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Mary’s Meals to begin feeding Syrian refugee children in Lebanon

Syrian refugee children sit on the ground in a makeshift school in a Syrian refugee camp in the eastern town of Kab Elias, Lebanon (AP)

Global child hunger charity Mary’s Meals is set to launch its first-ever school feeding programme in the Middle East.

In an initial pilot, funded by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery, the Scottish organisation will provide school meals to around 1,000 children at a school in the town of Antelias, located 5km north of Beirut, Lebanon.

With the Syrian Civil War now in its fifth year, more than 1.1 million refugees have crossed the border from Syria into Lebanon.

Lebanon will become the thirteenth country in which Mary’s Meals is working. The charity’s other programmes – which today feed 1,101,206 impoverished children every day in their place of education – operate in countries including Malawi, Liberia, Zambia, Kenya, Haiti, India and South Sudan.

Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, Mary’s Meals’ founder and CEO, said: “I’m sure we all feel deep compassion – perhaps even outrage – at the desperate plight of refugees forced to flee from war-torn Syria. As always, it is innocent children who suffer the most.

“For a number of months, we have been investigating how Mary’s Meals can do its small part in alleviating some of the suffering caused by this greatest humanitarian crisis of our time – and I am extremely pleased that, thanks to the support of People’s Postcode Lottery and its players, we will soon begin serving school meals to a small number of Syrian children who have settled in neighbouring Lebanon, as well as to their Lebanese classmates.

“Amid the carnage of the conflict in Syria, Mary’s Meals and its generous supporters can provide a glimmer of hope by attracting Syrian refugee children back into the classroom with a nutritious daily meal – just as we do in other countries around the world, where the introduction of Mary’s Meals results in sharp increases in enrolment, attendance and academic performance.”

The United Nations has warned that the more than two million Syrian children who are out of school are in danger of becoming a ‘lost generation’, with evidence showing that it becomes more and more difficult to get children back into school the longer they are out of it.

MacFarlane-Barrow added: “With 59 million children out of school around the world and many more chronically hungry, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the scale of poverty and suffering. That’s why we always call on our supporters to help us reach the next hungry child waiting for Mary’s Meals.

“When it comes to a terrifying conflict like the one raging today in Syria, the temptation to despair is even greater. But, since every single Syrian child out of school represents a lifetime’s potential under threat, we are determined to do what we can – and we know our supporters will be determined too.”

The Syrian children receiving Mary’s Meals will be fed and educated alongside Lebanese children, thanks to a “double-shift school system” implemented by the government in Lebanon. This means that local children attend lessons in the morning alongside Syrian children who have adapted well to the Lebanese curriculum, while other Syrian children are educated in the same classrooms during the afternoon.

Mary’s Meals is partnering with Dorcas, a Dutch relief organisation which has been working in Lebanon since 2013, to implement the delivery of the programme on the ground, as well as collaborating closely with the country’s Ministry of Education and Higher Education.