liquid soap and business development workshop [August 21, 2014]

Prior to beginning this next entry on the two-day liquid soap and business development workshop, I owe an apology for not having written in the last few days – this has been in part due to very full days working in the Zongo and in part due to my husband’s arrival here from the States. Now, to begin…

After much pacing back and forth the previous evening and multiple nervous calls to the Zongo Water Committee about whether the instructor for the soap-making would actually show up for the workshop, I was relieved when he emerged from a taxi at 7:30 this morning. Astoundingly enough, we arrived at the Chief Wangara’s Palace (the Community Center) early. I spent this extra time scrambling to obtain the remainder of the materials needed for the workshop – water, plastic bowls, and a bench - as well as finalize details with today’s business development lecturer from Ghana Heritage Conservation Trust. Just before settling in to begin the liquid soap-making, I also spoke with the Chief Wangara about further renovations to his Palace beyond the bright blue rainwater collection systems. “You see,” he explained in a soft tone pointing up, “Now that we have this new roofing system, I’m trying to mobilize the funds to do the ceiling and the floor. We have to do that. We have to contribute.”

Though they trickled in slowly at first, by 9am there were nearly 50 eager participants seated in a large circle poised with pencil and notepads in hand. While I had initially thought women would form the majority, there were many men as well including the Chief Wangara himself.

Already wiping his sweaty (and I feared also feverish) brow, the instructor began the workshop with an introduction to the materials – base, salt, thickener, perfume, preservation, color, and foaming. The participants leaned in eagerly to see better and immediately began asking questions: Where in Accra may one purchase these materials? What are the prices and how have they changed over the course of the last year? What kind of perfume do you use for the soap? These questions continued as the instructor began mixing the base and salt together in a slow rhythmic clockwise motion. Once the mixture had become thick and a similar texture to marshmallow Fluff, he began adding water (and the occasional droplet of sweat that escaped from his brow). Many ingredients, instructions and questions later, we completed the first day of the workshop with two large tubs of liquid soap – one a light sea-foam green and the other a rich pink. According to the instructor, these needed to sit overnight in a cool place and by morning they should have changed into the familiar liquid soap color and texture.

Next, the business development officer from Ghana Heritage Conservation Trust, wearing a smart custom-tailored dress-suit and high heels, stood up to give her lecture. She explained how important it was to set money aside for the business and that one must have self-discipline in order to gain the capital needed for soap-making. Other topics covered included mobile banking opportunities, the need to acquire an array of skills to be successful, competitors, advertising, and cooperation with other residents interested in the same business. “You shouldn’t expect a profit right away,” she explained. “You should have at least 100 Ghana Cedis to start and remember, the customer is always right.” After a series of questions, I was surprised at the end of the day when the participants all put down their pencils to give the two instructors a hearty round of applause for usually (at least from my experience) the community has tended to air on the reserved, quiet side when it came to large group gatherings. One young woman even came up to me at the end of the first day and said, “Emily, thank you. I have already learned so many things. I look forward to tomorrow.”

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a community voice from the zongo on sanitation

THURSDAY, AUGUST 28, 2014 AT 03:39PM

 modifyremoveorganizepost follow up 

The following journal entry about sanitation was composed by a Zongo community member and given to me for the purpose of posting online. He writes, 

"Sanitation is a major problem facing the whole wide world, but serious and dangerous in least developed countries which Ghana is no exception. The increasing population of industries that produces goods to meet human needs has met less measures to put in place for the proper disposal of waste which is the end product. By so doing, people dispose of their waste carelessly and are not concerned about the serious problems it could cause.

Also, the increasing population of the country saw no measures put in place by the government to tackle solid waste which led to people disposing of solid waste anywhere and anyhow. Most of the homes in Ghana have no toilets surprisingly and so there is a heavy burden on public toilets which sometimes in a whole community there would be none. So you can imagine how solid waste is disposed. As I write this journal, there is an outbreak of cholera in the capital town of Ghana which is Accra and about 4,000 are infected and a hundred have died so far.

Choked gutters are common in Ghana which the district, municipal, and the metropolitan assemblies are doing nothing to solve this problem and also residents who live close to these gutters are doing nothing to help themselves. Chocked gutters serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes which accounts for the high number of malaria cases recorded in the country. And, it is also the cause of cholera which is going on in the country’s capital and we are praying with our fingers crossed that it does not spread to other regions of the country.

