Story by Faye Mogensen, written after her visit to Taiama
Thirty seven year old Sallay Kosseh is a mother and a dynamic business woman. She smiles widely as she tells me her soap business is her boyfriend and her husband. She continues to grin even as she tells me that making soap requires both patience and hard work.
Sallay learned to make soap at the Zoie Gardener Education Centre in a program that ran from March-December 2018. Upon completion, she received a microloan of Le500,000 (a little over $70CAD) to start her own business. Within six months of receiving the loan, she had paid it off – a significant accomplishment in a subsistence economy.
Previously, Sallay’s older sister had been providing for the family with her teaching salary; but when her sister died, they were left destitute. Now that she has a soap making business, Sallay is able to support her mother, her four children and her near-blind uncle.
Sallay and her teen-aged children live in half of a tiny duplex. The back room serves as Sallay’s bedroom and storage area. The entryway functions as her children’s bedroom, her soap making workshop and her packaging area. Her mother’s quarters are next door, and this is where the extended family keeps their food and cooking supplies but, like most others in Taiama, they cook outdoors over an open fire. There is no ceiling in their home, only rafters and a corrugated steel roof. Sallay and her mother have beds, but her children sleep on a floor mat.
Sallay works Monday-Saturday and takes Sunday off to attend church. On Mondays and Tuesdays, she manufactures bars of soap and soap powder. On Wednesdays, she wraps the soap in small plastic bags making it attractive to customers. When Sallay realized that Taiama was already saturated by the soap bars and powder produced at the education centre and by other newly independent soap producers, she decided to try her luck further afield. Thursday through Saturday, she hires a motorcycle – the only viable, if dangerous, means of transportation – and travels to the relatively close towns of Njala, Mano and Badja, where there are good sized markets. Her soap is renowned for being of excellent quality and low in cost but long lasting, and her sales are robust.
Sallay is diligent about safe work practices, wearing goggles and latex gloves when producing her soap. All the supplies, from the palm oil, caustic soda, colorants and perfume to packaging to safety supplies and transport, are costly. Still, with her sales, she manages to recoup enough to feed and clothe her family, and purchase the necessary supplies for the next batch of soap.
When I first met Sallay, she repeatedly told me how appreciative she is of the training and microloan that made her business possible. Later I asked whether she had more dreams, and she didn’t skip a beat, “More than anything, I want to give my family a better home.”
Sallay wasn’t making enough profit to expand her business. In early 2020, the partnership was able to give her a second loan, this time for Le1 million. This will enable her to purchase the extra ingredients needed to expand her business and she is confident – as am I – that she can produce and sell more soap by working longer hours each day. She is patient and not afraid of working hard. It is my fervent hope that she and her family will soon have a ceiling in their house and a proper latrine in their yard, and that the Covid19 crisis doesn’t throw too big a loop in her dreams.