Refugee Soap Maker
Kenya hosts one of the largest refugee populations in Africa. The country has over 495,000 refugees and asylum seekers fleeing war and violence from Somalia, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia. The majority of these refugees are located in camps in Dadaab in the southeast of Kenya, Kakuma in the northwest as well as Nairobi. In what some have referred to as “the forgotten crisis,” many of Kenya’s refugees have spent generations living in camps. During the COVID-19 pandemic, sanitation has become an issue among the refugee population in Kenya, Luckily, a refugee soap maker has emerged to aid with that challenge.

The Situation

The three Dadaab camps, which some originally expected to hold only 90,000, are now home to over 300,000 refugees. Similarly, the Kakuma camp is home to nearly 200,000 people. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the close quarters and less-than-ideal sanitation standards can be dangerous. Like many others around the world, those in Kakuma have been stocking up on everything from food to sanitation supplies.

A Clean, Helping Hand

Innocent Havyarimana is a refugee soap maker in Kenya. Through his business, he helps to combat COVID-19 at the local level of the Kakuma camp. A former chemistry student from Burundi, Havyarimana fled the country in 2013. Upon arriving in Kakuma, he began to look for a way to support himself. In his search, he noticed that the region did not have a factory to produce soap. Afterward, inspiration struck.

Havyarimana garnered information from the web and took a course on soap making which the World Lutheran Federation aid agency offered. With a loan from a former classmate in Burundi, he was able to begin his soap-making business, Glap Industries, short for God Loves All People. The refugee soap maker then received grants from relief agencies including, UNHCR and NGOs, such as the African Entrepreneur Collective.

Glap Industries supplies soap to local institutions and relief agencies outside of the camp. The business additionally provides classes for refugees on making cleaning products. The company also serves as a way to provide jobs for refugees. A total of 42 employees currently work for Glap industries, the majority of them refugees themselves.

Glap Industries Adapts to COVID-19

With a spike in the need for sanitation products, the refugee soap maker had to increase its production by 75%. Further, Havyarimana started making hand sanitizer with aloe vera in addition to his soap products. The soap maker wanted to ensure access to sanitary supplies, especially for those most vulnerable to COVID-19, such as the disabled and the elderly. To accomplish this, he significantly lowered his prices and began producing smaller, more affordable sizes. Glap Industries offers soap in 100 milliliter to 1-liter containers, the smallest costing only 50 cents. “I lowered prices, as it was more important to protect people than to think of profit,” says Havyarimana.

The Bigger Impact

Businesses and entrepreneurship are a vital part of the economy of Kakuma. According to a 2018 World Bank study, the 2,000 businesses operating in Kakuma bring more than $50 million annually to the local economy. Eujin Byun of the UNHCR in Kenya says that “the refugees are playing a pivotal role in helping contain the spread of COVID-19 in Kakuma.” UNHCR has been working with the government to improve the capabilities of local health facilities to treat patients. Another aim is to spread necessary information concerning the virus, such as the importance of handwashing.

As a refugee soap maker, Innocent Havyarimana encourages other refugees to take precautions against the virus. However, his role stems far beyond fellow refugees. Havyarimana shares the importance of sanitization in stopping the spread of the coronavirus through Kakuma, and subsequently the rest of Kenya. His outreach and business help to minimize the spread of COVID-19 for those all throughout Kenya.

Nina Eddinger
Photo: Flickr

DouglaPrieta Works
In many cases of migration, dangers from gangs and community violence force people to leave their homes. Migrants also tend to flee because of economic challenges and persecution. A few women in Mexico who were part of these forced removals did not want to move to a new country. It was important for these women to stay where their families, cultures and traditions existed despite difficulties like finding sustainable jobs in Mexico. As a result, they decided to move to Agua Prieta, Mexico and become a part of the family at DouglaPrieta Works.

The Beginning

DouglaPrieta Work is a self-help organization that women founded to help the poor. Specifically, the founders had the dream of procuring the means to stay in their home country through the creation of a self-sufficiency co-op. To fund this, the women sell handmade goods such as reusable bags, earrings, winter accessories, dolls and more. They sell these beautiful crafts throughout Agua Prieta, neighboring cities and even in the United States. Their efforts all center back to the main goal of promoting “a mutual-aid ethic among community members, with the goal of economic self-sufficiency.”

How it Works

The first step in economic security is education. The women at DouglaPrieta Works understand this and all self-teach. They work together to learn how to sew, knit, craft, cook and read. The women utilize these skills to then sustain themselves, their families and the co-op. To further support themselves, the group incorporated a farm next to their co-op. They use the fruits and vegetables they grow for cooking. The women encourage sustainable food security through culturally-appropriate foods based on the needs of the people in their community. The group also built a woodshop to craft furniture for the community to maximize the benefits of their surrounding resources. The co-op does not exclude the children in all of this work either. Oftentimes, their children learn the skills along with them and work with each other in school.

