Mary’s Meals receives Princess of Asturias Award for Concord in prestigious ceremony

International school feeding charity Mary’s Meals has been honoured with the Princess of Asturias Award for Concord – one of the most prestigious accolades of the Hispanic world – at an awards ceremony in Oviedo, northern Spain.

The UK-based charity serves nutritious school meals to more than 2.4 million children in 18 of the world’s poorest countries. The promise of a daily meal attracts children into the classroom, where they can gain an education and hope for the future.

The jury commended Mary’s Meals on its dedication to tackle child hunger, one of the most pressing issues in today’s world, and on operating an innovative and effective model.

A group of representatives from the charity – including Elisalex Löwenstein, Board Director of Mary’s Meals Spain; Amina Swedi, Country Director of Mary’s Meals Kenya; and Panji Kajani, Country Director of Mary’s Meals Zambia – spent four days in Oviedo in northern Spain with fellow laureates, enjoying a packed programme of events.

The ceremonial events calendar included a concert with the Spanish royal family in attendance and a dinner for all Asturias laureates, including Hollywood legend Meryl Streep (Award for Arts), elite Kenyan athlete Eliud Kipchoge (Award for Sports), and Japanese author Haruki Murakami (Award for Literature).

In addition to attending several official ceremonies and engagements, Mary’s Meals representatives also participated in a series of locally organised cultural proceedings designed to celebrate the work of the charity around the world, before being honoured at the awards ceremony on Friday evening.

At the official Mary’s Meals press conference hosted in Hotel Reconquista on 19 October, journalists posed questions on the global hunger crisis, the unique challenges faced by those living in the countries where Mary’s Meals are served and the charity’s ability to operate a low-cost model in the face of global price hikes.

Amina Swedi, who collected the award along with Panji Kajani, summed up the charity’s work as follows: “The beauty of Mary’s Meals is that we anchor our programme in community participation, so we don’t just do it alone, we do it with the full support of communities.”

Felicity Read, Director of Communications at Mary’s Meals International, added: “We are delighted to receive this incredible award on behalf of the 2.4 million children who eat Mary’s Meals every day. But we know there is more to do. 67 million primary school-age children in the world are currently out of school and they need to be in school to give them, their communities and their countries the opportunity to be able to positively develop over the coming years.”

Representatives from Mary’s Meals visited a local school – Colegio Patronato San José in Gijón – where they received a warm welcome from the staff and pupils. The school’s library had been chosen as the venue for showcasing the work of 1,036 students from 36 schools across the Asturias region under the banner of Pon un Cero al Hambre (Put a Zero to Hunger). The spectacle included mugs, reminiscent of the mugs in which many children receive their daily school meal, displaying messages of hope, drawings, comics, recipe books, and a kilometre-long garland featuring the emblematic Mary’s Meals mugs.

The Princess of Asturias Foundation also created a Mary’s Meals exhibition at an arts venue, Fabricá. The elaborate installation comprised recreations of a classroom, grain store and school kitchen, alongside a facsimile of the ‘Shed’ – the tin structure in Dalmally, Argyll, where the work of the charity began, which still serves as Mary’s Meals global HQ. Guests took their seats in the enormous warehouse to watch a panel discussion on global hunger issues, chaired by Rebeca Cerezo from the University of Oviedo, and a screening of a documentary, Zero Hunger, which features the charity’s work.

Asked whether or not she felt the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger is really achievable, Amina Swedi said: “A journey of 1,000 miles starts with one step. As Mary’s Meals, we’ve already started taking those steps. We are very hopeful to get there.”

The awards ceremony itself was a formal yet uplifting occasion, once again presided over by the Spanish royal family, and attended by the laureates and 1,600 guests. In his closing speech, King Felipe VI acknowledged the importance of Mary’s Meals in places around the world where even the most basic human rights such as food and education are so difficult for many to attain.

His daughter – Princess Leonor, The Princess of Asturias – highlighted how vital education is in creating a better society and said school meals can bring about lasting change and provide hope to guide and inspire young people like her.

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