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VSO/Amos Gumulira


Our work in Malawi is helping children achieve at school. It’s lighting up remote villages and empowering women. And it’s helping prisoners with HIV get the treatment they need.


90,000 children from 110 primary schools in Malawi have achieved significant learning gains through the Unlocking Talent Through Technology programme


200 households in eight villages in Lilongwe rural west have access to renewable energy thanks to VSO Malawi's Solar Mama rural electrification project


Reading scores have doubled in schools supported by VSO Malawi's Unlocking Talent Through Technology programme


Teacher and pupils using tablet edutech technology in the classroom in Lilongwe Malawi | VSO ©VSO/Amos Gumulira

Teacher Stembile Naming'ona assists pupil, Halima Ali, who has special educational needs, to work on her tablet on the Unlocking Talent project at Biwi Primary School in Lilongwe, Malawi

Only 35% of Malawian children complete primary school. Although primary education is free, poverty, crowded classrooms and lack of resources has lead to a high drop-out rate.

VSO works with the Government of Malawi, schools and teachers to improve access to quality education for all children. We do this by helping develop better policies and learning environments.

Unlocking Talent

With an average class size of up to 90 pupils, our Unlocking Talent project makes teaching manageable using tablet technology.

VSO’s Unlocking Talent project provides schools in Malawi with solar-powered tablet technology programmed with bespoke local-language apps for numeracy and literacy. We train teachers to use the technology in their classes and support their pupils to develop these vital skills through simple, engaging lessons.

The Unlocking Talent and Solar Mamas projects are closely linked. The solar power that the Solar Mamas provide enables the iPad technology to be brought into the classrooms.

I can see it making improvements with our children, particularly in terms of attendance. They are rarely absent now because they don’t want to miss those classes.

Stembile Naming’ona, teacher, Biwi Primary School, Malawi

Recent results

  • The increase in reading scores was twice as high for children in the intervention schools over those in the control schools.
  • The intervention eliminated the gender gap between boys and girls. In control schools, girls fell behind boys, whereas girls performed as well as boys in intervention schools.
  • The evidence highlighted by the research reflects that accelerated learning is taking place (for example, a 47% increase in learning gains for Unlocking Talent intervention schools compared to the control schools).
  • In March 2018, reports showed 90,000 children from 110 primary schools had seen a massive improvement in their learning.
  • Reading scores doubled and girls are no longer falling behind boys.

Want to find out more about this project? Click below to find out more:

read more about the unlocking talent project (global) 

Read more about the Unlocking Talent project in Malawi


A secure livelihood empowers people to take charge of, and make plans for, their own futures.

Eililoy Kamwendo, solar mama VSO/Peter Caton

Eililoy Kamwendo, 62, was trained as a solar engineer on VSO's Solar Mama's pilot project in Malawi. She says that the project is changing the way women are viewed in her community.

Our livelihoods projects are helping people maximise their resources and boost their incomes. By ensuring that people in rural communities have access to a steady stream of income, they are able to build businesses, invest in their futures and are more resilient to shocks.

Solar Mamas rural electrification project

The Solar Mamas project has the double benefit of providing livelihoods for marginalised communities, but also empowering marginalised women within those communities.

The women were selected from eight villages in Lilongwe rural west in Malawi and sent to be trained as solar engineers in India. They learnt how to build and maintain solar powered lighting and generators, bringing sustainable, low cost energy to their communities.

The project gives them skills, income and greater standing within their communities. The mamas are paid by the community to build and maintain the systems. They get a steady stream of income while saving their communities money on items like batteries and candles and providing them with lighting for the evenings and, essentially, more hours in the day.


  • The project has improved access to renewable energy for 200 households in eight villages in Lilongwe rural west and has empowered women and improved educational opportunities for them
  • Through building the capacity of the Solar Mamas (the community members who received the training), the social economic status of the Solar Mamas and the community members has improved
  • Every Solar Mama gets MK10, 000.00 (USD13) every month.
  • Due to the extended hours of light, some are able to increase their income by as much as 50% by extending their working hours into the night

Here in the village, people expect women to just be at home, cooking for the family, ensuring the kids are fed and wearing clean clothes. Now, people are starting to change their perception towards us.

Eililoy Kamwendo, 62, Solar Mama

More information on Solar Mama rural electrification project.

Solar Mama project page 


Malawi has one of the highest prevalences of HIV in the world. And globally, the prevalence of HIV on other sexually transmitted infections in prison populations is 2 to 10 times as high, and in some cases may be up to 50 times as high, as in the general population.

While Malawi is making progress in tackling the epidemic, stigma, lack of education and under-resourced health services still present barriers to tackling it in prisons, as well as the wider population.

HIV in prisons

VSO’s Regional HIV and AIDS Programme in Southern Africa (RHAISA), in partnership with UNODC, aims to improve access and quality of health and HIV and AIDS services in prison population, lobby governments, Prisons and Correctional Facilities to adopt and implement policies on health reform in line with South African Development Community minimum standards.

Through volunteer placements, VSO focuses on capacity building of Prisons and Correctional Facilities, and partner organisations working at all levels of the prisons system, especially with the prisoners to ensure that they are aware of their right to health.

Find out more about our work supporting health in prisons

Health and rights for prisoners project page

Volunteering for Development programme

The Volunteering for Development programme, funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) works to improve quality and access to health and education services as well as livelihood opportunities for the most poor and vulnerable.

The grant recognises VSO's extensive experience of putting volunteers in the right places to tackle poverty and inequality. Find out more


What makes VSO different?

VSO's excellent development results in Malawi are thanks to the productive partnerships and rich organisational knowledge behind some of the most innovative development projects in the country today.

An independent evaluation of our Unlocking Talent project found that children who took part in the scheme had made the same amount of educational progress in eight weeks as they would previously have made in a year.

If you would like to find out more about how you can work with VSO in Malawi, we’d love to hear from you.

Our partners

VSO’s valued funding partners in Malawi include UNICEF, Comic Relief and the Scottish Government. We develop research and partnerships together such as with the University of Nottingham and social enterprise onebillion.

We have good relationships with government bodies including the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security.

Our local implementing partners range from government ministries, to NGOs, to village health clinics. Through our support last year, partners made improvements in:

  • Children’s access to quality learning

  • Women’s access to better health care, services and information

  • Community resilience in the face of climate change

  • Market system awareness

  • Income enhancement for farmers

    Contact us

Find out more about partnering with VSO Malawi by contacting

VSO Malawi
Private Bag B 300
Capital City, Lilongwe 3
Tel: +265 1 795 499, +265 1 795 492, +265 1 795 494.

Interested in volunteering in Malawi?

Find out more and see volunteer roles available now.