Hollywood star happy to help feed the children, writes Janet Christie
AT THE Mary’s Meals compound in Tubmanburg, Liberia, the DVD currently doing the rounds is Gerry Butler’s 300.
The Paisley-born actor is visiting the Scottish-based international charity that runs feeding programmes for children in schools to see its work at close hand, but it is not his King Leonodis fighting skills that are in demand.
His work here is to champion the cause of feeding hungry children at schools across the world in a bid to help them out of poverty.
Butler first heard about Mary’s Meals and its founder Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow from his mother in one of her regular calls to him in Los Angeles.
“She did her usual ‘Oh Gerard, you must have a look at Mary’s Meals, they do such wonderful work. And then the crazy synchronicity is that a few months later, I was asked to present a CNN Hero’s award, which in terms of humanitarian work is a big deal. And Magnus was one of the ten heroes. I just remember feeling so proud – proud to be Scottish, presenting it to a fellow Scot.”
It is the can-do mentality of Mary’s Meals, a charity that feeds 822,142 children in 16 countries every day, that appeals to the 44-year-old Hollywood actor. In Liberia alone, 113,500 children are fed every day and the charity aims to expand there next year.
“I love the simplicity and efficiency of Mary’s Meals – the idea that a child can receive one meal a day in their place of education. What they are achieving is pretty jaw-dropping.
“They are serving meals to over 20 per cent of Malawi’s population. And next year it will rise to 18 per cent of Liberia’s population.”
Butler had heard the negative reports associated with Liberia, which suffered 14 years of civil war until 2003 and has struggled with the aftermath, but his visit there with MacFarlane-Barrow has resulted in a very different impression.
“When I was telling people I was coming down here they were like ‘Woah, be careful!’ But all I have seen is warmth, and welcoming people, and the most beautiful children ever. And they give so much in terms of love and generosity and appreciation. I’ve been so filled up since I came here.”
“I’ve come away with the sense of a people that are forging ahead in a determined and resilient fashion, and a new generation which, to be honest, when I’m here, I wish I was part of. I look at the kids, and what they give you when you’re around them is amazing,” he says.
Butler has been to Africa before, filming Tomb Raider in Kenya in 2000, but it was his experience making Machine Gun Preacher in South Africa that also inspired him to get involved with Mary’s Meals.
“It’s the story of an American who came down to Uganda and Sudan and built an orphanage in the heart of the civil war. And stood against Lord’s Resistance Army – Joseph Kony’s army. That sparked my imagination, and made me want to get involved, because that movie affected me in a deep way,” he says.
Butler is happy to use his celebrity to attract attention to such a good cause and like the canny Scot he is, has been impressed by Mary’s Meals efficiency; 93p in every pound donated is spent on the practicalities of feeding children in schools.
“I think donors can take real comfort knowing there is a strong, direct link between their donations and children being fed. Enrolment rates shooting up, attendance shooting up, academic performance shooting up, and just their hopes shooting up,” he says.
As someone who doesn’t always appreciate the attention that his starry status brings him, Butler has revelled in being able to use it for the benefit others.
“This is the time that your celebrity works for you. You can bring an awareness to these people’s plight, and shine a light on them. You can work on people’s innate humanitarian instinct, and for me it’s an honour to be able to do that.
“It’s a blessing to be in a position to be able to raise awareness, to get involved and show the difference that every single person can make.”