The District Commissioner of Malawi's Neno District, Lawford Palani, cuts the ribbon to inaugurate the Neno Vocational Training Center.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” Nelson Mandela once said. Partners In Health’s Dr. Jonas Rigodon recently quoted these famous words at the inauguration of the Neno Vocational Training Center in rural Malawi.

Malawi suffers from one of the world’s highest rates of HIV infection, and its people are among the world’s poorest. Three quarters of the population lives below the international population line of $1.25 a day, and UN estimates put HIV infection rates at 11 percent of the adult population.

PIH and its Malawian sister organization Abwenzi Pa Za Uyomo (APZU) are working to combat these dire statistics with a number of programs supported by its Program on Social and Economic Rights.  “Attending to the health of the community requires attending to the communities’ social and economic needs,” explained Dr. Rigodon, who is APZU’s Country Director. These needs include shelter, food, education, and economic opportunities. The new training center, organized in a partnership with the UK-based organization Neno Macadamia Trust, is one of APZU’s latest efforts to address these needs.

The new training facility has already enrolled 18 students—12 girls and 6 boys. Most of them are from HIV-affected households—either infected with HIV themselves, caring for patients, or orphaned by the disease. All of them had been too poor to attend school. The local Social Welfare Office worked with APZU to select the participants, reported APZU’s Edith Chihana.


Carpentry instructor George Kasamwa demonstrates some of the center's new tools.

The training center’s first class of students will be trained in carpentry, and a future course for welding is being planned. In addition to learning skills, the center will also provide the graduating students with a set of tools, including hammers, saws, clamps, and other supplies they’ll need to begin their own carpentry businesses.

The new facility was the brainchild of David and Vanessa Maskell, volunteers with Neno Macadamia Trust. In 2009, the duo helped organize a carpentry workshop in the rural Neno district in southern Malawi, the district where APZU operates. They quickly saw the need to expand the scope of the project, and began working with Neno Macadamia Trust and APZU to construct the training center, with funding from the Miriam Dean Fund and the Alan & Nesta Ferguson Trust. Land for the facility was provided by Neno’s District Commissioner, and Tools for Self Reliance helped to equip the center with hand tools and larger power tools and machinery.

On a bright sunny day two years after the Maskells first conceived their idea, a crowd gathered in front of the freshly-painted brick building to celebrate the inauguration of the training center. As brightly-colored balloons danced in the breeze, the Neno District Commissioner Lawford Palani cut the ribbon. “Economic Development without education is useless,” he said, urging the first class of students to take advantage of the opportunities the center will offer them, and to use their newly learned skills to become models in their communities.

Other attendees of the inaugurating event included the Neno District Social Welfare Officer Peter Magomero, the Director of Administration at Neno District Council, the District Information Officer for Neno, and Village Headman Donda.

Both the Palani and Magomero expressed their expectations that the training center will not only help bring a brighter future for each individual student, but also to their families, their communities, and even the country of Malawi. Education that changes the world, just as Nelson Mandela had predicted.


PIH Malawi Country Director Jonas Rigodon welcomes the Neno community.


Some of the first students of the new training center perform a dance for the crowd.

Learn about a similar APZU program that teaches tailoring skills to women affected by the AIDS epidemic.