aid.

With Turkana in a near-perpetual state of crisis-level food insecurity, Mary’s Meals has developed plans to reach tens of thousands more children here, as funds allow. We are currently appealing for support, which will hopefully make a period of significant expansion possible in 2020.

When I was in Turkana, I visited areas where we have managed to feed nursery children for some time, but not yet primary-aged children. I was shocked by how visible hunger was in these primary schools – with children’s hair turning so yellow through malnutrition that I initially thought their heads must have been covered from rolling around playing in the sand.

The words of Mr Loritit, a village chief, have stuck with me. He told me: “We are so grateful for this food. Without it, learning stops in our communities and progress is paralysed. We have achieved so much together with Mary’s Meals. But there are so many children around here waiting for you.”

It costs just £13.90 to feed a child with Mary’s Meals for a year. To find out more, visit

Daniel Adams is UK Executive Director of Mary’s Meals