When Emilia Handumbo first found out she was HIV-positive, she was scared. “I thought I was going to die,” she said. For Namibians living with HIV and AIDs, they are not only fighting against the disease, but against the stigma of their neighbors as well. According to Handumbo, when others find out you are sick, they think you are “useless, and it’s your fault.”
She began going to the Mount Sinai Centre in Katutura, both as a volunteer and to receive support. There, Handumbo met four other HIV-positive female volunteers, and the five women bonded. In 2009, with help from Maarika Hoppula, a Finnish national, the women learned how to make soap by hand. And so the Katutura Soap Project Association (KSPA) was born.
Through long hours, diligent bookkeeping, and building up their customer base, the women were able to turn their soap-making into a profitable venture. Today, customers can choose between a decorative soap made of skin-nourishing olive oil, and another made of olive oil and mahangu that works as a natural exfoliant. The quality natural products are beautifully packaged in recycled materials.
But the KSPA had greater ambitions, not only for themselves, but their community as well. In cooperation with the Afronaut Foundation, the women decided to use a portion of their proceeds to assist other people living with HIV/AIDS by creating a monthly support group and decreasing stigma through community awareness days. “We want to share information, so the other women can be strong, like us,” said Handumbo.
In recent years, a lack of equipment and marketing experience prevented the project from reaching its full potential. The women were using hand mixers to mix the soap, but wanted more efficient equipment and materials to do more for themselves and their community.
In 2011, the project members received a grant from the U.S. Ambassador’s HIV/AIDS Community Development Grants Program. The program assists small but sustainable activities that directly benefit communities. The small grants program typically awards grants of between N$50,000 and N$80,000. With the help of the grant, what started as individual women struggling with their HIV diagnosis has now flourished into an income-generating soap-making project that funds HIV-awareness events for the community’s benefit. “If there is a need,” explained Handumbo, “we should help the community. No one should be alone.”
While the HIV/AIDS Community Development Grants Program funds various community-based initiatives, they are currently seeking applications for projects that specifically assist Namibian Orphans and Vulnerable Children. Services to children (0-17 years) could include ensuring access to basic education, broader health care services, targeted food and nutrition support, including support for legal protection and legal aid, economic strengthening, training of caregivers in HIV prevention, and home-based care.
- Successful grant proposals will show that the project has a strong community contribution and benefit, and will not rely on donor funding after one year.
- Organizations must demonstrate strong community support and contribution.
- Funding cannot be used for scholarships and school fees or to support private businesses or for-profit pre-schools or schools.
- Budgets are up to $15,000 U.S. dollars.
If you are interested in purchasing the Katutura Soap Project’s soaps, you can find them at the Namibia Craft Center in downtown Windhoek or at the Saturday BioMarket in Klein Windhoek.
For more information about the U.S. Ambassador’s Self-Help Program.