A Visit to a Bolivian School: Soap making becomes a micro-business

Freddy Rosa Echeverria, the principal of a small school in Tiquipaya, Bolivia, smiled widely as his students eagerly raised their hands to demonstrate to the rest of the class the appropriate method for washing one´s hands. “Just one volunteer,” he bellowed, but the children´s excitement was too much. A dozen or more of them rushed to the front of the classroom. Freddy, his smile growing bigger by the second, did not scold his overzealous students. Rather, he allowed them all to particpate in the exercise. The students lathered their hands intensely, not wanting to miss any crease or crevice. “This is how we wash our hands,” Freddy proudly announced.

Principal Freddy and his students demonstrate proper hand-washing techniques.

Principal Freddy and his students demonstrate proper hand-washing techniques.

The scene that day in Tiquipaya was atypical for a school in Bolivia, where a recent UNICEF-Emory University research study revealed that only 32% of schools nationwide have access to hand-washing facilities and only 61% of schools have sanitation systems of any kind. The public health problems associated with this lack of approriate hygiene infrastructure abound–from food poisioning and diarrhea to staph infections and increased spreading of infectious disease. Additionally, students often miss more school as a result of these hygiene-related sicknesses.

Fortunately, schools like the one in Tiquipaya, do not have to face this crisis alone. Fundacion SODIS, a Cochabamba based public health non-profit, partners with schools to educate teachers and students about the importance of proper hygiene and hand-washing. Elsa Sanchez Montaño, Director of Fundacion SODIS, knows how critical it is for students to learn appropriate hygiene practices at school.

“Only 3 per cent of families in Bolivia have a place to wash their hands with soap and water after they use the latrine. Proper hygiene is not being taught at home, so it must be done in the schools.”

Educating students is of the utmost importance, but Freddy and Elsa are doing more. The Tiquipaya school treats water with a solar disinfectant methodology and also produces its own soap for everyday use. The soap is handmade by the students. The students learn the chemical process of soap making and, of course, the health benefits of using soap.

The ultimate goal for this joint project is to create a self-sufficient, sustainable business where the school produces enough quality soap to sell to the local municipality for distribution to other schools in the region. The Tiquipaya school´s business model, if successful, would then be replicated throughout Bolivia to other schools and communities.

 

Principal Freddy and SoapBox Soaps representative, Aaron Faust, at the school in Tiquipaya, Bolivia.

Principal Freddy and SoapBox Soaps representative, Aaron Faust, at the school in Tiquipaya, Bolivia.

 

When asked what SoapBox Soaps could do to help Freddy responded that the school is in need of soap making machinery to increase the efficiency and quality of soap production. Soapbox Soaps is currently exploring the possibility of constructing a pedal-powered soap mixer. By utilizing a simple, low-maintenance, economical, pedal-powered soap mixer, soap production and quality will increase. Not to mention, it requires minimal human effort and is not as time intensive as hand mixing.

Stay posted for updates on this project and remember that with every purchase of a SoapBox Soaps product, we are helping communities, like the one in Tiquipaya, Bolivia, become healthier!

 

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