Feature: Soap making cushions Kenyan women from poverty

Source: Xinhua| 2019-05-09 21:24:33|Editor: xuxin
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NAIROBI, May 9 (Xinhua) -- Across residential areas in Kenya's capital Nairobi, liquid soap is a popular product, with hundreds of households using it.

The soap has been in use in Kenya for years, making families save cash that they would otherwise use on commercial detergents.

Living off the liquid soap are dozens of Kenyan women, who dedicatedly make it and hawk in estates or sell at open air markets.

Susan Wangare is among those making and selling the soap, a business she has engaged in for over seven years.

The soap, which is made from various chemicals, is popular because it is multipurpose and low cost.

Families, both low income and middle income, use it for general cleaning that include washing clothes, toilet, utensils and cleaning hands.

"I learnt how to make the soap from a women's group, where we were taught the skill to generate income for ourselves," she said on Thursday.

She then turned the skill into a thriving business that has seen her grow her client base to over 50 households.

"I sell the soap mainly on order especially at the weekends. The families ask me to supply them the soap in various quantities, from a liter to 20 liters," said Wangare, who lives in Ruai but supplies the soap to households in the town and in Kitengela, some 25 km away.

Among the ingredients she uses to make the liquid soap are potassium hydroxide, water, sunflower oil and boric acid, mixed at various ratios.

A liter of the soap goes at 50 shillings (0.50 U.S. dollars), giving Wangare some good profit. In a good week, she sells up to 250 liters earning a tidy sum.

"If I had not taken up the business, perhaps I would be living in the slum currently or had returned in the rural areas because I started the business after staying jobless for years," said Wangare, whose husband is a public service vehicle driver in Nairobi.

From their incomes, the two were able to buy a piece of land in Ruai, on the outskirts on Nairobi, and built an ironsheet-walled house where they currently live.

"Liquid soap has given me a steady job and income. This is all I do for a living and my dream is to have my own soap brand and perhaps become a big manufacturer," said the mother of three, who sources the soap-making ingredients from Nairobi's Industrial Area and started the business with 30 dollars.

Wangare said they were trained by a non-state organization to make the soap in the group of 35 women. Some 20 are currently actively involved in the trade.

For Grace Mutuku, she sells the liquid soap at her shop in Komarock on the east of Nairobi. The soap is a popular value addition, with residents buying it alongside the vegetables and household items.

"The good thing with liquid soap business is that it is easier to start and the product moves faster," said Mutuku, who besides the soap makes toilet cleaners and handwash.

Ernest Manuyo, a business lecturer at Pioneer Institute, notes the industry is lucrative since soap is used by every household.

"The affordable cost certainly makes the soap popular for many households and guarantees dozens of women and even the youth steady income," he said.

He observed that women are better organized especially through groups and are resilient making them easy to gain income-generating skills like soap-making.

The latest World Poverty Clock report shows 29 percent of the 50 million people in Kenya are very poor as they use less than 2 dollars a day.

According to the recently released Economic Survey 2018, some 762,200 jobs were created in the informal sector in 2018, as compared to formal sector's 78,400.

At least 18 million Kenyans are employed in the informal sector, according to the survey by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.