Soap Making!

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The past two days I have spent learning how to make soap! Soap making is an activity that the Rural Enterprises Project (REP) supports through running training sessions on how it's made and business training for startup businesses run out of the Business Advisory Centre (BAC). Rabi Anyoka, the head lady of the household I am living in, runs an empowerment centre for girls from a village in West Gonja, training them in seamstress skills, soap making, and tie and dye, along with leadership skills and basic numeracy and literacy. She learned how to make bar soap about a year ago through a training session facilitated by the BAC. After receiving a grant and some credit, she has created a soap making and training workshop and invested in some of the start up materials. Even though she is a true entrepreneur, she is still struggling. A one year payback period on a loan is very difficult, especially when the monthly payment is substantially greater than the monthly profit. Depicted below are some pictures taken as I learned about how to make soap. Lessons learned…its long, hard work and African women are strong!

Process of Making Bar Soap:
1. collect materials (coconut oil, buckets, scoops, caustic soda, water, soda ash, perfume, mixing spoons, hydrometer, rubber gloves, moulds, plastic bags, tables, and cutting equipment)
2. the moulds are set on the table and lined with plastic
3. mix caustic soda (NaOH) and water measure out the volume and ensure correct level of acidity (pH) with the hydrometer (Note, the solution is corrosive! Gloves should be used when handling this liquid)
4. mix 10 L of coconut oil, 1 scoop of perfume, 1 scoop of soda ash, and the measured volume of caustic soda and water into a large mixing bowl
5. the contents are mixed for about 10 minutes or less, in the same direction at an average speed (don't mess around here, or you will spoil the batch!)
6. the contents are poured into the moulds (caution, heavy lifting!)
7. These are left to dry for approximately 2.5-3 hours until they are white in colour. The tops are leveled out with a scrapper as the cooling occurs.
8. the moulds are removed, and the scrapper is used to clean up all sides of the block of soap
the block of soap is brought to cutting board, and pushed through to slice it into 10 long rectangles (caution, very difficult!)
9. these are pushed through another cutter to create square blocks
these blocks are carried back to the table, and all 6 sides are stamped with the logo (time intensive)
10. the blocks are placed outside to dry in the sun
11. the bars of soap are collected and stored inside
12. bars of soap are distributed to various sellers to sell at the market and in villages

In working with REP this summer, I will be trying to evaluate the services the BAC provides, and see in what ways I can increase the capacity of this office to improve their services. Since I have been out with malaria for the past week (I know, leave it to me to get it as soon as I get off the plane), I have made little headway at the office, but have spent valuable time learning about the struggles and activities of the clients we are working to help. One area I am interested in learning more about is to what extent creativity and innovation is encouraged and fostered in training sessions. Training 30 women in how to make soap doesn't seem that sustainable unless the women are able to diversify and improve upon the initial training. However, easier said than done, as I observed that to experiment and try to be different is risky, and when you have a family to feed and limited supplies, to spoil a batch of soap is perhaps more significant here than it would be at home in Canada. It was dually noted that machinery would have helped the process along. However, I am going to tread lightly here, because I think a machine would be a band-aid solution, not a real solution to the problem. If I could identify someone in town who could design a machine, and make it themselves, then more business is being created from training one woman how to make soap. Training one woman how to make soap does not just improve her own livelihood, but trickles down to many others. For instance, it created work for the carpenter who built the moulds and cutter, it provided a product to be sold for women struggling to earn income, it creates more business for the oil producers, it promotes sanitation, and so on.