Malawi: Lilongwe Youth Organisation
Starting a sustainable business in soap manufacture to provide much-needed employment and training
21 September 2021
Thanks to our generous supporters we are 85% to our target! Just another £270 needed.
19 August 2021
We are raising funds for a project at Lilongwe Youth Organisation (LYO), Malawi, where some of our carpentry tools were sent (see here). As part of LYO’s programme to tackle a problem of youth on the streets, they are planning to start a soap-making business, providing training and employment in a variety of disciplines. Offering hope to street children who are seeking a way out of the cycle of poverty and abuse, this is a project conceived by the youngsters themselves and owned by the community in which they live. It will be run as a self-sustaining business by the young people under the oversight of LYO. We aim to provide the starting capital of £1,734 (subject to exchange rates).
The Soaptember Challenge
We can easily take soap for granted. It is a wonderful product, that cleanses us and has probably saved many lives during this pandemic. Thankfully, throughout these troubled times, there rarely seems to have been a shortage of soap in the UK. So we are suggesting that, during the month of September, as a token of our gratitude, we donate a small sum for each time we would use soap if we were in Malawi, i.e. for personal hygiene, washing-up and laundry. Our suggestions are as follows:
1p / hand-wash
10p / shower or bath
10p / dishwasher cycle
5p / washing-up session
10p / washing-machine cycle
5p / hand-laundry session
You may like to keep a tally, though many people will be happy just to give a donation on the basis of an estimate. We don't mind either way, but we do not wish to see people’s calculations!
The building which will house the soap factory
The space designated for soap production
Training in progress at the centre
In the Kauma district of Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, many of the youth are unemployed, uneducated, or both. Coupled with many opportunities of a destructive kind, this situation is resulting in poverty, moral decay, environmental degradation, drug and substance abuse, begging, crimes, prostitution and victimisation. On 6/6/21, with the backing of the local community and chiefs from 17 villages, LYO held a meeting with the youth to determine a way to make progress and, after considering a number of possibilities, the youth themselves chose the idea of establishing a soap-making business.
In Malawi, soap is used for laundry and washing up as well as for personal hygiene. There are no soap factories within 300 miles of Lilongwe, so transport savings (added to occupancy savings – i.e. low or no rent) will enable the soap to be offered at a lower price. So SOMAYEEP (Soap Making for Youth Economic Empowerment Project) is born!
The SOMAYEEP Programme
Last year LYO completed its community and technical college building, which was provided by the people of Japan and opened by their ambassador. The college offers a number of courses, including carpentry and joinery, for which they will be using one of the carpentry kits we provided through Tools for Self Reliance. (For more see here.)
The young people will spend 2-3 days observing soap manufacture at other premises as part of their training. As with the courses that LYO offers, there will be a full week of occupational safety training provided by LYO staff.
All materials required in soap manufacture are locally available.
In the first year 100 young people will be involved; during that time they will gain experience both in the manufacturing and in running the business. Part of that is maintaining the strict safety culture. Not only will factory-workers be needed, but also security guards, and marketing & sales people, so a variety of skills will be employed. That first 100 will then move out and establish businesses elsewhere, while a new intake of 100 takes over at the college.
The group has agreed to set aside 5% of its profits for revolving loans to other young people who come up with good business plans. These loans have a fixed term, normally 6 months, but allow money to be drawn down and repaid as needed. They are not granted to individuals but to groups of typically three or four, with joint responsibility for repayment. Starting capital is typically $100-$200. Once the loan is repaid it becomes available for another group.
All business plans and loans are vetted, and the candidates interviewed, by a committee comprising local business leaders and LYO staff. This committee will also provide business training for the youth.
The project is being overseen by Mr Yamikani (AKA Mike) Chunga, Executive Director of LYO, who has lived in the community for over 20 years. A major strength of the project is that it’s owned and planned by the community and will be operated by the youth who conceived it, under the oversight of experienced business and community leaders - and that it directly answers a clear and obvious need. These factors give rise to a high level of commitment throughout.
This project will benefit not only the youth but also their families, whom the youth will be able to support; also, the local community will enjoy a reduction of the disruption the youth has been causing. Furthermore, many of the youth have promised to attend evening classes once they start earning an income. They are determined to make it work and to become responsible citizens.
Natalya’s Fund is raising the money required for the project, which includes equipment, the initial supply of materials, and training for the first intake, which comes to just short of £1,800. The full list of requirements can be downloaded here.
Safety & Health
LYO offers the following courses:
Carpentry and Joinery
Electrical Installation and Electronics
Fabrication and Welding
Hospitality and Food Production
Textile and Fashion Designing
The organisation regards safety as the most important skill and the first thing to learn, whatever the course that is being run; hence the first week of a course is taken up by training in occupational safety & health.
The main risk in soap manufacture is in handling the caustic soda, one of the ingredients. Caustic soda splashes would be harmful to the eyes and to the skin, and the dust to the airways. Also, when mixed with the palm oil, the other main ingredient, heat is generated, raising the temperature to around 85C.
LYO has taken steps to reduce risk, including the following:
• As with training courses, there will be one week’s relevant occupational safety training.
• The shift leader will allow no-one into the work area without the required PPE, which includes safety boots and gloves.
• The local MP has already seen to the provision of face shields, for protection against various hazards, including Covid 19.
• There are first-aid boxes on site.
• The Malawian government has allocated a standby vehicle to LYO for transport to hospital in case of accident.