Martha Payne welcomed with open arms in Malawi


Children from Ntenjera Primary School were visibly delighted with the backpacks that contained items including tennis balls, pencils and toothbrushes.

Their faces beam with joy as they clutch a pair of ­flip-flops and a bouncy ball like they are the most treasured possessions in the world.

Inside the backpacks are a handful of basic items worth a few pence. But to the starving children of Malawi, these gifts are their only glimmer of happiness in a harrowing life of hunger.

School dinners blogger Martha Payne yesterday joined a backpack drop by charity Mary’s Meals at one of their schools near Blantyre.

And the nine-year-old was amazed by the frenzy of ­excitement they caused among 2000 children with nothing but the ragged clothes they stand in.

Martha and her family visited Ntenjera Primary School, where Mary’s Meals volunteers were distributing 1928 ­backpacks collected by children in the UK.

The packs, which include pencils, clothes, flip-flops, soap, a toothbrush, a towel and a tennis ball, are given to children who benefit from a daily mug of porridge at Mary’s Meals school kitchens.

Martha is visiting Malawi after her school dinner blog ­NeverSeconds became a global sensation, raising more than £114,500 for charity.

When Martha turned up yesterday alongside a truck ­delivering the backpacks, there was an explosion of joy from the ramshackle classrooms.

She spent more than an hour handing out packs to ­children along with sister Polly, seven, and brother Joe, 11.

The blogger, from­ Lochgilphead, Argyll, said: “It was amazing to hear all the children screaming with joy when they opened their packs. It was so loud.

“They were all shouting and singing when they found the things inside.

“I really liked seeing the ­happiness on their faces when they got their packs because they have nothing else.”

Martha was mobbed, and laughed as she sang and danced with them.

And she was humbled when 10-year-old Christina Henry fell to her knees as Martha handed her the backpack she had taken out specially from Scotland for the trip.

Christina, who hopes to become a nurse, said: “I was so excited to see the pencils, sandals and paper. My favourite is the clothes.

“Martha has made me so happy and I am very thankful to her and to all the people in Great Britain who sent us the backpacks.”

Mary’s Meals have distributed almost 300,000 backpacks since the initiative started in 2004.

The charity, based in Dalmally, Argyll, and originally known as Scottish International Relief, also feed hungry children around the world by giving them a daily mug of high-protein likuni phala porridge at special school kitchens.

On Monday, Martha opened a new kitchen at Lirangwe School, near Blantyre, which was built with money raised from her blog.

She hit the headlines in June when council bosses tried to ban her from taking photos of the meals at Lochgilphead Primary School to post on her ­NeverSeconds blog. But Argyll and Bute Council backed down in the face of a worldwide backlash as more than five million logged on to her blog.

Martha’s dad Dave, 40, said yesterday: “I just love the fact that every bag here has been sent by a child in Britain. It’s so personal.

“It was amazing to hear the kids scream with delight when they realised what was happening.

“It’s fantastic to see the joy. These backpacks are the first gift these children have ever received. They are now their only possessions.

“The packs are simple things but to these kids with nothing they mean everything.”

The nine-year-old NeverSeconds blogger,whose JustGiving page raised thousands of pounds to help Dalmally-based Mary’s Meals feed hungry children across the world is visiting Lirangwe Primary School in Blantyre.

Money from Martha’s blog has riased funds to build a new kitchen at the school.

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