Pictures By Chris Watt
Gerard Butler, the Hollywood actor, has visited Liberia to see for himself the work of Scottish charity Mary’s Meals. He tells Harriet Alexander why he went to West Africa – and how it has changed him
The sunlight was filtering through the thick tropical forest as the small Liberian boy showed the white man his walk to school. Butterflies flitted between the banana trees and the curtain of creepers flanking the red earth track was alive with chatter from the bush.
Sunday Boy Maison, 14, may for that moment have shared the same path as Gerard Butler, Hollywood leading man, but their worlds could not be more apart.
Yet both were making that journey for the same reason: to draw attention to the work of Mary’s Meals — a Scotland-based charity that helps more than 820,000 children in 16 countries, giving them one meal a day in their place of education.
“It’s such a simple, no frills idea — but one which is so effective,” said Butler, 44. “And it is magical to see it in practice.”
Sunday Boy’s school, in a remote northern Liberian village accessible by canoe, is one of 366 nationwide that receive assistance from Mary’s Meals — taking weekly deliveries of rice, peas, corn soya blend and cooking oil.
The villagers are taught how to store the food safely and to supplement it from their own vegetable garden, which the charity’s staff show them how to cultivate.
“Before Mary’s Meals came to my school, I was hungry in the day and could not concentrate. But now I am on the ball, and I can pay attention because I have a full stomach,” said Sunday Boy, who wants to be a senator.
“So you could be president one day?” asked Butler.
“Yes,” he replied.
“So I should be nice to you then?”
“Yes,” he said, to peals of laughter from the village elders seated nearby.
Of course, the tale of two unlikely acquaintances began far from this sleepy village in a remote corner of West Africa.
In 2010, Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, 45, who had founded the organisation in response to the Balkans war, was named as one of 10 CNN Heroes.
Presenting the award, in Los Angeles, was fellow Scot Gerard Butler.
“I knew a bit about the organisation from my mother, who is a huge fan of Magnus’s work,” said Butler. “But before I presented the award they sent me a DVD of Mary’s Meals. And it blew me away — I had tears rolling down my cheeks. So when I met Magnus I was a bit star-struck. I was in awe.”
Born into a Roman Catholic family in Paisley, Butler started training as a lawyer – but his hedonistic ways led him to be fired the week before qualifying.
Moving to London, the wild times continued. But he began to take acting seriously, and, aged 30, left Britain for Hollywood – giving up alcohol, honing his craft and his all-action frame. With films such as 300 and Olympus Has Fallen, he is now one of their most bankable stars.
His accent is Scotland meets mid-Atlantic; Celtic is his team, songs and gags are Scottish schoolboy, but football is “soccer” and films are “movies”.
Butler’s father died when he was 22, but his mother appears to remain a huge influence.
“My mum’s a good Catholic, and although I’d say I’m more into spirituality than organised religion, I listened to her.”
Adopting a high-pitched Scottish accent, he continues: “Och, Gerard, Mary’s Meals do such beautiful things, you must get involved.”
And so last week he found himself in the wilds of West Africa. His mother, he said, was far more excited about this trip than any of his films. He was based in a Mary’s Meals compound in the small town of Tubmanburg, midway between the capital Monrovia and the border with Sierra Leone. He and Mr MacFarlane-Barrow travelled to schools that Mary’s Meals supports — bumping along dirt roads for hours to reach remote settlements. Driving into one village, amid the frenzy of children bearing banners and drawings, the village chief stepped forwards to present Butler with a white rooster — a great honour for any visitor. “This is our tradition to show that you are welcome and have a pure heart,” he said.
Send your donations to Mary’s Meals.
Call 0800 698 1212 or visit http://www.marysmeals.org.uk You can send cheques / postal orders made payable to Mary’s Meals to: Craig Lodge, Dalmally, Argyll, Scotland, PA33 1AR.
Full story can be found Daily Telegraph
EXCLUSIVE hi-res images can be found on our website scopefeatures.com