Building a Brighter Future in Malawi
In 2021, SCB–the world-leading, low carbon commodity company–funded solar power and Adult Literacy Programs at nine buildOn schools in Malawi. Today, more than 6,000 children and 700 adults have benefitted from the increased access to education that these lights and classes have provided.
For decades, children in Chang’ombe struggled to learn in crumbling, dilapidated structures or outside under trees. Students sat on the floor and classes were often cancelled due to inclement weather. Additionally, because of its remote location, the school and the community at large never had access to electricity and the absence of this valuable resource created additional obstacles for the children.
Doing their homework during the day often wasn’t possible because the children were either in class or helping their parents with domestic chores. At night they could not study effectively either, due to the poor sources of light available in their homes. Without electricity, most of the children’s homes used small flashlights or candles in the evenings, and both options presented their own set of challenges. The flashlights needed their batteries replaced frequently–which many families could not afford–and the candles didn’t give off much light or last very long. These obstacles left the learners with very little time to study, resulting in poor scores on their examinations.
“In Expressive Arts, I never scored above 50%. My score has always been lower because I needed more time to study at night in order to improve; however, having no light both at home and at school, my studying time was limited and I failed to improve my test scores and grade,” says 16-year-old Bernadette Mwale, who is currently in the seventh grade and dreams of being a teacher when she grows up. Bernadette is not alone in her struggles– many of her classmates have mentioned the same challenges and believe that their grades have suffered due to inadequate studying time. “Studying only during the day time wasn’t enough. In fact, night time studies are more effective than day time studies; however, night studies here were not possible because we lacked proper lighting,” adds Yamikani Phiri, who hopes to be a police officer when he graduates.
“In Expressive Arts, I never scored above 50%. My score has always been lower because I needed more time to study at night in order to improve. However, having no light both at home and at school, my studying time was limited and I failed to improve my score and grade.”Bernadette Mwale, student in Chang’ombe
Circumstances in Chang’ombe finally began to change in October 2021 when the community partnered with buildOn to construct a new school block. Today, not only do the children attending this school finally have proper classrooms and desks, thanks to the partnership of SCB, they also have solar power. “The electricity has enabled me to have extra study periods at night,” says Bernadette. “My daily study time begins at 6pm and ends at 10pm. I am glad to say that with such a rigorous night study, I have now improved my examination scores and grades. The subject which I used to score below 50% in, I now score above 60% in!”
“Having solar power has caused a lot of motivation for our learners in attending classes,” says Head Teacher, Tryness Bondo. “We have noticed a reduction in absenteeism in learners ever since we started using the new school block with electricity. At the same time, parents are now more eager to send their children to this school. We have even received transfer students from nearby schools because they admire their fellows who can study at night. We have also already observed a change in the performance of learners in weekend tests. Without a doubt, this is a reflection of their ability to study at night. All learners from this area live in houses that do not have electricity, and most parents cannot afford a flashlight for their children to study at home. Having electricity is expected to help in improving our learners’ performance at national exams as well.”
“We have noticed a reduction in absenteeism in learners ever since we started using the new school block with electricity. Having electricity is expected to help in improving our learners’ performance at national exams as well.”Tryness Bondo, Head Teacher, Chang’ombe Primary School
Beyond giving learners the opportunity to study at night, having access to solar power at the school has helped the teachers of Chang’ombe to more effectively plan lessons and educate their pupils. “With the solar light, we can easily write lesson plans and fill in student records, even at night,” says Tryness. “At the same time the solar power is helping us to teach extra lessons at night which will allow us to complete the syllabus on time.” For teachers in rural communities whose schools are already understaffed and under-resourced, these small changes have a had a powerful impact.
Fellow teacher, Zione Bvulumende, adds, “With the installation of electricity, we can easily organize staff meetings at night especially when we have very tight schedules during the day hours. Electricity has also simplified the process of teaching and learning because, for example, we are now able to use a computer to show a video explaining a science experiment we are conducting. In the past, most concepts were just explained theoretically and it was difficult for the learners to grasp the content. Honestly, the electricity installed at the school has had great impact on the community.”
In addition to funding solar power, SCB also funded Adult Literacy Programs in nine rural Malawian communities, including Chang’ombe. This innovate buildOn program is giving 104 adults in Chang’ombe, including 92 women, the opportunity to gain valuable skills in reading, writing and arithmetic. For program participants like 45-year-old Jessy Banda, buildOn’s Adult Literacy classes are providing a second chance at an education that many thought was lost forever. “When my parents died, I was unable to pay for my education and had to drop out of school after Grade 3,” remembers Jessy.
Since her Adult Literacy Classes began in March, Jessy is excited to report that she has already learned how to hold a pen and write between the ruled lines of her school notebook. “My expectation from this program is to be functionally literate, where I can read, write, and do basic math,” says Jessy. “I hope to be able to apply these skills to my farming and business ventures.”
With all of these positive changes happening in their community, the future is looking brighter for all of Chang’ombe’s learners, both young and old.