Express Christmas appeal – porridge changes life of schoolgirl with sickle ce…

A girl with Sickle cell disease living in the heart of Zambia gets carried to school daily so that she receives a warm cup of nourishing porridge.

The daily dose of nourishment has totally transformed Anastasia’s life.

The grade one pupil, eight, mounts onto the back of her grandmother Joyce, 68, who treks uphill for around 30 minutes to Tafika Primary School every day.

The quiet schoolgirl suffered a stroke years ago which has left the arm and leg on the one side of her body paralysed.

Speaking on a step outside her school in Chithambo, Joyce said: “After Anastasia started taking porridge at school, her health has improved compared to the past. The problem with her hand and leg doesn’t occur often since taking porridge. That means there’s an improvement in terms of health.

“If she’s unwell, because sometimes she complains about pain in her leg, then she can’t come to school. The first thing she complains about is missing the porridge. She would have loved to have gone to school so she could get porridge.”

Anastasia is among the more than 2.4 million children across 18 nations who receive porridge thanks to UK charity Mary’s Meals.

The Express Christmas appeal is raising funds for the cause to ensure millions of youngsters in poverty can continue to receive at least one hearty meal a day.

The shy schoolgirl has been taken care of by her grandmother since aged two when her mother remarried a man who refused to look after the child, Joyce said.

Meanwhile her father “refused to take responsibility for the pregnancy”.

Joyce added: “Anastasia was born in 2015. She was born ok but then at four months old, she started being ill. She was taken to the hospital several times where we were told Anastasia was born with Sickle cell disease which affects her body parts. We’ve tried so many different medications.

“This problem became worse in 2021 when Anastasia started developing something like a stroke. We also discovered she has anaemia. This led to her hand and leg being paralysed. I discovered she was unable to walk or stand up with two legs. She started complaining about not being able to use her hand.

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“I tried to put a phone in her hand but she just dropped it. That’s how I discovered her two body parts had stopped working normally. Upon discovering this, we took her to the hospital. Her blood flow was little in her body. She got medicine to support her blood system but it’s become too difficult to find food that contains the vitamins needed or medication.”

Anastasia’s grandmother shared her relief that Mary’s Meals maize and soya porridge – cooked by star volunteers – takes pressure off finding food.

Joyce, speaking animatedly through a translator, added: “It is still a very big problem to ensure Anastasia is healthy. I can’t afford the costs needed to ensure Anastasia is healthy.

“At home, it’s really difficult to find food. I do piece work. But if Anastasia demands eggs, I have to look for eggs. If she wants milk, I have to look for milk. That’s a big challenge because whatever she demands is what she wants. That becomes a challenge to her health because she only eats what she wants.

“It would have been a very big problem for the family and Anastasia herself if she didn’t have Mary’s Meals.”

Mother of four Margaret Banda, 39, was one of the volunteer cooks stirring a huge pot of porridge during our visit to the school.

The single parent, who has two children at the primary school, said: “Mary’s Meals has had a number of impacts. School children are always coming to school even in the rainy season. As a family, it has helped us with our children’s nutrition.”

“It relieves us of a lot of pressure because we’re assured they’re fed at school.”

The subtle porridge aromas weave their way up to our nostrils while we chat under a corrugated metal outhouse.

Margaret, who left school in grade five, said: “The good part of volunteering has been seeing the children being fed at school. As parents we have difficulties finding food but thanks to Mary’s Meals, we no longer have this.

“It would have made a difference had there been food at school for me when I was studying. If there was food, I would have completed school. It was difficult to stay in school so I used to run away. I met a boy who enticed me with a few kwacha [the local currency] and then I fell pregnant. 

“I want my children to finish school because they will be able to make wise decisions compared to me because I don’t understand because I’m not educated. I want them to live a better life.”

As little as 10p can provide one nutritious meal for a hungry child.

Donations made to Mary’s Meals from now until 22 January 2024, including those from the Express Christmas appeal, will be doubled by a group of generous supporters – up to £1 million.

It costs just £19.15 to feed a child with Mary’s Meals every day for a school year. And this winter, a donation of £19.15 will feed two children.

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