Iniciativas

Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow: «The starting point for everything that I do is to try living Our Lady’s messages»

More than two million children around the world receive a daily meal in an educational center thanks to Mary’s Meals. The founder of this NGO, Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, is convinced that physical nutrition and education must go hand in hand to end poverty in the world.

Maria José Atienza·8 de diciembre de 2021·Tiempo de lectura: 10 minutos

A few weeks ago, Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow visited Spain to talk to students at the Francisco de Vitoria University in Madrid, and to raise awareness of Mary’s Meals and its fight to end world hunger.

18 euros is what it costs to feed a child every school day for a year and this NGO, linked to the protection of the Virgin Mary and the Shrine of Medjugorje, distributes, through its volunteers, more than two million meals in schools, educational centers, prisons or migrant centers.

In this interview granted to Omnes, the founder of Mary’s Meals, Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, underlines how «Mary’s Meals is a beautiful opportunity to be apostles of love and Our Lady continues to invite us to be apostles of love».

How and why was Mary’s Meals born?

–In 1992, my brother and I launched an appeal for aid to help those suffering the atrocities of the Bosnian war. The momentum behind this appeal led me to set up a registered charity, Scottish International Relief (SIR), which we worked under for ten years. We did a lot of work over the years in Romania with children who were HIV positive, and also in West Africa and Liberia during their civil war – a lot of different things and lots of different situations but with no real focus.

The global Mary’s Meals campaign was born in 2002 when I visited Malawi during a famine. We were delivering very simple emergency feeding programmes, taking food from the cities into villages. While we were doing that, I met a family that had a huge impact on me and really triggered the birth of Mary’s Meals. They lived in a two-bedroom mud hut, the father had died two years previously and the mother was dying of AIDS. She was lying on the floor with her children all around her. I started speaking to her eldest son, Edward, and asked him what his dreams were in life. Edward replied simply: “To have enough food to eat and to go to school one day.”

Edward’s response was something we had encountered over and over again, working in the world’s poorest communities. We continually met children who weren’t going to school because of poverty. And it’s been proven, time and time again, that a basic education for all is the key to lifting the world’s poorest communities out of poverty. His words really brought that into this sharp focus and Mary’s Meals became the simple response to that situation.

We believe Mary’s Meals is a simple solution to world hunger, and it’s not just an idea; it’s something we’ve seen that really works.

Mary’s Meals is supported by thousands of volunteers who make donations that go almost entirely to food and emergency projects. How do you manage an NGO like this? Where do your volunteers come from?

–The work of Mary’s Meals is made up of lots of little acts of love, and we rely on thousands of volunteers every day to make our programme a reality.

The whole model is rooted in the idea of local ownership. Our school feeding programmes are owned and run by local communities in the countries in which we operate. And it’s important that volunteers there get the opportunity to take ownership of the programme and learn from the experience, so they can take a lead in building support for education and school feeding in their own setting.

There’s a danger sometimes in humanitarian aid work that those of us from the wealthier countries are the givers and the people in places like Africa and India are simply passive receivers of our aid. It’s not like that at all at Mary’s Meals. It’s about mutual respect and local ownership of the project, where a whole lot of us around the world walk together with the same objective. Whether that be people in the West who are giving the money to buy the food or the people in Malawi who get up at first light to light the fires to cook the food that they serve – we are all united in that same mission.

Mary’s Meals makes reference to the Virgin Mary, indeed, Christ is the nourishment of all souls, how has your Christian vision of life influenced this task?

–Mary’s Meals is Our Lady’s project from the outset. She is looking after it. We are named after Mary, the mother of Jesus, who brought up her own child in poverty. I think Mary’s Meals is a beautiful opportunity to be apostles of love and our Lady keeps inviting us to be apostles of love. Anyone in any situation can be part of this mission, and that’s one of the things I love so much about Mary’s Meals.  With her help we are now feeding more than two million children every school day across 20 countries.

The southwestern town of Medjugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina continues to be absolutely at the centre of this beautiful thing that is growing around the world. We have an information centre in Medjugorje, so many pilgrims who come encounter Mary’s Meals. In 18 countries today, we have Mary’s Meals organisations that exist for the purpose of raising awareness and fundraising and most of those organisations have been born through people discovering Mary’s Meals in Medjugorje.

