Family planning workshop
VSO/Paul Wambugu

Looking back on VSO in 2023

As we move into 2024, let’s take the time to reflect on the last 12 months. 

2023 was eventful to say the least! From marking the first full year that our planet became home to eight billion people, to witnessing youth across the world take their stand on issues important to them. While there were many times that we celebrated, there were also some challenges too. Climate change wreaked havoc, food prices soared, and conflicts and inequalities continued to impact some of the world’s most left-behind communities. 

However, thanks to you and our inspiring volunteers, as well as the communities that we work closely with, we were still able to help play our part in creating a fairer world for everyone. As we head into 2024, we wanted to share seven highlights and successes from the VSO year. Happy reading!

1) Our year in numbers

Prisca helping students with the tablets.
VSO/Halifax Trading Malawi
National volunteer, Prisca, helping Memory* with her solar-powered tablet in the learning centre.

Thanks to our amazing volunteers and supporters, VSO reached 10.9 million people.

In countries like Malawi and Mozambique, VSO supported over 3.2 million children to overcome challenging conditions by tapping into the power of technology. In some schools in Malawi, 200 children are cramped into a classroom with only one teacher and no stationery, desks or tables.  

Learners were provided with solar-powered tablets loaded with education programmes that teach students to read, write and count. Thanks to all our supporters who donated to our summer and Christmas appeals, helping to ensure girls and children in Mozambique and Malawi get the education they deserve.

Meanwhile, over 200,000 people were reached through VSO’s resilient livelihoods programmes. VSO continued to support communities living in fragile contexts affected by conflict and climate change. This included supporting former Moro Islamic Liberation Front combatants in the Philippines to build peaceful communities to respond to the challenges of environmental degradation.

Man in VSO t shirt in boat
Lisa Marie David
Manny, 70, is an ex-Moro Islamic Liberation Front commander turned VSO volunteer. He oversees the construction and running of the boardwalk and eco-tourism site.

A big shout out to our supporters who donated a whopping £72,000 to our latest Kin magazine edition, which was centred around the peace-building work in the Philippines.

Manny, a former commander-turned VSO volunteer says “ Since this project was implemented, the lives of mujahideen—young people, women, and ex-combatants of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front—have seen positive transformations. They have begun to embrace enduring peace and have faith in the possibility of turning their communities into more productive places through the ecotourism site.” 

Through our health projects, we supported almost 90,000 of the most disadvantaged members of society to have better access to health services and rights. This included helping to reduce gender-based violence against women and girls in countries like Nepal. To date, VSO has supported 3,000 couples through sessions where they can learn about sexual reproductive rights, family planning and gender-based violence. 

2) Exploring VSO’s work from the comfort of your sofa

Throughout the year, supporters and volunteers worldwide had the opportunity to tune into a series of social media livestreams on a range of different topics. 

To commemorate World Environment Day in July, VSO hosted three livestreams about our climate-resilience work. Participants heard from volunteers in the Philippines, Kenya and Nigeria on how they are turning the tide against plastics, protecting their environments from deforestation and helping to reduce the impact of natural disasters by engaging with local communities.  

One attendee said, “This is all so insightful! It shows that there's actual hope on the ground, because we have people with good intentions doing the real work. From the policies, to reforestation, to community empowerment, and more specifically women empowerment in climate change, I believe we can achieve climate resilience.” 

Women pose at the #BeTheChange photobooth
Guests at the VSO exhibition booth at the Women Deliver Conference 2023 in Kigali taking photos with the #BeTheChange selfie frame.

As well as this, there were livestreams for International Girls in ICT Day and one ahead of the VSO Volunteer Impact Awards 2023, where we reunited with previous winners to find out what they’re getting up to now. You can explore all of our livestreams here

3) Women’s rights in the spotlight in Rwanda

In July, a cohort of VSO volunteers and staff members convened in Kigali to attend the Women Deliver Conference. Women Deliver is one of the world's largest conferences on the health, rights, and wellbeing of girls and women. 

VSO was there to engage with people from around the world on how to mitigate challenges, break barriers, and identify opportunities to advance gender equality. There were also discussions around sexual and reproductive health rights for girls and women across the globe.  

