What started out as an idea between two friends in university – as they bonded over conversations about travel – has become a unique way to help the people of Mukuni Village in Zambia to attain sustainable water. Soap2Hope is a company that specializes in homemade soaps which come in inviting aromas like mango or woodlands and herbs. Best of all, the proceeds are used to provide access to safe sanitation and clean drinking water for the Mukuni villagers.
One of two co-founders of the company, Katie Boothby, was able to sit down with Apartment 613 and share some of her experiences and adventures.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Apt613: Tell us a little about yourself and your partner.
Katie Boothby: I started with one of my best friends in university, Roula Nasr, during a fourth year capstone project at Carleton University. I was taking a social enterprise class and the project was to make a social enterprise business plan from scratch. So we came up with this concept and a number of years later, we’re working together… she’s overseas actually, but we are still working together to make this a idea a reality.
Can you tell us what a social enterprise entails?
The whole premise of the enterprise is to make something better. So we are selling soap to [the public] and we are using those funds to partner with people in the Mukuni Village, to bring them locally developed water and sanitation projects.
Did you come up with this idea while traveling?
The idea was started in the library at Carleton University. But it wasn’t until I was traveling with my fiancé through southern Africa for about a month and came to Mukuni Village. We fell in love with [the village] completely unexpectedly. The people were so wonderful, so hospitable, so hardworking, and we just knew right from that moment, that this was the area that we wanted to focus our enterprise on.
“The whole premise of the enterprise is to make something better.”
How did you stumble on the village?
We hadn’t gone with a tour, we just went on our own. We were looking for things to do and [visiting the village] was one of the things that local people had recommended. So we hopped into a little van and headed to the village. It was close to where we were staying.
It was so wonderful to walk around the village, meet the people, hear about their history. The people were so proud of their village and their history and it was such an inspiring experience for me. But it also quickly became apparent that there was a gap in water and sanitation. The main village does have a well, but a lot of the surrounding village don’t have wells.
So how are the funds used to give the people of Mukuni Village clean water?
I knew that there are other organizations out there that help provide access to clean drinking water and I was lucky enough to stumble upon the Butterfly Tree Charity. They work in the Mukuni Village and I was able to connect with their representative there who runs their operations. I knew that I wanted to partner with them because I was looking for help with a focus on local empowerment and local development.
What do you like most about traveling and how do you choose your destination?
That’s a great question. I just like going to places that are unique and are off the beaten path. Everyone goes to Europe and it has fantastic culture and is an incredible place to visit, I have been there to a few countries myself. But going to someplace like Zambia, someplace that is so unique and raw, it’s so unlike our own and that is so fascinating to me. Everyone we met there was so different, seeing wildlife there that is so different and unlike anything we have here in Canada, other than the zoo, was really incredible.
Tell us about the soaps.
We have four soaps right now. We wanted to start small and focus on the quality of the product, but we hope to expand the line in the near future. They are all hand made. I make them myself here in Ottawa.
They are all named after places and themes in and around the Mukuni Village. One of our most popular is called Mosi-oa-Tunya. It is the local dialect and means “the smoke that thunders.” Which many people refer to as Victoria Falls. For those of you who don’t know, it is one of the UNESCO world heritage sites and is right by where the Mukuni chieftain is.
You also sell jewellery, can you tell us about that?
When we were there in the Mukuni Village, I noticed that the artisans that work there. I was thinking to myself that unless people are coming in droves on a daily basis, local artisans that are working hard are not getting their wares to market as quickly as they would like. So I asked the help of some people from the Butterfly Tree to put me in contact with some of the local artisans that make the bracelets and the beads. The beads are styled to go on a charm bracelet. I wear mine on a charm bracelet and they are all made locally by the artisans there. These artisans are paid directly for their wares.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us
It was my pleasure.