There's no doubt that Marcus Rashford is one of the most talented footballers of this generation. The Manchester United forward's late winner against Paris Saint-Germain earlier this week was only a stark reminder. But the recent recipient of the MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) is making headlines for a very different reason, and a much greater cause.
Rashford is on a mission to put a stop to child hunger in the United Kingdom (UK). To be more specific, he is campaigning against child food poverty in the country, and is pleading a case to the UK government for reconsidering the decision to revoke the free school meal programme.
What is the "free school meal programme", and why was it cancelled?
The free school meal programme is a government backed initiative in the UK that aims to provide underprivileged school-aged kids with nutritious meals. This was done to ensure that kids can concentrate on their studies without having to worry about an empty stomach. This scheme has been in place for decades now, and it is estimated that over a million school children are dependent on this programme.
Sadly, when schools all over the UK were shut down due to the ongoing pandemic, the programme was set to be discontinued. The summer holidays saw the government put the scheme on hold until schools were reopened. However, this was something that would've put more pressure on the families of the kids who were dependent on those free meals. Putting food on the table was already a difficult task for many of their parents. With the pandemic going on, and the programme set to be cancelled, things were about to get even harder for these families.
Rashford fights back
Rashford was vocal from the beginning against the cancellation of this programme. His campaign pleaded a case in favour of the free meal scheme, and asked the government to rethink its decision. As a child, Rashford himself benefitted from the programme, and he knows how necessary it is for kids to be able to avail this service. The 22-year old took to social media, talked with stakeholders from different government and private organisations, and made his voice heard. Millions came out in support of him, and Rashford himself raised millions of pounds for the cause. Finally, as the campaign gained momentum, the UK government was compelled to withdraw the cancellation order in June, and allow the programme to continue over the summer.
A nation stands united against hunger
While the free meals programme went on for the summer holidays, the UK parliament decided not to extend the programme for the upcoming term break, and other holiday seasons. On October 21, a majority of the country's parliament voted against the extension of the programme, and was met with quite the backlash.
But Rashford's efforts didn't go in vain. When the news that the programme won't be extended for the upcoming holidays reached the common people, many local businesses and organisations took it upon themselves to ensure that school kids in their localities continue getting their meals. Pubs, restaurants, and even small scale grocery stores opened their doors to any kid who needed a meal. Since early Friday, Rashford's Twitter feed was full of posts and screen grabs from these organisations, and how they intend to keep their local communities fed while the free meals programme takes a break. Even rival clubs and players are putting their rivalries aside, and praising Rashford for the work he's doing.
While the England and Manchester United forward continues his uphill battle against child hunger, it seems that many others are willingly joining the cause. And although the government has backed away from the programme for the time being, Rashford is set to continue onwards with his campaign, and ensure that no child has to pass a day without a meal.
The entire situation can best be described in a phrase often thrown around by fans after a game of football, or any other sporting event – Rashford might have lost the match but he certainly won our hearts. His actions managed to move the hearts of millions, and his determination turned what seemed like a lost cause into something truly inspiring.
Faisal wants to be the very best, like no one ever was. To stay home is his real test, to survive the pandemic is the cause. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org