There was also a film screening of Brown – a heart-warming film by Rwandan volunteer, Brown Niyonsaba and volunteer filmmaker, Justin Spray which explores the question "What does it mean to be a Deaf woman in Rwanda?"  You can enjoy the film here.

4) VSO volunteers go to parliament

Youth volunteers at UK Parliament
Former VSO youth volunteers at the Houses of Parliament in London.

In October, former VSO volunteers visited the Houses of Parliament to lobby the UK government to do more to help those affected by the drought that continues to impact the Horn of Africa. Millions of people across parts of East Africa have faced acute hunger due to a deadly combination of a human-driven climate crisis, conflict, and a soaring global cost of living.

Thanks to your support, during the hunger crisis, awe-inspiring youth champions like Fridah Okomo helped to strengthen community resilience in her home country Kenya. 

By spreading climate awareness through the power of social media, radio shows, and webinars, Fridah engaged community members in the climate change discussion and trained them on the best course of action they should take. Additionally, through her campaigning and advocacy efforts, Fridah has played a pivotal role in ensuring that climate change policies and legislation are on policymakers’ agendas in Kenya.

5) A trip down memory lane

November saw VSO host its first UK reunion event at the British Library in London for returned volunteers. Those who had volunteered between 1958 and the 2000s came together again to share their experiences and stories. We loved seeing photos, many in black and white, of volunteering adventures around the world.

Peter pointing to a picture from his VSO placement
VSO/Becky Mursell
Peter, a returned volunteer, pointing to a picture from his VSO placement in Tanzania in 2001 and 2003.

During the event, attendees had the opportunity to learn more about VSO’s work through a photo and audio exhibition and by listening to a series of panel discussions.

VSO staff members took to the stage to deliver two storytelling sections about VSO’s work around fostering ‘Lasting Peace in the Philippines’ and ‘Unlocking Talent in Malawi’. We also welcomed former volunteers to share their own experiences too.

One attendee commented, “The highlight of the event has been the amount of interesting people around, hearing where they’ve come from and what they're doing now.”

6) Championing climate resilience at COP28 

November and December also marked COP28 in Dubai, with VSO climate champions and staff keen to ensure that tackling climate change-related issues was at the forefront of policymakers’ decisions. Representatives from all the world’s governments and some global corporations convened in Dubai. 

One of the most historic and breakthrough outcomes from this year’s summit was the establishment of a Loss and Damage Fund. This fund will help compensate vulnerable countries struggling to cope with the devastation caused by the climate crisis.  

During COP28, VSO presented evidence from Malawi of how our volunteers are helping communities in areas affected by climate change. You can learn more about this here.

7) The Volunteer Impact Awards were back with a bang 

Father and son in the Philippines
VSO/Lisa Marie David
Manny a former rebel commander-turned VSO volunteer, with his son Taps at an ecotourism site. Manny was one of the finalists for the Volunteer Impact Awards livelihoods category.

In December, it was that magical time of the year again - the annual virtual Volunteer Impact Awards! This was an occasion to shine a spotlight on the amazing contributions of VSO volunteers and the impact they’ve had on communities across the world.

With inspirational guest speakers, spoken word by a long-standing Filipino volunteer and a music performance from Kenyan artist ‘Leteipa the King’, it was an event not to be missed. There were four award categories representative of VSO’s core areas of work: livelihoods, education, health and active citizenship.  

Fridah Okomo who chaired this year’s awards ceremony said, “My VSO volunteering highlight of the 2023 has been hosting the VSO Volunteer Impact Awards and the social media livestreams to connect with last year’s winners! It gave me a chance to connect with many VSO volunteers, learn and be inspired from their stories. Among the countless stories, they all shared the passion and commitment to continue making a difference in the community. This was something really profound.”

A round of applause to our all 2023 finalists and winners, who you can read more about here.

A heartfelt thanks to all our volunteers and supporters all around the world for making 2023 such an amazing year! We’re excited to see what 2024 has in store.

*Pseudonyms have been used to protect the identity of individuals.

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