Faith, the Gospel and Medjugorje are at the centre of my life. The starting point for everything that I do is to pray and to try living Our Lady’s messages. It is not about going out and doing things but doing what Our Lady asks every day. Then, perhaps, God will call us to do other things. I continue to be inspired by my Catholic faith and my experience these years doing this work has strengthened my faith over and over again, seeing God’s providence at work. When we’ve needed something to keep feeding the children, God has always provided.

Mary’s Meals relies on volunteers from very different backgrounds, in this sense, how can Mary’s Meals campaigns be supported?

– Our mission is to enable people to offer their money, goods, skills, time, or prayer, and through this involvement, provide the most effective help to those suffering the effects of extreme poverty in the world’s poorest communities.

Without passionate, motivated volunteers, Mary’s Meals cannot function. We are a grassroots global movement, and an intrinsic part of our work is to involve as many people as possible, recognising that each has a unique part to play in this mission.

This incredible movement has grown across the world. We get more and more support from corporates doing all kinds of creative things. We get support from foundations. Those bigger gifts really help us to accelerate and go forward. But most of all, we’re building a grassroots movement of many, many people making more modest donations, people giving us that amount of money to feed a child for a year.

As the nature of our intervention is mid to long-term and we intend to walk alongside these communities for a number of years, we believe building this grassroots movement is the key to enabling us to make that pledge, to walk with them, until such a time that we are redundant.

Do you think that society has been growing in solidarity in recent years or, on the contrary, have we got used to seeing scenes of hunger in the world?

–Sadly, when we look out there at the world today, it’s not good. After decades of progress in the battle with global hunger, we’re going backwards in a horrible way. Millions and millions of people sliding into chronic hunger. Millions of children facing new hunger in this world.

There are an estimated 75 million children, like Edward, who are in need of meals at school. More than 58 million of them are out of school and many more are in school, too hungry to learn. If we’re serious about creating a sustainable solution to world hunger, that’s where we have to begin, we can’t go past those children. What kind of sustainable future is there if children aren’t in school, if they’re not eating, if they’re not able to grow and develop and be the people they are meant to be? In the countries where we’re already working, there’s so much more to do, let alone the countries that are still waiting. So, there’s no shortage of work to do.

How and why was Mary’s Meals born?

–In 1992, my brother and I launched an appeal for aid to help those suffering the atrocities of the Bosnian war. The momentum behind this appeal led me to set up a registered charity, Scottish International Relief (SIR), which we worked under for ten years. We did a lot of work over the years in Romania with children who were HIV positive, and also in West Africa and Liberia during their civil war – a lot of different things and lots of different situations but with no real focus.

The global Mary’s Meals campaign was born in 2002 when I visited Malawi during a famine. We were delivering very simple emergency feeding programmes, taking food from the cities into villages. While we were doing that, I met a family that had a huge impact on me and really triggered the birth of Mary’s Meals. They lived in a two-bedroom mud hut, the father had died two years previously and the mother was dying of AIDS. She was lying on the floor with her children all around her. I started speaking to her eldest son, Edward, and asked him what his dreams were in life. Edward replied simply: “To have enough food to eat and to go to school one day.”

Edward’s response was something we had encountered over and over again, working in the world’s poorest communities. We continually met children who weren’t going to school because of poverty. And it’s been proven, time and time again, that a basic education for all is the key to lifting the world’s poorest communities out of poverty. His words really brought that into this sharp focus and Mary’s Meals became the simple response to that situation.

We believe Mary’s Meals is a simple solution to world hunger, and it’s not just an idea; it’s something we’ve seen that really works.

Mary’s Meals is supported by thousands of volunteers who make donations that go almost entirely to food and emergency projects. How do you manage an NGO like this? Where do your volunteers come from?

–The work of Mary’s Meals is made up of lots of little acts of love, and we rely on thousands of volunteers every day to make our programme a reality.

The whole model is rooted in the idea of local ownership. Our school feeding programmes are owned and run by local communities in the countries in which we operate. And it’s important that volunteers there get the opportunity to take ownership of the programme and learn from the experience, so they can take a lead in building support for education and school feeding in their own setting.

