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How you spend your extra day this leap year can change a life

To mark Leap Day (Thursday, 29 February), Matt Barlow, Executive Director at Mary’s Meals, reflects on the acts of kindness he witnesses every day which have a life-changing impact.

Around the world, 67 million primary school-age children are out of school. They should be sitting in a classroom, but instead they have no option but to work, beg or scavenge for food to survive. There are millions more who do attend school, but they are too hungry to concentrate and learn.

Mary’s Meals has a solution. Every school day, we serve school meals to more than 2.4 million hungry children in 18 of the world’s poorest countries. The promise of a nutritious meal attracts these children into the classroom, giving them the chance to gain an education and hope for a brighter future.

Each of the countries where we run our school feeding programmes face unique and often devastating challenges.

Having lived through the atrocities of war, millions of Ethiopians are now facing emergency levels of food insecurity and hunger. Meanwhile, in the aftermath of two deadly earthquakes, the people of Syria continue to fight for their survival following almost 13 years of civil war. In Haiti, another country still recovering from disaster, 4.4 million people are at risk of hunger and around 49% of the general population is undernourished. More than half a million children in Haiti are out of school.

Yet, since joining the charity at the end of last year, I have found hope… and then even more hope… in the countless acts of kindness which are having a life-changing impact around the world.

I have seen lots of little acts of love in action here in the UK. In October, seven-year-old Mikey from Barrhead in Scotland took on an 11k walk for Mary’s Meals which took him 2 hours and 45 minutes. Supported by the parishioners at Barrhead’s St John’s Church, he smashed the previous year’s fundraising amount of £800 by raising a grand total of £1,000.26. (That 26p is 2.5 servings of Mary’s Meals by the way – it all counts!).

I’ve also been told stories of incredible selflessness from those facing extreme hardship and adversity in the countries in which we work.

Thanks to the sacrifice of her older brother, Emmanuel, Miriam attends school in Malawi, where she receives Mary’s Meals. After their mother sadly passed away, 21-year-old Emmanuel left education to care for his sister. Emmanuel’s low earnings mean that he cannot always afford to feed both himself and his 14-year-old sister. In school however, Miriam is guaranteed a daily meal from Mary’s Meals, where she can put her dream of becoming a doctor to work.

Emmanuel says:

“She usually leaves without eating, so the meal that she has at school brings me comfort. There are occasions when I cannot fetch enough money for both of us to eat, but I give it to her so that she can have something.”

This year, we’ve been granted an extra day to give hope to those who need it most through our own acts of kindness.

So, ahead of Thursday, 29 February, I’d ask you to take inspiration from Mikey and Emmanuel and consider: how will you spend the extra time you’ve been given, on Leap Day? Is there something you can do, no matter how small, that can potentially change someone’s day, their year, or even their life?

At a time where it may be easy to feel hopeless in a world enduring conflict, climate change and hunger, please know that every single moment of kindness (for example, through giving time, prayers, donations or skills) can make an enormous difference to our mission and to the children who rely on Mary’s Meals.

It costs £19.15 to feed a child with Mary’s Meals for a school year. Please visit to donate.