In 2012, 9-year-old Martha Payne, a Scottish schoolgirl from Lochgilphead, discovered her passion for writing after publishing a newspaper article on the Titanic’s sinking.
Looking for a way to write everyday, Martha and her dad created a blog that documented Martha’s school lunches. Martha was coming home hungry because of the poor quality of the food served at school. The schoolgirl lives on a small farm, on which her family grows some of their food. She could easily tell the difference between the highly-processed food at her school and the simpler, healthier cuisine she was eating at home.
On her blog, called NeverSeconds, Martha rated her food for healthiness, taste and mouthfuls and posted photos of her meals. In her blog, Martha asked where the food products she was served at school came from. She soon started receiving pictures of school dinners and lunches from students all over the world.
Her blog, launched at the end of April 2012, soon went viral, reaching over 5 million pagev iews by June. She received support from celebrities, such as chef and school activist Jamie Oliver, who encouraged Martha’s efforts, tweeting: “Shocking but inspirational blog. Keep going. Big love from Jamie x.”
In June 2012, the Argyll and Bute Council banned Martha from taking photos of her school meals. The Council refuted the “attacks on its school catering.” The ban’s given motivation was that Martha misrepresented the food options available to students, who were able to select between two meals each day, which were decided by teachers, parents and the school board.
After the ban, Martha posted a goodbye on her blog, explaining how she received the news: “This morning in maths I got taken out of class by my headteacher and taken to her office. I was told that I could not take any more photos of my school dinners. […] I only write my blog, not newspapers, and I am sad I am no longer allowed to take photos. I will miss sharing and rating my school dinners and I’ll miss seeing the dinners you send me too.”
Martha was also disappointed because she raised only £2,000 of the £7,000 fundraising target for Mary’s Meals, a Scottish charity that provided school meals for children in developing countries. She was collecting these donations through her blog.The ban caused a massive out pour of Internet support for the schoolgirl. The Council was quickly forced to lift the ban and apologize to Martha. After the ban’s lifting, the school also started offering unlimited salads, fruits, and breads at meal times.
The general public’s support for Martha also manifested into donations for Martha’s charity cause, which allowed her to raise over £115,000, far surpassing her initial target. Mary’s Meals used part of the funding to build a new kitchen shelter for Lirangwe Primary School in Malawi, which has around 2,000 students, while the rest of the funds were used to cover the Malawian students’ meals.
In October 2012, Martha travelled to Malawi and had breakfast with the 2,000 children at the kitchen she helped build. The kitchen provides a special high-protein porridge to the school students.
In describing her visit, Martha said: ”I was a bit nervous when I saw all the children waiting but it was awesome to see the kitchen finished and to paint the sign. It was really nice of them to sing my name when we got to the school.”
Martha’s generosity inspired other people to give as well. One woman, Shabnam Sabur was so impressed by Martha’s work in Malawi that she decided to follow her example and pay the running costs of meals at another Malawian school. Sabur told the BBC: “There was one particular moment in the report where Martha was surrounded by hundreds of school children her own age. They were so happy, so delighted, with huge smiles on their faces. It was at that moment I felt I wanted to be a part of it. […] I wanted to achieve what Martha had achieved in changing the lives of children.”
For her initiative, Martha was awarded several prizes, including the ”Human Rights Young Person of the Year” at the 2012 Liberty Awards and the “Public Campaigner of the Year” at the Scottish Politician of the Year event.
In terms of career plans, Martha said in an interview that she hoped to be “an author or a journalist or a runner. Maybe I could be all three!” For the moment, Martha continues to run her blog, which receives more and more photos and submissions from students from around the world, who are often proposing changes in their own school meal plans.
When giving advice to other young changemakers, Martha emphasized: “Kids are really good at sharing and getting along. We do it everyday in the playgrounds at our schools. We should remember we are the experts at that. Because of the internet we can share beyond our playground and countries. Also, don’t be scared to start a blog. You can change what you write without smudges, you can say what you care about and you can publish it!”
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