By Wendy Hayworth
On January 12, 2010 a massive earthquake struck Haiti miles away from the capital. This 7.0 magnitude earthquake was followed by 52 aftershocks measuring 4.5 and above.
Four years later, the country is still in ruins. Tent camps surround the capital and provide shelter for hundreds of women.
A group of about 200 women came together and formed OFEDA, a creole acronym that translates to ‘women in action’. These women decided that it was time for them to step up and improve their situation.
"The whole goal of OFEDA is to have several different businesses where the group of 200 women can be broken down and they can all support each other," Amanda Griffin, co-founder of the Lovin’ Soap Project, said.
The first business the women set out to create was card embroidery; the next business was soap making.
Last January, Griffin was asked to teach soap making to a group of women living in a tent camp in Port-au-Prince.
"Soon afterwards I realized that in order for them to make a business of it, they’re going to need more support," Griffin said.
Prairie Soap Company owner and Lee’s Summit resident, Benjamin Aaron donated to the still forming non-for-profit on behave of his company.
Griffin and Aaron met in person during a soap maker’s workshop at the Johnson County Community College.
"Then she asked me to go to Haiti and so we went," Aaron said.
It was not until the end of the trip, when Aaron and Griffin were sitting in the airport that Griffin presented the idea of the non-for-profit. Aaron jumped on board and the Lovin’ Soap Project was formed.
So far, the project has focused on two groups of Haitian women. The first group lives in a tent camp in Port-au-Prince and has been for four years. They have no running water, no electricity, and little to no access to healthcare.
Teaching the women how to make the soap is actually the easiest part.
"Anyone who has started a business knows it’s not just one thing. There’s business support, marketing support, packaging support, wholesale support," Griffin said. "One of the workshops Benjamin taught was a goal setting workshop."
The group put forth the following goal last November: make and sell 500 bars of soap a month starting in January.
This goal comes with some presets. In order to sell their product they need approval from the Haitian government, a bank account, and a workshop space.
Once the foundation of the business is put in place, the women can begin to reach their goal.
"Haiti is not their market, the United States is," Aaron said.
The goal of the Lovin’ Soap Project is not to own the business. It is a hand off.
"These aren’t just one time trips. These are reoccurant trips to help these women get established. It’s a hand off. We’re not going to be there forever," Aaron said.
The second group of Haitian women lives in the mountains on the southern coast. This group lives in a very different situation. Not only do they live in a village setting, but they also have financial support from the Methodist Church.
"They have a system set in place. We just teach soap," Aaron said.
They will be returning to Haiti on April 9 to visit both groups of women.
Later this summer, Lovin’ Soap Project will be partnering with the Lydia Project based in Lawrence, Kansas. This non-for-profit teaches Ugandan women how to make jewelry with the same premise of the Lovin’ Soap Project. Griffin and Aaron will be spending at least a week in Africa to teach this group the art of soap making.
Teaching soap making is a twofold blessing to these women. Not only are they producing product to sell and make a business off of, but they are able to take their new skills home with them.
"By teaching them soap making we’re giving them a tool and a weapon to use against hygiene related illness," Griffin said.
The Lovin’ Soap Project operates entirely on community support and donations. Tax-deductible donations can be made at lovinsoapproject.org.
The Prairie Soap Company is based in Lee’s Summit at 930-D NW Blue Parkway and sells all natural, vegan soap in addition to jewelry from the Lydia Project, and work by local artists. Soap making workshops are available twice a month. Donations to the Lovin’ Soap Program can also be made through the shop.