There’s a danger sometimes in humanitarian aid work that those of us from the wealthier countries are the givers and the people in places like Africa and India are simply passive receivers of our aid. It’s not like that at all at Mary’s Meals. It’s about mutual respect and local ownership of the project, where a whole lot of us around the world walk together with the same objective. Whether that be people in the West who are giving the money to buy the food or the people in Malawi who get up at first light to light the fires to cook the food that they serve – we are all united in that same mission.


You started with «small-scale» help but have since become a large organisation. Do you think that, when you encounter the reality of poverty, even in our own cities, your sensitivity becomes greater?

–Our mission has always been to help those suffering extreme poverty in the world’s poorest communities, where hunger often prevents children from going to school and gaining an education. We make it possible for those children to receive a daily meal and remain in school which, in turn, offers them the chance to reach their potential and fulfil their dreams. There are many great charities across the UK, Europe, and beyond, who work with children and families, and we stand shoulder to shoulder with them in the belief that every child in the world deserves to thrive and to look forward to a brighter future.

Mary’s Meals makes reference to the Virgin Mary, indeed, Christ is the nourishment of all souls, how has your Christian vision of life influenced this task?

–Mary’s Meals is Our Lady’s project from the outset. She is looking after it. We are named after Mary, the mother of Jesus, who brought up her own child in poverty. I think Mary’s Meals is a beautiful opportunity to be apostles of love and our Lady keeps inviting us to be apostles of love. Anyone in any situation can be part of this mission, and that’s one of the things I love so much about Mary’s Meals.  With her help we are now feeding more than two million children every school day across 20 countries.

The southwestern town of Medjugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina continues to be absolutely at the centre of this beautiful thing that is growing around the world. We have an information centre in Medjugorje, so many pilgrims who come encounter Mary’s Meals. In 18 countries today, we have Mary’s Meals organisations that exist for the purpose of raising awareness and fundraising and most of those organisations have been born through people discovering Mary’s Meals in Medjugorje.

Faith, the Gospel and Medjugorje are at the centre of my life. The starting point for everything that I do is to pray and to try living Our Lady’s messages. It is not about going out and doing things but doing what Our Lady asks every day. Then, perhaps, God will call us to do other things. I continue to be inspired by my Catholic faith and my experience these years doing this work has strengthened my faith over and over again, seeing God’s providence at work. When we’ve needed something to keep feeding the children, God has always provided.

Mary’s Meals relies on volunteers from very different backgrounds, in this sense, how can Mary’s Meals campaigns be supported?

– Our mission is to enable people to offer their money, goods, skills, time, or prayer, and through this involvement, provide the most effective help to those suffering the effects of extreme poverty in the world’s poorest communities.

Without passionate, motivated volunteers, Mary’s Meals cannot function. We are a grassroots global movement, and an intrinsic part of our work is to involve as many people as possible, recognising that each has a unique part to play in this mission.

This incredible movement has grown across the world. We get more and more support from corporates doing all kinds of creative things. We get support from foundations. Those bigger gifts really help us to accelerate and go forward. But most of all, we’re building a grassroots movement of many, many people making more modest donations, people giving us that amount of money to feed a child for a year.

As the nature of our intervention is mid to long-term and we intend to walk alongside these communities for a number of years, we believe building this grassroots movement is the key to enabling us to make that pledge, to walk with them, until such a time that we are redundant.

Do you think that society has been growing in solidarity in recent years or, on the contrary, have we got used to seeing scenes of hunger in the world?

–Sadly, when we look out there at the world today, it’s not good. After decades of progress in the battle with global hunger, we’re going backwards in a horrible way. Millions and millions of people sliding into chronic hunger. Millions of children facing new hunger in this world.

There are an estimated 75 million children, like Edward, who are in need of meals at school. More than 58 million of them are out of school and many more are in school, too hungry to learn. If we’re serious about creating a sustainable solution to world hunger, that’s where we have to begin, we can’t go past those children. What kind of sustainable future is there if children aren’t in school, if they’re not eating, if they’re not able to grow and develop and be the people they are meant to be? In the countries where we’re already working, there’s so much more to do, let alone the countries that are still waiting. So, there’s no shortage of work to do.

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