Thursday, July 10, 2008

Bukavu Women´s Center & Soap Making

It´s good to be back in Bukavu, here looking north and east across Lake Kivu toward Rwanda.

I´ve missed the colors and chaos of this busy town.

For those of you who have followed the growth of the Bukavu Women´s Trauma Healing and Care Center, I have good news: The Center is well and thriving.

I met with Committee members Kishi, Natalie, Irene, and Cristelle (l. to r. in photo below). Yves, who was voted in as a Committee member, was present at the meeting but not in photo. Committee member Mama Martha was not present.

These are some of the good things happening at the Center right now:

1) For one, they hired a well-qualified accountant, Irene Nagas, to keep track of all financial transactions and be accountable to an outside auditor on a monthly basis.

2) It turns out that 13 sewing machines, situated in a dry building with a roof and cement floor, are quite a luxury in Bukavu. . . so much so that the machines can be rented to professional dressmakers on a per item basis, bringing in a tidy passive income. The women survivors will continue their sewing classes in the morning, and the machines will be available for rent in the afternoon. Everyone is happy with this prosperous turn of events.

3) The Center will be making soap to sell, an experiment that has good incoming-producing potential. So Yves, Natalie, and I went to visit a small factory where the soap would be made in an industrial section of Bukavu. The factory owner, a Pastor and friend of Yves, has allowed the Center use his facilities for a reasonable sum ($30 per batch) to help the women survivors.

Yves had just returned from the bush, where he bought palm nuts for the Center and had them delivered to the factory.

Soap making is a seasonal activity as palm trees do not produce nuts during the rainy season; it takes sun to make palm oil. The process takes anywhere from 4-7 days, from nut to soap bar, and this factory is able to make one batch at a time.

First, the palm nuts are laid out in the sun to dry for several days.

When dry, they are crushed into palm oil by a machine that looks like a funky coffee grinder.

The pressed oil is mixed with dye and caustic

then poured into a mold where it sits for up to 48 hours while it solidifies.

When the soap has become a solid block,
it is turned out . .

and sliced into large slabs,

which are chopped into small squares that can be sold individually in stores, or by street children who want to make a few pennies . . .

or by street vendors, such as this woman.

Due to the worldwide recession, prices for everything have doubled in Congo in the last 3 months. For this reason, the Committee is not sure how much profit can be made from making and selling soap. As I mentioned earlier, this is an experiement, and I will let you know if the project was lucrative when I know next week.

With love and gratitude,

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