Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Saboni Ushindi

Chantal and I in the soap making room

Saboni means "soap" in Swahili. In March, I enlisted Chantal, who is a chemistry teacher and a very smart lady, to teach the women at Ushindi Center how to make soap. They had asked to learn the craft, because they can sell bars of soap in their neighborhoods for a profit.

Although there are only 4 ingredients used in soap making, it isn't all that simple a process.

To begin with, the palm oil, which is the basis of soap, must be boiled several times and stirred in the correct direction for the soap to have the desired consistency. The charcoal stove is wobbly, the pot of oil is heavy and difficult to move, and the fumes are debilitating (they irritate your lungs big time, so the women are instructed to wear masks-- Chantal was modeling here for me).

Chantal steadies the boiling oil, then later takes it off the heat
After the palm oil and caustic (for cleaning) are properly cooked, color and scent additives are stirred in, and the mixture is poured into a mold to cool. When it is firm, the block is put on the cutting table and sliced into bars, not an easy job.

We later discovered that the cutting table had not been constructed properly-- the edge boards were not square, and the cutting wire was too loose-- with the end result being irregularly shaped bars of soap.

Nonetheless, the Ushindi women sold all the bars quickly for a small profit, but we are still working to make the soap a better product. New molds have been built and the table made more servicable. Chantal added a secret ingredient which makes the soap clean and rinse more effectively. . . and we are having a stamp made that brands each bar with the name USHINDI so we stand out in the market. Soap anyone?

With love and gratitude,

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