Actions

In 2019, they led an initiative where people in their town could donate canned goods and receive a handmade reusable bag in return. This program allowed the women of DouglaPrieta Works able to donate hundreds of canned goods to those in need. Additionally, they were able to provide reusable bags to the community in order to encourage limited plastic bag use to better the environment.

DouglaPrieta Works often provides migrants working at its co-op with funds to help them and their families survive the journey of migration. There is a nearby migrant shelter in Agua Prieta, C.A.M.E, to house the travelers. While at the co-op, many migrants work in the woodshop at AguaPrieta Works in exchange for meals, funds and friendship.

Students and groups interested in learning about the U.S./Mexico border are welcome to join the women at DouglaPrieta Works for a meal, as the women provide stories and information about the border. The power of education and inclusivity is a core value at DouglaPrieta Works.

Helping Out

Overall, incredible work is occurring in the town of Agua Prieta, Mexico. These women are sustaining themselves to stay in the country they call home and they are providing food, resources and work for migrants. Their children are able to learn and grow together, as well as eat healthy, organic meals from the garden. To learn more about the co-op, visit its website.

Naomi Schmeck
Photo: Flickr

Microfinancing Partners in Africa
Microfinancing Partners in Africa is a nonprofit that provides microfinance opportunities to people in Sub-Saharan Africa. Its current programs vary in nature. Some examples include giving loans to subsistence farmers to purchase a cow, providing water filtration systems and educating students on microfinance.

Microfinance is an innovative approach to growing the economies of impoverished nations by giving its citizens access to small loans, usually under $200. It is a way for those in poverty to develop a stable income because they do not have access to traditional loans.

Historically, companies have used high-interest rates to take advantage of impoverished people seeking loans. However, agencies like Microfinancing Partners in Africa counter that practice. It offers options that often require recipients to take financial literacy courses and give them loans without requiring collateral. In this way, Microfinancing Partners in Africa works to actively combat poverty within Sub-Saharan Africa. Here are some of its success stories:

Jane Nalwadda

Jane Nalwadda is a woman from Uganda born with an obstetric fistula. Her condition left her unable to have a child with her husband who consequently left her after three years of marriage. The abandonment left Nalwadda without a reliable source of income. She fell into utter despair until a friend recommended the Kitovu hospital to her. There she would be eligible for a free fistula repair surgery program. Here is where Microfinancing Partners in Africa stepped in.

The nonprofit established the microfinance program The Piglet Project. The program helps women make money post-fistula repair by helping them raise and breed pigs, eventually creating a sustainable business. Jane was able to raise $29 with her first litter of pigs, which enabled her to build a better pen. She now has a steady means of making a living and can build a promising future.

Bujugo Village

Bujugo is a tiny village in Tunisia that has clean water accessibility problems. The village received seven water filters from Microfinancing Partners in Africa in 2019. Villagers then received training to use the filters and developed a time table to maximize the amount of village usage. Now, 49 families receive clean drinking water because of this microfinancing program.

Florence Mbaziira and Joseph Mbaziira

Florence and Joseph Mbaziira are an older couple from Uganda who works on a farm with mostly unproductive land. They tirelessly worked on their farm to support themselves and their four grandchildren. By 2014, the family was still living off a small income that came from selling the produce that they grew. Afterward, they turned to the Cow Project.

Microfinancing Partners in Africa created the Cow Project to support farmers through a “living loan.” The Mbaziiras took full advantage of the program and bought a cow for their land. Microfinancing Partners in Africa trained them to use the cow’s manure to increase crop yields. The couple now grows coffee, bananas and seasonal foods. Thanks to microfinancing, the Mbaziiras are able to support their family through their own farming business.

Saida Juma

Saida Juma is a divorced woman with two children living in Tanzania. Previously, she worked as a maid for $5 a month. However, her passions were elsewhere. She had the desire to start selling fish. Juma worked with Microfinancing Partners in Africa to obtain a microloan of $50. With the money, she was able to go into business for a local fisherman by selling fish. Her earnings are enough to support her children as well as send them to school. Her goal is for her children to be well-educated and take over her business when she retires. She also plans to take out another $100 loan soon to buy a fridge to store unsold fish.

All of these people were struggling to survive. Microfinancing Partners in Africa’s varied programs were able to help inspire and empower them to gain a livable income. Microfinancing Partners in Africa helped increase the quality of life for these people and many others, proving that microfinancing is an effective way of fighting poverty.

Olivia Welsh
Photo: Flickr