Drive four hours from Abidjan, the economic capital, toward the center of the country to the city of Bouaké, and there you will find Camera Assetou with buckets, colourant and determination. Carefully staying physically distant from others, she proudly shows other women how to mix and pour, all making liquid soap and making money. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the government of Cote d’Ivoire has enforced social distancing rules, curfews and public health safety restrictions that have affected how many conduct businesses in public. The related social barriers, which impacted both the national and local economies, also negatively impacted the city of Bouaké, the second largest city of Côte d’Ivoire. Affected by the pandemic, the potential to earn income decreased, directly impacting many women who earned money through jobs that involved direct person-to-person contact. But now, there’s hope through soap. But not just any kind of soap, Assetou is teaching the women of Sababougnouma, a Village Savings Loan Association (VSLA) how to make soap that will also aid in encouraging healthy hand hygiene practices.
“We noticed that not everyone in our corner was able to afford to buy soap or hand sanitizer all the time for exclusively hand washing. So we decided to apply our new soap-making skills and produce some extra quantity of liquid soap and distribute it to our neighbors and especially women,” said Camera Assetou.
Literally taking matters into their own hands, the women of VSLA, an association of 30 members where the majority are women, also sold the newly made soaps to locals and began generating income needed to support their families during these trying times. Seeing the positive economic benefits, the women also shared best practice of their business with young entrepreneurs.
“Furthermore, through this new business we empowered the youth so they could also earn an income by buying it at an affordable price and selling it back with some interest.” declared Assetou.
Meanwhile, as the numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases grew, the women also noticed that the number of people not wearing masks also increased. Concerned, the women then put their sewing skills to work and started making masks for themselves and other women in the community. Since 2019, the USAID funded, Political Transition Inclusion program has provided technical support on social entrepreneurship, saving and financial education, information on citizenship and the electoral process to the women of VSLA. The women were also trained by CARE, a USAID implementing partner. Both organizations offered timely assistance to the women, who then identified and moved forward with an economic generating project that helped boost good hygiene practices, earn money, and empower others.
“Today we are proud to contribute to the fight against COVID-19 and make a living to support our families,” concluded Camara Assetou, the president of Benkadi.