Dear friends and family,
Many of things have happened since I last wrote! I will break it down by month.
This month was devoted largely to soap. After learning the basics from Steve, I took over management of theChiyambi Soap project in full. I have made a lot of soap these past few months. We use different essential oils to give the soap different scents and therapeutic properties. My favorite part about making soap is the relationships that have grown as a result of working outside. Seeing a white guy wearing a lab coat, goggles, and green rubber gloves tends to draw a bit of a crowd, so I normally have spectators while I measure oils and mix chemicals. Soap making is a really interesting process, and a few of the spectators have become my regular assistants and friends over time. Getting to know people in the area has helped me to better understand the culture, and has led to some very interesting conversations. After the soap is made, it is sent to a group called Umoja, who use recycled paper and African fabric to package it. Interacting with this group always brings a smile to my face. Many of them are disabled in some way, and unable to work in the field. This opportunity allows them to earn a livable income, and they even give a portion of their profit to build houses for other refugees in the camp.
I spent the last week of February attending a “train the trainers” session with some co-workers. This was a great week of learning a curriculum to teach to our loan applicants. I was excited to be provided with tools and a framework that I can now pass on to others to help give them a solid base to build their business on.
Much of my time in March was devoted to Kibebe (key-bay-bay), one of the initiatives that There is Hope runs. Kibebe pays ladies from Dzaleka Refugee Camp to sew a multitude of products made from Africa’s trademark Chitenje fabric. I am excited to be working alongside Kibebe because I get to use my management and business skills to promote and empower the ladies in Dzaleka. I encourage you to check out the links and see all of the products that are produced!
So far, April has been a combination of the past two months. On the 1st of April, as part of a larger training course, I spent two hours meeting with the beneficiaries whose loan application we have accepted. We talked about the importance of record keeping and how to do it, planning for the future, and how to determine the price needed to make a profit. This experience was hopefully the first of many. It is a little nerve racking to go from being a business student to teaching business classes in less than a year, but I did enjoy it! One of most eager applicants, was a man from The Democratic Republic of Congo who has a juice business that he is hoping to expand. Right now he works with his wife and is able to make a small amount of juice from his house. The loan will allow him to expand his business and hire multiple additional workers!
The other thing I have been spending a lot of time on is soap experimentation. It has been my goal since I have come to Malawi to make a soap that is more affordable to the average Malawian. The bars of soap that we currently sell are very high quality, and are marketed as a luxury brand. They currently retail for about $4.50. I have been experimenting for a number of weeks, and this past week I think I have finally decided on a formula that produces a high quality bar of soap, while only costing about 30 cents. I still have a few more kinks to work out, but I am hoping that I will soon be able to hire a person full time from the refugee camp. If all goes as planned, we will begin selling the soap in Dzaleka and in the city. I am excited that after all of the time I spent trying it out on myself, to have a bar of soap that is desirable and beneficial!
Thank you all for your continued support and prayers. These past few months have had some hard times to go with the successes. I continue to try and make more friends, and I have felt pretty lonely at times. I recently joined a basketball team, which has given me a good outlet to occupy my time, as well as an opportunity to make more friends. Please pray for me as I seek to build new relationships and continue to deepen those that are already established.