Proclaimer pride for volunteer mum

Ishbel Smith with other Mary's Meals volunteers in Malawi
Ishbel Smith with other Mary's Meals volunteers in Malawi
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Edinburgh mother Ishbel Smith has told how she once stood in a dusty school yard in Blantyre, Malawi, when a group of children burst into the Proclaimers’ hit song ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 miles)’.

For Ishbel, the impromptu performance reflects perfectly the relationship between the Scottish-based charity Mary’s Meals where she volunteers and the young people in Malawi they reach every school day.

Ishbel worked for 20 years as a commercial lawyer advising corporations on issues from tobacco legislation to forest-eating rabbits. Now a committed Mary’s Meals board director, volunteer and fundraiser, she self-funded a trip to Malawi to meet children, families and communities who are benefiting from the charity’s school feeding programme.

Mary’s Meals provides more than 928,000 impoverished children in Malawi with a nutritious meal in a place of education, prepared and served by a rota of 80,000 volunteers from local communities.

Recalling her trip to Malawi, Ishbel, who lives with her family in Balerno, said: “It was an absolute privilege to visit schools receiving Mary’s Meals and learn from the children and volunteers about how a little love from supporters is making such a huge difference to their lives.”

Ishbel, 45, added: “The performance of the Proclaimers’ song by children was one of the most moving moments of my trip.”

Determined to share her skills in a personally rewarding and enriching way, Ishbel began volunteering with Mary’s Meals in 2015, helping with legal queries across the organisation.

Her volunteering has extended to her role as Director and Company Secretary on the charity’s UK board, a commitment Ishbel combines with fundraising and giving talks as a Mary’s Meals community ambassador.

When the opportunity arose to travel to Malawi in her role as a board director on a fact-finding visit, Ishbel felt it was too good an opportunity to miss.

The mother-of-three said: “As a volunteer myself, I was particularly interested in meeting volunteers in Malawi. What was striking in all the conversations I had with them was that no one spoke of their volunteering as being a burden. They saw it as a chance to contribute to their children, their community, their country and their world.”

Ishbel hopes her experience will inspire others to volunteer for Mary’s Meals.

“It is hugely rewarding for me to be able to use my skills to help Mary’s Meals reach the next hungry child,” she said.

Mary’s Meals provides more than 1.2 million impoverished children with daily meals in schools in 14 countries. It costs the Scottish-based charity just £13.90 to feed a child for a whole school year.