A young fundraiser has celebrated turning 13 by visiting the African school he has supported by refusing birthday presents since he was six years old.
Charlie Doherty fulfilled a persistent dream by travelling to Malawi to meet children receiving assistance from Mary’s Meals, a charity helping hungry kids which has received £20,000 through his own considerable efforts.
The youngster, whose birthday was on Monday 14 January 2013, was given the surprise trip as a Christmas gift by his mother, who announced the news to him when they reached the top of Mount Snowdon in Wales as part of a charity hike for Mary’s Meals.
Charlie spent his first day as a teenager visiting the school which he supports through one of the charity’s campaigns. The scool concerned is Ipyana Primary, which is located in the northern district of Karonga, Malawi. All of the 1,429 pupils receive a daily meal through Mary’s Meals for a whole school year.
Upon arriving at the school, Charlie was greeted warmly by volunteers, teachers and children.
The visibly moved youngster thanked the students for their warm welcome, saying: “I am so happy to be here and share this with you all today. Thank you for welcoming me. My dream of visiting Malawi has finally been realised.
“No child should go hungry and I hope that, working together to achieve the Mary’s Meals vision, we can put an end to child hunger.”
Charlie, from Crawley, has been fundraising for the Scottish-based charity since he was six. After hearing about the suffering of children in other countries, he asked for money to be donated to the charity instead of receiving birthday presents.
He has undertaken a number of fundraising challenges for the charity which includes a 600-mile cycle from Brighton to Scotland with his mum.
It took the pair three weeks to reach the charity’s warehouse in Glasgow where Charlie delivered one special backpack which was later shipped to a child in Malawi.
The backpack donated by Charlie was one he had owned since he was seven, and which he had been keeping to pass onto a child in Malawi, where Mary’s Meals provides a daily meal in a place of education to over 569,000 hungry children every school day.
The charity’s Backpack Project appeals to schools, clubs and other groups to fill unwanted backpacks with basic educational materials to send to children receiving Mary’s Meals.
Charlie is one of the stars of a new documentary called Child 31, in which he talks about his fundraising efforts and why he is so motivated to help impoverished children.
Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, chief executive of Mary’s Meals, commented: “Charlie is an incredible boy and we are extremely grateful for all he has done for us over the years.
“I’m always touched by all the beautiful acts of kindness which so many people like Charlie do to support our work, and which make it possible for us to provide a daily meal to hundreds of thousands of children, living in some of the world’s poorest countries.
“As a result of their good deeds, thousands of children, who would otherwise be hungry and working for their next meal, are instead sitting in a classroom with a full stomach, learning how to read and write.”
Mary’s Meals began feeding 200 children in Malawi after Scottish founder of the charity Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow visited the country in 2002.
It now feeds over 700,000 children every school day in 16 countries around the world, including Malawi, Liberia and Haiti. It costs Mary’s Meals an average of just £10.70 to feed a child for an entire school year.
A daily meal in school, served by volunteers, means that children are encouraged to come to school and receive an education, which can provide a route of out of poverty.
Mary’s Meals began in Malawi in 2002 when its founder Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow met a young woman called Emma who was dying from AIDS. She was sitting on the mud floor of her hut surrounded by her children. When Magnus asked her 14-year-old son what his dreams were in life, his stark reply was: “To have enough food to eat and to go to school one day”. This was a key part of the inspiration that led to the Mary’s Meals campaign.
Support for Mary’s Meals is global, with fundraising and awareness raising groups springing up across the world, including in Abu Dhabi, Australia, Austria, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Germany, Italy, Malawi, Netherlands and the USA.
* More on Mary’s Meals here: www.marysmeals.org.uk