Use Soap to Empower 60 Rape Survivors in Mali

by The Advocacy Project
Making soap from palm oil at the Bamako center
Making soap from palm oil at the Bamako center

Third report from the soap-makers of Mali

This is the third report on our Global Giving appeal to help survivors of armed sexual violence in Mali produce and sell soap. There is a lot to tell!

First, thank you all for your generosity. Sixty-nine donors have given a total of $6,070, which is approaching our target of $7,500. Donations have ranged in size from $10 to $1,000.

We owe much to our good friend Luigi Laraia, from the World Bank, who contacted his network before braving Mount Denali in Alaska and dedicated his climb to the soap project. Luigi’s donors include the Credit Union at the World Bank. A big thanks to you all!

We also want to salute Rose Twgirumukiza, who has spent the last ten weeks volunteering with our Malian partner Sini Sanuman as an AP Peace Fellow (student volunteer). As we mentioned in our last report, Rose’s personal story is inspiring. After losing her father to the Rwandan genocide, Rose spent several years as a refugee before reaching the US. She now studies at Georgetown and received American citizenship just days before heading to Mali. Rose has heself raised almost $1,000 for the soap project on Global Giving and become – like Luigi – a key player in this project. She has described her summer in Mali in a series of well-written blogs, and photos.

Sini Sanuman’s goal is to help women survivors of war rape to recover their confidence by training them to make and sell soap (Sini Savon). This is done at two centers in Bamako and Bourem, a strategic town in the north. 420 women have benefited from the program since it began in 2014. Beneficiaries like Mariam (not her real name), who is pictured below, do not want to be identified by name but are happy to be photographed.Several have also described their ordeal through embroidery in the second Alafia Mali advocacy quilt.

Soap is one of the most innovative features of this program, because it offers therapy, skills and an income to women who lost everything (including often their husbands).

Sini Sanuman hopes to produce and sell 25,000 bars this year, of which 5,000 are made from shea butter (beurre de kerite). By the end of June, Sini Sanuman had produced around 9,000 bars of soap and was falling behind the target. We were also concerned that soap sales were not being properly recorded. Meanwhile, here in the US we ay AP were struggling to sell samples of shea butter because outlets complained of the smell.

As a result, we asked Rose, our Peace Fellow, to focus on improving the quality of the soap, book-keeping and storage. Working with Aissata Toure, the soap trainer, Rose experimented wih local scents until they found a combination that worked. They then realized that Sini Sanuman was using old molds that were rusting and discoloring the soap. Rose found a skilled metal worker, Idrissa, who produced the first of several quality molds that carried the imprint of our brand – Sini Savon (photos below). The team turned next to building a shed where soap could be stored and kept clean before being sold. Finally, Rose and Aissata introduced a new system of book-keeping, under which the women would receive half of whatever they sell in the market, on producing a receipt. The rest would be deposited in a Sini Savon bank account and help to cover future costs. By the end of June, the account had 315,000 CFA ($480).

Rose made two final contributions before leaving Mali. First, she sold a first batch of shea butter soap to a local Malian hotel. Second, she brought 100 bars of Sini Savon back to the US, to be sold at events and in university stores. We may or may not sell 5,000 bars of shea soap this year, but Rose has certainly helped to build a strong foundation as we go forward.

This is essential if the program is to grow and become self-sustaining. Sini Sanuman hopes to open a third center in Bamako before the end of this year and also start training local women’s associations in soap-making. This would greatly increase the number of beneficiaries. The UN is interested and we have pledges from two important donors – the governments of Germany and Liechtenstein. It is more important then ever that all the pieces are in place.

Your donations will help enormously by allowing us to make strategic investments as needed, as we have done this year. We will keep you informed through future reports.

Once again, thank you for helping to make this a successful program!

From your friends at Sini Sanuman (Mali) and The Advocacy Project (Washington DC)

Soap helps Malian women to recover from war rape
Soap helps Malian women to recover from war rape
Peace Fellow Rose Twagirumukiza in Mali with soap
Peace Fellow Rose Twagirumukiza in Mali with soap
Rose with Idrissa, the mold-maker
Rose with Idrissa, the mold-maker
Voila! Sini Savon emerges from the new mold!
Voila! Sini Savon emerges from the new mold!
Sini Savon heads to the Bamako market
Sini Savon heads to the Bamako market
Aissata S makes soap at the Bamako Center
Aissata S makes soap at the Bamako Center

Second report from the soap-makers of Mali

This is the second report on our Global Giving appeal to help survivors of armed sexual violence in Mali produce and sell soap.

Rape has long been a byproduct of conflict and it has a devastating impact on victims. Mali, in Africa, is one of the latest countries to suffer. In 2012, rebels and jihadists rose against the government and imposed a reign of terror in the north. Thousands of women, like Aissata S, pictured above in the photo, were forced to wear veils, flogged for minor infractions, raped and forced into marriage. Many saw their husbands killed in front of their eyes. Tens of thousands fled to the south, to seek refugee in the capital Bamako. Their wounds are still raw after four years.

For Aissata S, at least, things are looking up. Aissata is one of sixty survivors who will spend six months this year at a center in Bamako learning to make soap, clothes and embroidery. The center is managed by our Malian partner, Sini Sanuman, with funding from the German government. In addition to medical assistance, psychosocial support and food, the center offers survivors the chance to learn a skill in the company of other women. This in turn boosts their confidence, which is often the first casualty of sexual violence. Few things are as satisfying as making something that others will buy.

