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Winrock International

Volunteer Post

Soap Making for Women Entrepreneurs

F2F volunteer, Robert Spencer

participant pouring oil into caustic solution
Participant pouring oils into caustic solution

Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers, Marie Laurent and Robert Spencer, spent their time in Burma (also known as Myanmar) providing training on soap making and spa candles using bees wax to nearly 60 members of the Shwe Inn Thu Women’s Self Help Groups. They are an organization based out of Nyaung Shwe and include surrounding villages in Southern Shan State. The activities on soap making included demonstrations and safety training, use of agro-products in the soaps, multiple hands-on trainings, enterprise budgeting, and marketing for disadvantaged women. Both volunteers and trainees identified and utilized locally available agro-products (vegetables, produce, etc.) as value-added ingredients in the soap production.

Training in the village of Pauk Par Taung was very unique as the entire village lives and works in structures (houses, businesses, and restaurants) built above the water of Inlay Lake.  It is more than just a sleepy fishing village, as many of the people raise vegetables on floating gardens and farm plots, and export the vegetables to nearby cities.  Textile production (silk and cotton) is also prevalent in Pauk Par Taung.  Year round tourism is very beneficial for this area, making for an ideal situation for production and sale of hand-crafted soaps and other skin care products.

soap wrapped
Uniquely wrapped soaps

Cold-process soap making is a fairly common artisan skill practiced around the world. Ingredients include food-grade oils, sodium hydroxide (as an emulsifier), and the artisan’s choice of ingredients. One group was exceptionally enthusiastic when it came to identifying and utilizing locally available agro-products (seaweed, coconut, lotus silk, tomato, cucumber, water hyacinth and other aquatic flowers, herbs, etc.) as value-added ingredients in the soap production. On the final day of training, the volunteers and participants returned to Nyaung Shwe where the groups learned about packaging and displays to enhance product marketability. They quickly caught on to identifying potential marketing situations applicable to their area. Each of the participants were given the opportunity to wrap and showcase their soaps and their creativity showed.

groups on day 3 with most recent batch of soaps
Groups with recent batch of soaps