Representing Mary’s Meals at the Global Child Nutrition Forum

Our Head of Programmes Policy and Development, Gillian McMahon is currently taking part in the Global Child Nutrition Forum on behalf of Mary’s Meals. In this blog, she shares her experience of the first couple of days at the conference. 

Back to all stories | Posted on 1 October 15 in Blog

I am attending the 17th annual Global Child Nutrition Forum on the African Island of Cape Verde this week. The conference is an opportunity for government delegates from developing countries to come together to discuss their national school feeding programmes.

There are delegates here representing 43 countries, some, such as Brazil, with long established and developed school feeding programmes (their's has been running for 60 years) and others whose programmes are at a much earlier stage. However there is a common recognition of the importance of school feeding programmes, both in meeting the immediate needs of hungry children and for the long term development of their countries through education.

The forum follows on from last week's launch of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and focuses on sustainability and financing for school feeding programmes. This year’s location was chosen because Cape Verde has recently taken over full ownership, funding and management of its school feeding programme, following a period of external support - therefore providing a live case study of the transition that all of the countries hope to achieve.

Yesterday we heard presentations from senior government officials from Ghana, Senegal, Brazil and Kenya as well as the World Food Programme and I participated in a workshop on how countries can advocate for school feeding within their own countries. In the afternoon, I gave a presentation on Mary’s Meals and then hosted a 'technical consultation booth' where delegates could come and meet with me and ask questions about Mary’s Meals. 

Many, many countries, as well as other international organisations approached me to talk about Mary’s Meals’ work and I was overwhelmed by the support for our vision as well as our programme design and delivery model. Our model means that we select schools in areas where hunger levels are high and school enrolment is low. We then provide the food, equipment, training and other resources where necessary to set up the school feeding programme. The programme is owned and implemented by the community, who provide what materials - such as bricks and fuel - that they can as well as thousands of volunteer hours to actually cook and serve the food. The programme is then subject to ongoing, rigorous monitoring so that we can continually try to find ways to improve.

Our model aims to reduce child hunger at school and engage more in primary education and improve child health. We also want to convince others to replicate or support our efforts, and seek to work with governments to transition our school feeding programmes to them in the long term, which is just one of the reasons we were so pleased to be invited to this conference.

One USA government representative approached me to say that she had been in Malawi visiting World Food Programme projects and was amazed to hear about the scale of the Mary’s Meals programme there. She said she was also very impressed by our national coordination and clear partnership with schools. Others were interested in how we manage to achieve such low overheads and cost to feed a child for a year.

As I had anticipated, many countries, such as Ethiopia, Laos, Swaziland and Nepal came to my table to ask if Mary’s Meals could begin a programme in their country. It was humbling to have senior government officials saying to me 'just tell us what preparations are needed on our part and we can do it' and telling me how many vulnerable children are in their country in need of support, in some cases tens of millions. It was difficult to have to explain that right now all of our funds are committed to over one million children that we already support. However it was good to make these contacts and to reassure people that we understand the need as well as the potential school feeding has to support these children, and that there are people all over the world working hard to raise funds in the hope that we will be able to expand our programmes in the future. Today we move on to presentations from Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Lesotho as well as discussion on providing food from small-holder farmers and private sector collaboration.

Gillian has worked for Mary’s Meals for five years and is our Head of Programmes Policy and Development. We’ll be sharing some more of her blogs from the Global Child Nutrition Forum soon!

Since 1997, the annual Global Child Nutrition Forum has united leaders from developing countries for five days of intensive training, technical assistance and planning, all directed toward establishing country-operated sustainable school feeding programs.