Lovin’ Soap Project’s second trip to Senegal proved to be quite fruitful.
Almost exactly a year had passed since our first meeting our beautiful group in the Casamance region of Senegal, which is separated from the rest of Senegal not just geographically, due to the protrusion of The Gambia into the heart of the country, but also culturally.
Though the Jola are the dominant tribe in the Casamance, they represent only 4% of the total population of Senegal. The Wolof dominate the nation as a whole. The Jola’s sense of economic disenfranchisement within greater Senegal contributed to the founding of a separatist movement advocating the independence or autonomous administrative division of the Casamance, the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC), in 1982.
A civil war has ensued ever since, with only recently there being time-removed from devastating conflict and peace within the region.
The group we work with in the Casamance is an established, coordinated team, assembled through the incredible work of Karine Sar, and her incredible not-for-profit organization, Deline’s Gift, which operates in rural and post-conflict areas of Senegal through micro-business start-up and training. Karine is who contacted our project well over a year ago, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Our second trip was about shoring up recipes, fine-tuning design details and establishing how to price and allocate revenue into a budget to move forward with. Unlike our previous trip, which allocated the lion’s share of time to production and creativity, this trip was all about business. We created percentages of the gross profit margin of each product they make and sell, and allocated that amount of money into a budget. We came up with a list of all the potential expenses the group currently has and will have moving forward, such as salaries, proceeds to the larger group ordained by Deline’s Gift (a co-op), office supplies, raw materials, packaging, emergency, production supplies, general overheads of operation and retained profit.
We had to teach the group what a percentage actually is. Then we had to teach them how to use a calculator. It was a slow and arduous task, which sparked us to then build a procedure portfolio, to where they would know what to do with monies coming in, sale by sale. Karine translated it into French, and now they have a production procedure bible of sorts to reference and use for the entirety of their business.
We did have time for a few new product formulations, namely a new hand balm and salt scrub, which have been a huge hit in the local Dakar market. Not only are these great products to make and sell, the labor is far less intensive than soap, and the margins are much higher.
And speaking of Dakar, we were able to fly back over The Gambia, into Dakar, to be a part of their monthly market. It was beautiful to see the sales and transaction side to what they have been working so hard on for the last year. We had an incredible sales day, which ended in tons of quality paperwork for the group!
The best part of this story came after we left, on the group’s big pay day. A year ago, on our first trip, the ladies decided that they would work intensely hard for a solid year before taking up any of the profits for themselves. I’m not sure I can stress here how hard that decision must have been for someone living on less than a dollar a day. To have that much resolve, strength of will and patience to wait a solid year while the business grows is beyond words. But, that is exactly what they did.
So just about a week past from this writing, Karine sent us a message, stating that each was given their first paycheck. And, they were paid handsomely due to their hard work, even by American standards. This was after working hard for a year and vending only 7 times at the local Dakar market, which means that this coming year they could easily double their earnings.
I know that none of the women in the group have ever held that much money in their own hands before that payday.
For all who have donated, please know how grateful we are. You are literally changing the course of these women’s lives.
If you’ve never been to Senegal, you must go. It is a magical, mystical place. I’ve traveled to many places, but no place has treated me with the kindness, compassion and love like Senegal has. As a matter of fact, 3 different medical professionals here in the U.S. told Amanda and I that we could never get pregnant…
Turns out, all we had to do was go to Senegal and saturate ourselves with some beautiful West African mojo.
Love, Light and Many Blessings,