Hollywood star Gerard Butler’s decade-long association with Mary’s Meals is celebrated in a new film which captures his trips to Liberia in 2013 and Haiti in 2018.
The 50-year-old said: “It’s great to give to your friends and to give to your family but to give to strangers, to people you don’t know, the value in that, I feel like you get that back tenfold.”
The new film, Love Reaches Everywhere, released today follows Gerard as he travels with the founder of Mary’s Meals, Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, 52.
The Scot, who has starred in films such as 300, the Fallen franchise and Geostorm, is clearly touched by the charity’s good work and the people and children affected by poverty.
He said: “I came from a family with not a lot of money, but we could always eat.
“So just when you’re faced with that reality and you see it in front of you that these kids literally sometimes don’t eat for two days.
“I make movies about heroes but often they’re in bigger, over-the-top settings. Then you come here and you see there’s a hero right there.
“The teachers in the school are heroes, the kids are all heroes that come here on empty stomachs every day to try and get an education.”
Born in Paisley, Gerard moved to Canada with his family when he was six months old but returned a year later with his mum and two older siblings when his parents’ marriage broke down.
After initially qualifying as a lawyer, Gerard has become one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars with a string of action movies including London Has Fallen and Gods of Egypt, which have netted nearly £3billion.
But in 2010, prompted by his mum, he presented Mary’s Meals founder Magnus, from Aberdeen, with a CNN Heroes.
Gerard explained: “I thought, ‘This is an organisation that my mother has been telling me about. ‘Oh I wish you’d get involved.’
“I just thought, ‘Dude, you’re amazing!’ and, from that moment on, we became fast friends.”
At home in Comrie, his mum Margaret, who lives in the Perthshire village with Gerard’s stepdad Alex Coll, has a different version of the story.
Calling the Hollywood hunk “my baby”, Margaret pointed out: “It actually wasn’t years. Gerard does tend to exaggerate at times, you know. He will say he got that from me.”
In 2013, Magnus invited Gerard to Liberia.
The Scots actor is big enough to admit at the time he was reluctant to go.
He said: “It was a very busy period in my life. Part of me was thinking, ‘Oh God, I’ve got to go to Liberia and do this and I don’t like interviews’.
“I had kind of an epiphany. I am in such a fortunate position to be able to help.”
The film shows a joyous Gerard pitching in to help prepare and serve Mary’s Meals.
He also teaches a class of orphans, plays football and plants peppers and pineapples which will be used to feed the children.
Gerard laughed: “My mum would be very proud of me right now. She’s always asking me to do the gardening.” The village gives him a warm welcome, with dances on stilts and the gift of a chicken.
The American-based star said: “They pass you a rooster as a sign of being welcomed as a brother. What the hell do I do with the rooster now?
“They were like, ‘Look, let’s take it and eat it’, and I’m like, ‘You cannot cook my rooster’. I don’t want him to die’.”
Gerard and Magnus meet one of the pupils Sunday Boy, nine, who before going to school has to haul six buckets of water the 10 minutes from the pump to his home.
The Scots pair try balancing a bucket full of water on their head with wet consequences.
While there are smiles and laughter, a circumspect Gerard said: “The light and spirit in their eyes. I wonder if I would have that same spirit if I’d been through what they’ve been through.
“I hated going to school. They had to make me go to school. Here you feel like they’re hungry to learn.
“It hit me from so may different angles: emotional, spiritual, physical. I’ve never danced this much in my life.”
The actor also gave his support to the charity, which serves meals to 1.4million children living in 19 of the world’s poorest countries, by featuring in Generation Hope, which was shown in Cannes in 2016.
Gerard soon felt the draw of going on another trip but disaster hit him when his Malibu home was destroyed in 2018 in California wildfires.
But only weeks after he had stood in the burned-out shell of his home, the “heartbroken” Scot was meeting people in more difficult positions than him, in a county torn apart by riots.
His mum Margaret said: “He felt this need to go back out and he ended up going to Haiti.”
This time, he and Magnus went to schools in Haiti’s Mirebalais area.
At one school where Mary’s Meals is already working, Ecole Communautaire St Michel de Morne Mouton, Gerard meets Wisler and his one-year-old baby sister Victoria.
His mum only allowed him to go to the school if he took his sister with him so his parents could work in the fields.
Going to a school without funding, Gerard was touched by the head teacher’s spirit and agreed to fund the feeding programme.
Now there’s a plaque at the Ecole Mixte Sainte Claire de Saut d’Eau with his name as the benefactor.
Mary’s Meals began when Argyll fish farmers Magnus and his brother Fergus were in a pub and saw a news report of the Bosnian conflict in 1992.
They decided to organise a local appeal and joined an aid convoy. The donations kept pouring in back in Scotland and Magnus gave up his old job to keep taking aid to the war-torn region.
In 2002, he founded Mary’s Meals to help 200 children starving in Malawi and it has expanded across the world, using education to help communities out of poverty.
Love Reaches Everywhere was filmed before the Covid-19 pandemic caused schools across the globe to close.
The charity has been quick to adapt, working with governments and local communities to ensure families can continue to feed their children at home.
Magnus added: “We are in a time of unprecedented global crisis that is impacting the way people around the world are living, working and being educated.
“By sharing his experiences with Mary’s Meals through this film, Gerry is helping us to shine a spotlight on the children we feed and ensure their voices aren’t lost.”
● Love Reaches Everywhere is available to view here.