As simple as soap: An FRB reflection for Earth Day

As simple as soap: An FRB reflection for Earth Day

In celebratation of Earth Day, here’s a look at some programs that are improving community health through soap.

Development is complex, and is never as easy as 1-2-3. It must take into account many human factors – our diversity, experience, present realities, personalities, cultures – but that’s not all.  Climate change, natural disasters, societal pressures, politics, global markets, environmental degradation from industry or local practices: all have an influence on how our program participants can adapt to change and adopt practices that will help them break the cycle of poverty. Even a seemingly simple practice like using soap promote health and hygiene may not be so simple for some people in our world.

Here in the U.S., soap is so ubiquitous, so common, and can be so inexpensive that we take it for granted. Not so in the developing world, where it may be hard to come by at all in some places, or prohibitively expensive for people living on less than $2 per day.  Add that to the scarcity of clean water in too many places around our globe, and it’s clear why 2 million children die each year of diarrhea and other diseases that could be prevented by hand washing with soap.

FRB recently published two program stories about what affordable, available soap can mean to a community’s health and wellbeing.  In our Uganda-West Nile program, a Village Savings and Loan (VSL) group’s members were having difficulty saving money because they had to spend a disproportionate amount of their incomes to buy soap and salt.  The group decided to use some of its capital to buy these commodities in bulk. Each week, 4 members would receive a bar of soap and a packet of salt that would last until their next turn, so they could add to their savings what they would have spent on these household staples. Greater group savings mean an increase in the amount they could loan to each other to start small businesses, improve their homes, buy inputs for their farms, and pay their children’s school fees.

In our West Africa 1 program, participants took to heart their health and hygiene training, understanding that people need to be clean to be healthy in order for their bodies to use nutrition and resist disease. But they were often unable to put this knowledge into practice because the expensive – and poor quality – balls of soap available in the market were out of their reach.  So they asked for, and received, training in soap making.  Now, community groups – men and women together – make soap that is half the price and many times better quality, to sell to each other and earn income from sales to others as well. What a difference a bar of soap can make to a family!

And what about recycling? A non-profit called Global Soap has come up with a simple, but profound idea that is bringing hygiene and health to poor communities around the world. The organization collects millions of slightly used bars of soap from US hotels, recycles it, and makes it available to people around the world who want to improve their health through hygiene but either do not have a source of soap in their communities, or can’t afford it.  Global Soap doesn’t  just drop off soap in communities and leave: they strive to find ways to ensure that soap becomes available and affordable, and support health and hygiene training wherever they go. Global Soap is not an FRB partner, but it, too, is doing what it can to be good stewards of our environment and empower the poor.

Check out Global Soap to find out more about the project, and print out a form that you can take with you to ask your hotel to become involved.  U.S. hotels would normally have to pay to haul and dump 800 million soaps in landfills each year, so they are often relieved to find a good use for them and are eager to sign up.  

Health and hygiene can be complex issues but, thanks to your volunteer support, FRB’s program participants are finding ways to make them simpler, with soap.  

Laurie Kaniarz, FRB staff

04/22/2014 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment