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21 Nov 11

Duaje tënden – Love what’s yours

Elizabeth Gowing

Refiqe smiles as she signs her name on the receipt. She takes the euros that she’s given and tells me that this is the first money she has ever earned.

The English woman who’s bought from her is smiling too because she’s just sorted her Christmas shopping. Meanwhile, I’m feeling good because our ‘buy local’ soap-making project is officially underway. We’ve always been passionate about local products, and the environmental as well as economic benefit they have for Kosovo.

With the recent high profile ‘Duajë tëndën’ (‘love what’s yours’) campaign promoting local production (you’ll have seen the slogan on the heart-shaped stickers on products in the shops), we’re hoping that Refiqe’s achievement can be part of a new achievement for Kosovo: fewer imports so less transport pollution, lower carbon footprints and more self-sufficiency and investment in the place we live in.

Rrefiqe is one of five Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian women in Fushë Kosovë who have been trained in soap-making and have started up this micro-finance business. With start-up funding from the Austrian Development Agency, the women learned the extraordinary process of combining special soda and olive oil together with fragrances to make soap of just the right consistency.

‘We learned from our mistakes during the training. We also learned about how to be safe while you are making the soap, heating the oil and keeping the ingredients away from children. We also tried out some different ideas for colouring and fragrances. And we had a lot of fun,’ the women say.

‘It’s like a kanaxheq’ they laughed at the first training session we held, referring to the women-only party at a traditional Kosovan wedding, and I realized that there weren’t many other opportunities for these women to get out of their houses.

It’s clear to see their enjoyment of the project. There is the satisfaction of a nice product, but also the pride in earning money for their families.

All the women had children aged nine years or more who had not registered at school before September.

The Ideas Partnership NGO helped them to register their children and we’re hoping that the soap-making project is a way of supporting the families financially without them relying on their children to work, and therefore miss out on school.

The brand name for their essential-oil-fragranced, all-natural soap is ‘Sa-punë’, a pun on the Albanian words for ‘soap’ and ‘what a lot of work’. The soap costs 2 euros for a neat hand made drawstring bag containing one bar or three guest soaps.

Individual soaps are available from [email protected] and customized bulk buys are also available.

“We had one customer who ordered 100 bags of soap. She wanted a label that said ‘Happy New Year’ with her name on it, and she’s going to give them as gifts to her friends. We think there will be international organizations and companies, as well as hotels who will be interested in customizing the soap like that, so we’re hoping for some bulk orders,” said The Ideas Partnership’s Aurélie Viard who has been involved with the project from the beginning.

The Ideas Partnership is particularly happy that the soap-making initiative has been able to partner with another micro-finance initiative in the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian community of Srbobran, near Istog.

There, women were given sewing machines by The Ideas Partnership with the help of a grant from the British Embassy. With the sewing training they have received they are now able to make the sweet drawstring pouches in which the Fushë Kosovë women’s soap is packaged.

So a purchase of one gift bag of soap makes a difference in two communities where women are working hard to support their families for a better future. Love it.


Elizabeth Gowing is a founder of The Ideas Partnership, a Kosovan NGO working on educational, cultural and environmental projects. She is also the author of the recently-published, Travels in Blood and Honey; becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo. She can be reached at [email protected]

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