The training has been going well. Working under the watchful eye of a professional soap-maker, Aissata S and the other trainees are making two types of soap at the centers, from palm oil and from shea butter (also known as beurre de kerite). They mix and pour soap into large moulds. Once it sets, the soap is shaped by hand into bars, boxed up and and sold by trainees in the market under the brand name of Sini Savon. So far this year, the two centers have produced over 2,000 bars at around 25 cents a bar. Their target for this year is 25,000, so they have a long way to go!

Everyone benefits from this arrangement. Even the shea oil is hand-made by poor women from a village association, as shown in this video.

The training has been a success, but it still faces challenges. At present, trainees like Aissata S cannot continue to make and sell soap after they leave the Sini Sanuman center because they cannot afford the equipment and material. It can cost over $1,000 to buy a cutting machine, table and moulds. This makes it hard for trainees to use the skills they learn at the center and earn a living.

Which is where your donations come in. So far, sixty of you have given $4,700 – which is remarkably generous. We will use the money to help three community-based women’s associations to buy soap-making equipment and material, and enable their members like Aissata S to continue making soap. Sini Sanuman works with 69 associations in Bamako alone, so there will be no shortage of candidates. Sini Sanuman will select three groups that have their own treasurer and bank account and are willing to contribute to the cost. Aissata Toure, our program soap trainer, will move around the three associations and provide additional advice if needed. We hope to reach at least new 60 beneficiaries this year, and maybe more.

We are grateful to all of you who have donated, but one donor deserves a special thanks. Luigi Laraia, from the World Bank, is currently braving the elements on Mount Denali, the highest mountain in Alaska. (Photo below). Luigi has dedicated his climb to the soap-makers of Mali and many of you have responded to him personally. Luigi is also the author of a much-acclaimed play about sexual violence – Neda Must Die. If you have not already seen it, we urge you attend the next performance at the World Bank on June 28

We also wish to acknowledge Rose Twagirumukiza, who will be volunteering at Sini Sanuman in Mali this summer as one of our wonderful Peace Fellows. Rose is a survivor of the Rwandan genocide. She spent years in refugee camps before receiving asylum in the US and was made an American citizen two weeks ago. Rose has decided to show her gratitude towards the many people who have helped her and her family by returning to Africa to help women in need. She will help Sini Sanuman to manage your donations and report regularly through weekly blogs. After returning to the US, she will report back to Georgetown University, where she is studying for a Masters degree, in the Fall. We could not be in better hands.

Thank you for helping to launch this exciting project!

The AP team

Making soap at a local women
Making soap at a local women's association
Luigi climbs Mount Denali for Malian soap-makers
Luigi climbs Mount Denali for Malian soap-makers
Rose, a genocide survivor, will volunteer in Mali
Rose, a genocide survivor, will volunteer in Mali
Making soap at the Bamako center
Making soap at the Bamako center

This is the first report on our project to help survivors of war rape in Mali to produce shea butter soap. We are working with sixty survivors this year. All fled from violence in the north of Mali following the war in 2012 and have been struggling to recover from their ordeal. Many lost their husbands. Our soap project seeks to help.

First, how and where is the soap being made? The 60 survivors are all spending six months at a center in Bamako, where they are learning how to make and sell soap; make clothes and produce embroidered designs. The center is managed by our Malian partner Sini Sanuman ("Healthy Tomorrow"), a leading Malian NGO that advocates for women's rights. We launched the trainings in 2015 and found that the women were capable and anxious to learn a useful skill. By the end of 2015 they were making and selling soap - Sini Savon -  in the markets of Bamako.

As can be seen from the photos, soap-making is hard work! The women wear masks to protect them from the fumes given off by cooking the soap. The soap is then poured into a mold; dried; and smoothed by hand. The lower quality soap is packaged and sold in the markets. Higher quality shea butter soap is bagged.

Our goal is to sell 5,000 bars of shea butter soap in Mali and 500 bars of shea soap in the US. We are seeking $2,500 through Global Giving to cover the cost of the ingredients (oil, soda, etc). Your donations are going straight into a bank account that will be managed by Aissata Toure, one of three hand-working trainers at the Bamako center.

So far in 2016 we have raised a combined $573 for Aissata and her trainees. Of this, $230 has been pledged by you, our friends, through Global Giving. The remaining $343 has been raised by Refilwe Moahi, a graduate of Brandeis University who worked for us in Mali in 2015 as a Peace Fellow and helped to design the project. Refilwe, a citizen of Botswana, is shown in the photo with survivors.

The Bamako team will now use your donation to purchase ingredients and produce soap. We will report back on progress in our next report. With your help, we are off to a good start! Thank you for believing.

Soap mixture setting in the mold
Soap mixture setting in the mold
Shea butter soap is smoothed by hand
Shea butter soap is smoothed by hand
Bagging shea butter soap - a communal activity!
Bagging shea butter soap - a communal activity!
Trainer Abi Konate and Sini Savon, to the market!
Trainer Abi Konate and Sini Savon, to the market!
Refilwe Moahi, Peace Fellow (left) at the center
Refilwe Moahi, Peace Fellow (left) at the center

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Organization Information

The Advocacy Project

Location: Washington, DC - USA
Website: http:/​/​​
Project Leader:
Iain Guest
Washington, DC United States
$7,630 raised of $7,500 goal
82 donations
$0 to go
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