In Ikungi district, Singida Region, Tanzania a group of young female entrepreneurs is making liquid soap as a means of income and safeguarding their community during Covid-19. Jerry Danny, Charles Mnyororo, Emmanuel Hamis and Emmanuel Msumba report.
This is the forty-eighth in the series of stories from Voices from the Frontline initiative by ICCCAD and CDKN.
Iseke is a village in Ikungi district of the southern part of Singida region, Tanzania. The area is semi-arid in nature, hence people are mostly involved in cultivation of drought-resistant crops such as sorghum and millet, with small-scale irrigation schemes. Young people of this area are also engaged in small businesses, such as selling local chickens and eggs, natural honey etc.
The plight of the adolescent girls in Singida is very startling. There is still much need to sensitise communities to see the girl child as valuable and important. They do not participate in family and community decision-making, even on issues related to their own lives. The schools in rural areas leave much to be desired in terms of hygiene and convenience for girls in puberty.
Sustainable Environment Management Action (SEMA) is a Singida-based NGO that aims to create a socially and economically empowered society able to manage its environment sustainably. SEMA initiated a project called “The Bonga Adolescent Girls’ Empowerment Program” in 2017 to provide skill-based training to adolescent girls and boys in order to make them economically and socially empowered. The range of skills in which they have delivered training include liquid soapmaking, salon and beautification services, bakery and catering and knitting and tailoring.
Maria Elisha, aged 25, is a young entrepreneur and the chairperson of the hairdressing and beauty group named “Upendo”, formed under the Bonga project. It is a group of 8 young girls all aged between 19-25 years. This group has taken the hairdressing and beauty training from SEMA and since then makes their living by selling their services.
Covid-19 and Iseke community
With the onset of Covid-19 in Tanzania, the government enforced strict Covid protocols and sensitised people about the use of masks and washing hands. Loss of jobs, closure of businesses and schools and workers’ pay cutsall followed the restrictions.
“Despite the government’s effort to sensitise communities, a big challenge for people was to deal with misinformation. This hindered the success of different initiatives established. In the later stages, there was even a misconception about the Covid vaccine that people getting the vaccine would have major side effects in the coming years. But eventually, community awareness through radio shows, television and posters on every wall of our village helped people understand the reality” says Maria.
A group of young women forge a new enterprise
Covid-19 has altered the livelihood of all classes in one way or another. But the grassroot communities and small business holders seem to get affected the most, as in most cases they don’t have enough savings to get along. But amongst all these, some people have dared to use their available skills and resources to start afresh – as Maria and her Upendo group have done.
Maria and all the young women of the Upendo group took training from SEMA on beauty and salon services and eventually started their own salon to provide services. But with travel restrictions and closure of markets, they started losing customers and had to close their salon.
While Maria stayed at home during the initial days of lockdown, she realised that most of the households didn’t have proper liquid soap to wash hands and hence were unable to strictly follow the health protocols set by the government. Seeing the situation, she decided to do something for the community. She met her group members and shared her idea of making liquid soap with them.
“After developing the idea of liquid soap making, we presented it to our facilitator from SEMA. They organised a five day long training on liquid soap making and provided us with materials. Based on this, we started making liquid soap on our own,” she says.
The group started to make soaps and supply to different households and institutions such as schools, water collection points etc. The group has managed to sell five litres of liquid soap per week, worth 10,000 Tanzanian Shilling (USD 4.31). This way they started making even more money than they did from the salon. Currently they are working on a tender for making gallons of soaps for primary schools of the village.
“The community is also quite happy with the quality of soap and the fair pricing which most of the members can afford,” she proudly shares.
Youth, especially girls, have all the qualities and solutions to deal with any crisis if they are given a fair chance and provided with necessary resources. Maria and the Upendo group are the living example of that. The group aspires to move forward in serving their community to combat Covid-19. They want to break the misbelief around the vaccination by promoting authentic information and raising awareness. For this, they require support from the health officials to feed them with appropriate knowledge. They also plan to go beyond Iseke village with their soap making business and train other young women out there on soap making. It is important to invest more on young leaders like Maria and document their stories of building resilience during and after crises.
About the Interviewers
Jerry Danny is the climate change activist working with youth in local communities on climate change adaptation.
Charles Mnyororo is a WASH engineer applying his knowledge in building climate resilient WASH services.
Emmanuel Hamis and Emmanuel Msumba are microfinance experts working with women groups in grassroot communities.
Currently all of them are working with SEMA in Tanzania.
About the interviewee
Maria Elisha, aged 25, is a young entrepreneur and chairwomen of the Upendo community-based group.