Jatropha Soap improving handwashing practices in Mtoliwa Village, Malawi

United Purpose | Sinead Lehane from CSWASH KALM, on 24/02/2017 16:09 AEST

Mtoliwa, a village in Phalombe district in Southern Malawi, was one of the first in the area to attain ODF (Open Defecation Free) status. All the households in this village had latrines with drop-hole covers and foot operated hand washing facilities. Although all the households had access to latrines, they lacked one thing - soap. After visiting the latrines households used ash to clean their hands.

Due to the high cost of soap, ash was the only option for many community members wishing to improve their hygiene practices. Although ash is, to some extent, effective in removing physical dirt and pathogens, it has no antibacterial properties and is not effective in combatting the spread of waterborne diseases. With support from Phalombe Civil Society WASH Project, implemented by United Purpose (formerly known as Concern Universal) and funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Village Health and Water Committee received training to grow Jatropha seeds for soap production. The community started with a nursery of Jatropha seedlings which they took care of in order for the seedlings to survive.

After the tree seedlings had grown in the nursery the village head gave the committee land so that they could establish a woodlot of Jatropha trees in the village. Once the trees had produced seeds United Purpose then taught the committee how to squeeze oil from the seeds and make soap from the squeezed oil. The committee was then able to make soap on its own using the oil from the Jatropha seeds, caustic soda and distilled water. The Jatropha seed oil and caustic soda together with the distilled water are mixed together in a bucket which forms a porridge-like substance which is poured into moulds and left for one day, then after a day the soap is produced.

The Village Health and Water Committee  has  since been able to make 123 tablets of the Jatropha soap and distribute it to all 123 households in Mtoliwa village. Mr Levison Chikomesa one of the beneficiaries who lives in Mtoliwa village narrates the benefits of the Jatropha soap: “soap made from Jatropha seed oil kills germs, it is also relatively cheap since it is made locally compared to other soap from shops made from industries and we also use the soap for bathing and washing household utensils such as plate”. Mtoliwa village households are now able to wash hands with soap, which has had a great impact on the wellbeing and development of the village, as community members no longer suffer frequently from diarrhoea and have more time to engage in productive activities.