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For any of my family and friends who think I’ve been even more uncommunicative than usual lately, I offer this blog in explanation (and apology!)

I have had the honour and privilege of being chosen to be a member of this team:

SOAP STARS VISIT NIGERIA .

On May 29th, eight intrepid women are venturing from the UK into the no-go region of Rivers State Nigeria with the mission of using soap to improve the lives of 1,500 women.

The enterprise forms part of a non-governmental project instigated and funded by Her Excellency, LadyJudith Amaechi,  First Lady of Rivers State, for  her ambitious and worthy Empowerment Support Initiative, set up with the aim of  promoting  vocational training  and enterprise for the disadvantaged in her region.

With limited resources to work with, the eight soap makers from the UK, France, Portugal and Spain will spend two  weeks training the 1500 women  to make natural, handmade soap from locally grown oils, herbs and spices.  As small entrepreneurs themselves the soap makers will also be briefing the Nigerian women on the basics of business and marketing so that they leave the project equipped to make and sell soaps themselves within their own communities.

Lady Judith Amaechi has become a beacon of hope to under-privileged women and youth in the trouble-torn Rivers State area.  She has demonstrated exceptional humanity and commitment to development, gender equality and girl child education and, through her work with the State Ministry of Youth  Affairs  and the National Women’s Coalition against HIV/AIDS, received the accolade of most outstanding ‘Friend of the Masses 2008’.

The project will be led by Melinda Coss, author of ‘The Handmade Soap Book’ and ‘Gourmet SoapsMade Easy’ and widely acknowledged as the ‘doyenne of British soap makers’.  No stranger to the challenges of  Africa, Melinda played a key role in the setting up of ‘Township Trades’ an entrepreneurial training programme in Cape Town’s  poverty zone of ‘Khayelitsha’.  http://www.youtube.comwatch?v=atlEvW6mIB8

She has also worked on a project in Tanzania developing an existing soap enterprise to meet challenging EU cosmetic legislative standards which enabled them to grow and to export.

‘’Soap making is the perfect medium for social enterprise as initial investment and resource requirements are low and returns can be high – it also offers opportunities to put added value onto locally grown plants and oils, the harvesting and processing  of which can create additional micro-enterprises in the regions that most need them’’.

This blog will be a blow-by-blow account of the project from my own personal point of view as it develops in the next three weeks. In the first few posts, before we actually set off I’ll give some of the background to the project: the challenges we face and what we hope to achieve, and also the frustrations we’ve felt at probably the worst part of the trip – getting the visas and contracts sorted out! I though that after living in Spain for 9 years that Nigerian bureaucracy could hold no terrors for me … I was wrong …

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