All of these problems can also be found in a small community called the Kotokuraba Zongo which can be found in Cape Coast which is the former capital town of Ghana. This community is in the center of the town and is the heart of the town. Choked gutters, careless disposal of trash, and solid waste among others are friends of the people living in the Zongo. And, when residents like me who know the consequences of all these see what is going on in the Zongo, it’s like a sharp dagger being driven through our hearts slowly.

That is why I was excited and I beamed with hope when I learned about Emily and her project some years back. It was very good to know that someone cares and feels the same way I feel. I was happy and I said in my heart, “the almighty ALLAH has answered my prayers.”

Last year was a success with the distribution of rainwater collection systems and also a workshop whereby residents learned to make soap. Last year before Emily left, it was not certain whether she would come again or not and so when she told me that she will be coming, I was excited. This year when Emily came, we kicked off with some important meetings and also the opening ceremony which everybody was happy with the number of people present. After that, we went round to ask the beneficiaries of last year’s rainwater collection systems some questions to know what is working, what is not working, and whether there is the need for any form of modification or not.

There was also a workshop where residents learnt about how to make liquid soap and also there was a business workshop where they were taught how to get capital to start a soap business of their own. Last but not least, there was a clean-up exercise where residents came together to clean up the community. And I must say that is made me excited the most. At least, it reduced the amount of trash in the Zongo.

What really excites me the most about Emily’s project is that, she does not only help the community, but also she empowers the community to do something on their own. A great philosopher once said, “don’t give fish to someone, teach them how to fish.” And that is exactly what Emily is doing. Luckily, one of the committee members working with Emily is an assembly man and so after the clean-up exercise the item’s used were given to him and he has promised to organize the community to have a clean-up exercise at least once a month. If things continue this way, I can see a Zongo without trash and disease in the near future. Although a lot needs to be done, I am hopeful with the commitment of the committee members and the community we will achieve what we want in the near future. Thank you Emily and may the almighty ALLAH richly bless you."

EMILY WILLIAMSON |  POST A COMMENT |  SHARE ARTICLE 

liquid soap and business development workshop

THURSDAY, AUGUST 21, 2014 AT 01:54PM

 modifyremoveorganizepost follow up 

Prior to beginning this next entry on the two-day liquid soap and business development workshop, I owe an apology for not having written in the last few days – this has been in part due to very full days working in the Zongo and in part due to my husband’s arrival here from the States. Now, to begin…

 

After much pacing back and forth the previous evening and multiple nervous calls to the Zongo Water Committee about whether the instructor for the soap-making would actually show up for the workshop, I was relieved when he emerged from a taxi at 7:30 this morning. Astoundingly enough, we arrived at the Chief Wangara’s Palace (the Community Center) early. I spent this extra time scrambling to obtain the remainder of the materials needed for the workshop – water, plastic bowls, and a bench - as well as finalize details with today’s business development lecturer from Ghana Heritage Conservation Trust. Just before settling in to begin the liquid soap-making, I also spoke with the Chief Wangara about further renovations to his Palace beyond the bright blue rainwater collection systems. “You see,” he explained in a soft tone pointing up, “Now that we have this new roofing system, I’m trying to mobilize the funds to do the ceiling and the floor. We have to do that. We have to contribute.”

 

Though they trickled in slowly at first, by 9am there were nearly 50 eager participants seated in a large circle poised with pencil and notepads in hand. While I had initially thought women would form the majority, there were many men as well including the Chief Wangara himself.

Already wiping his sweaty (and I feared also feverish) brow, the instructor began the workshop with an introduction to the materials – base, salt, thickener, perfume, preservation, color, and foaming. The participants leaned in eagerly to see better and immediately began asking questions: Where in Accra may one purchase these materials? What are the prices and how have they changed over the course of the last year? What kind of perfume do you use for the soap? These questions continued as the instructor began mixing the base and salt together in a slow rhythmic clockwise motion. Once the mixture had become thick and a similar texture to marshmallow Fluff, he began adding water (and the occasional droplet of sweat that escaped from his brow). Many ingredients, instructions and questions later, we completed the first day of the workshop with two large tubs of liquid soap – one a light sea-foam green and the other a rich pink. According to the instructor, these needed to sit overnight in a cool place and by morning they should have changed into the familiar liquid soap color and texture.

