Why Martha Payne was honoured by Liberty

Martha putting finishing touches to Friends of NeverSeconds

Martha putting finishing touches to Friends of NeverSeconds

If you wondered why a ten-year-old schoolgirl was honoured by Liberty as Human Rights Young Person of the Year or why in the same week the Scottish Herald named her Campaigner of the Year, this TED talk recorded at TED Global in Edinburgh June 2012 and the TED interview with Martha Payne will give you an inkling.

What made them think they could get away from this? — Clay Shirky

Martha Payne may only be 9-years-old, but she is already a world-renowned food blogger.

In a preamble to his fascinating TEDTalk about what governments can learn from open-source programming, Clay Shirky told Payne’s inspirational story.

In April of 2012, Scottish schoolgirl Payne started the blog NeverSeconds.blogspot.co.uk, which documents her school dinners (otherwise known as school lunches in the United States) with ratings like “number of mouthfuls” and “pieces of hair” found in food. The idea was to raise money for the charity Mary’s Meals, while at the same time showing the world the low nutritional value of school meals.

The blog quickly picked up fans. But on June 14, readers of NeverSeconds were greeted with a distressing post.

“This morning in maths I got taken out of class by my head teacher and taken to her office. I was told that I could not take any more photos of my school dinners because of a headline in a newspaper today,” wrote Payne. “I am sad I am no longer allowed to take photos. I will miss sharing and rating my school dinners.”

While Payne’s school supported the blog, it was reportedly the local Argyll and Bute Council that had decided its fate. Fans of the blog swung into action, flooding the council with angry messages. The outpouring was so extreme that the council quickly reversed its decision. By June 15, Payne’s blog was back.

Today, NeverSeconds has been read by 8 million people across the globe. Payne has raised £114,840 for Mary’s Meals, and the charity has set up the Friends of NeverSeconds kitchen at a school in Malawi, which Payne herself will soon visit. Meanwhile, Payne is also inspiring students in other countries, like 13-year-old Isadora Faber of Brazil, who documented her school’s poor facilities, leading to many swift improvements.

We caught up with Payne to ask her a few questions.

What inspired you to start your blog?

I want to be a journalist and I asked my dad if I could write everyday. Dad suggested a blog and we looked at some. I like the fact there is a publish button because it’s like I’m a real newspaper writer.

Why do you think your blog posts resonate so deeply with people?

Everyone knows about school dinners. I love seeing what school dinners are like around the world. Children are sharing their photos and ratings. It’s brilliant and I have cooked some of their lunches.

How did you feel in June when you were told you couldn’t photograph your lunches anymore?

I was upset and cried because I had done nothing wrong. Some adults had got embarrassed and thought stopping me would stop them being embarrassed.

What reactions did you get after you posted your goodbye message?

There were so many messages — I couldn’t read them all. Dad said it trended on Twitter and lots of people contacted Argyll and Bute Council.

Were you surprised by the level of public support you received?

It was awesome. Although I was sad because it was unfair, I was also happy that other people thought it was unfair as well.

What does that tell you about the type of world we live in?

It says even a big Council can’t be a bully. They ignored me when I said it was unfair but they couldn’t ignore the world.

How has your blog changed since you were able to resume posting?

There are guest bloggers writing each week because I’m off school, so no school dinners yet. I am going to Malawi to visit the Mary’s Meals charity because the friends of NeverSeconds raised over £114,000 to feed children a school dinner in Malawi. I will blog everyday from Malawi if I can.

What have you learned from your blogging experience?

I don’t know why adults teach us to write and think then get embarrassed when we do it outside class. I love kids sharing their meals with me and I like sharing back. The internet isn’t just for adults — we can use it too. When everyone chips in, you can help children around the world like with Mary’s Meals.

—————————————

During her day in London, Martha visited Parliament, before the Liberty Award Ceremony in the evening. She later reflected: why do we need Liberty if we have Parliament?

We need Liberty, we need people like Martha, because there are always those who will seek to silence critical voices.We need people who will fight for what is right.

The Taliban thought they could silence Malawa with a bullet to to the brain. They were wrong, she survived, more determined than ever to fight for education for girls. Her cause was taken up by former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. So far he has collected over 2 million signatures in support of Malawa, Pakistan has been forced to introduce compulsory free education for girls and boys, has doubled the education budget.

Vladimire Putin thought he could silence Pussy Riot. He was wrong. Only last week he was given a public dressing down by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

President Morsi thought he could grant himself executive powers. Those who have filled Tahrir Square in protest think otherwise.

A pathetic jobsworth in a local council thought he could bully a nine-year-old schoolgirl, close down her food blog NeverSeconds. With the help and support of her family and friends around the world including chef Jamie Oliver, Martha stood her ground. The council were forced into a humiliating climbdown, with the leader of the council issuing a public apology on BBC Radio 4 lunchtime news World at One (only that morning on the Today programme the council had tried to justify their action). The council even blatantly lied!

NeverSeconds has now recorded over 8.7 million hits. Through NeverSeconds Martha went on to raise over £120,000 for a school kitchen in Malawi called Friends of NeverSeconds, and was invited to Malawi to inaugurate the kitchen.

With the help of her father David, Martha has co-written a book NeverSeconds, which tells the story of her blog, standing firm against the bully-boys at her local council, the trip to Malawi.

For whatever perverse reason Waterstone’s in England is not stocking NeverSeconds, does not have it on display. Once again her friends are coming to her rescue, walking into Waterstone’s bookshops and demanding to know why NeverSeconds is not in stock, not on display.

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