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Victim of its own success

An Irish parish group which has linked up with a Jesuit parish in Zambia by feeding children and supporting their school is facing major challenges due to its success. The parish of Star of the Sea in Sandymount has been supporting the development of St Mary’s Community School in Matero, a Jesuit parish.

The Jesuits there, including Leonard Chiti SJ who once worked in Dublin, helped to rebuild the parish school ten years ago when 75 orphans were attending on a somewhat haphazard basis. With the support of Sandymount-Matero group, money was secured to feed the pupils on a daily basis, and to pay for those cooking the food as well as for the principal and teachers in the school.

According to James Meenan, a former Gonzaga pupil and founder of the Sandymount-Matero project, the programme has grown dramatically in its ten years, and the feeding component now aims to sustain over 550 pupils as opposed to an original 75.

In this interview with Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications, James outlines the origins and growth of the project, with particular regard to the funding model. “We asked people in the parish to take out monthly standing orders with their bank and to commit to keeping those orders running for a number of years,” he explains. “As little as €5 will feed a child for three months.” Many people signed up to fund the programme, James remarks, while other people took care of larger bills on a once-off basis.

The long-term commitment allows the project leaders to plan for the future, but they never could have predicted just how successful the feeding and educational project would be. So almost a decade later, and with so many children attending the school regularly, James says the project needs to boost its funding. “The optimal means for this is through smaller but sustainable monthly donations,” he said. “However, we are happy for all donations, particularly until we can increase the monthly ones.”

The children of St Mary’s in Matero have been writing on a regular basis of how much the school means to them. They are fed and taught where once they would have gone hungry and had to remain at home. Many of the children are orphans as AIDS-ravaged Zambia in years gone by. The country has been fighting hard to rebuild its economy and its people despite suffering from crippling debt imposed by the World Bank. Against all the odds it is moving in a positive direction. “Supporting the Sandymount-Matero project would be a wonderful contribution to those most in need, giving them hope for a future when they can sustain themselves through education and work,” says James.

You can listen above to James account of the work of the Sandymount-Matero project and if you would like to support their work you can visit their website and donate.