 

Next, the business development officer from Ghana Heritage Conservation Trust, wearing a smart custom-tailored dress-suit and high heels, stood up to give her lecture. She explained how important it was to set money aside for the business and that one must have self-discipline in order to gain the capital needed for soap-making. Other topics covered included mobile banking opportunities, the need to acquire an array of skills to be successful, competitors, advertising, and cooperation with other residents interested in the same business. “You shouldn’t expect a profit right away,” she explained. “You should have at least 100 Ghana Cedis to start and remember, the customer is always right.” After a series of questions, I was surprised at the end of the day when the participants all put down their pencils to give the two instructors a hearty round of applause for usually (at least from my experience) the community has tended to air on the reserved, quiet side when it came to large group gatherings. One young woman even came up to me at the end of the first day and said, “Emily, thank you. I have already learned so many things. I look forward to tomorrow.”

 

CLAP-clap-clap-clap-clap-clap-CLAP! “What is the first step in making the liquid soap?” Baba Haruna asked the participants with enthusiasm. The same young woman I had talked with at the end of the day yesterday stood up and explained the first step. “Toh!” Baba affirmed in the local Fante language. The same clapping pattern thundered across the room, CLAP-clap-clap-clap-clap-clap-CLAP! and was followed by another question, “How does one stir the liquid-soap mixture?” he asked. A sea of hands shot up and Baba picked an older woman to answer. Without speaking she used her hands and arms to pull her body in a large circular, clockwise motion. “Good!” Baba responded in Fante. CLAP-clap-clap-clap-clap-clap-CLAP! I peeked down at my watch – 9:15. We were supposed to start at 8am, but luckily Baba’s questions had kept everyone very entertained. Finally, the soap-maker appeared looking only slightly better than yesterday. “I had to take my malaria medicine this morning,” he explained to me as he peered frowning into the large liquid soap tubs. I couldn’t possibly believe that taking a single pill would make him over an hour late, but I soon forgot this minor hiccup when the workshop began on a problematic note. Because he was speaking to the residents in Fante, I couldn’t quite understand what the soap-maker was saying, but I could get the gist. The soap mixture we had made yesterday had not properly changed into the liquid soap and had retained its light color with no opacity. To my surprise, the residents didn’t seem in the least bit annoyed by this. In fact, many of them shrugged their shoulders and nodded in understanding. “You see Emily,” Murtala said, “this one had too many eyes on it. Here in Africa, we say that it has entered the spiritual realm. It is no one’s fault, but sometimes when there are too many eyes, it can spoil.” To rectify the situation, The Chief Wangara suggested that the soap-maker invite three participants, one from each “zone” to another smaller workshop with fewer “eyes”. This way, these trainees could become experts and it would be their duty to teach others in the community. Once the trainees had been decided upon and the date set for next week, we began the second half of the workshop – again focusing on business development. The lecture, graciously given by Murtala, an economist and a member of the Zongo Water Committee, focused on how to raise capital – whether it be in the form of personal savings, from family and relatives, the bank or government. Rather than emphasize personal savings as the GHCT representative has done yesterday, Murtala focused on government-provided programs such as YES (Young Empowerment Synergy program) and EDIF (export development and investment fund). Hammad leaned over and whispered to me, “He is really, really educating them.” Murtala went on to explain that the participants of today’s workshop could form 5-6 groups. Each group could then write a business proposal and provide it (along with a sample of soap) to the Assembly and they in turn will give a small amount of funding from which to begin the business. He translated into English for me, “We don’t want this business to die a natural death. We must be the managers of these funds.”

The workshop ended with reminders about the upcoming sanitation clean-up exercise and the importance of participation. One older and very well-respected man in the community stood up and interjected, “Is it because of Emily that we are doing this?” He pointed at me and continued, “Why does it take her coming here for us to do this exercise? This is something we should be doing on our own.” Many heads nodded vigorously and with that hopeful response, we ended the workshop with closing prayers. Amin.

Still concerned whether the children would be allowed to present the play at the closing ceremony, I hesitantly called Hammad that evening. “I was even going to call you yesterday,” Hammad responded at the end of the line. “We have full approval to go ahead. They (the board of the school) even really liked the idea.” Relieved that the play would work out, I added, “I was also thinking we could distribute dustbins to each of the three schools in the Zongo as a way to reinforce the messages in the play.” Hammad replied, “Oh wow. That would be very nice. I will arrange for the headmasters of the schools to all be there to receive them.”