The people in Gualán, Guatemala love cake.
If you’re not careful, you’ll end up eating it every night and for every occasion, which is something we learned on our most recent trip to teach a week-long soap making class to seven locals within the organization Hearts in Motion.
As business owners, we typically prefer to donate money and volunteer our time to local organizations, but Hearts in Motion and Guatemala had found a special place in our hearts.
Our son, Zach, was born with a cleft lip and palate, which is how we met Dr. Mark Paxton, a Spokane oral and maxillofacial surgeon, who had performed a bone graft surgery on his jaw. It was one of the many surgeries that Dr. Paxton would perform on kids born with congenital defects over a span of 28 years, with many of them done as a volunteer with the nonprofit organization Hearts in Motion. Unfortunately, Dr. Paxton passed away suddenly in February but his legacy will live on through the the program he helped found.
Zach also met Amy Meredith, a speech pathologist and professor at Washington State University, while he was attending cleft lip and palate clinics on the WSU Spokane campus.
Both Dr. Meredith and Dr. Paxton encouraged Zach to travel on one of the Hearts in Motion / WSU trips to Guatemala where the focus was on a maxillofacial surgeries for those in need.
What is Hearts in Motion?
Hearts in Motion (H.I.M.) has been creating and implementing programs to assist those living in poverty in the US, Central America, and South America since 1990. They run orphanages, sponsor children for school, provide medical care, run a senior center, and offer programs for both sports and music for children among a host of other projects.
In 2016, we accompanied Zach, who was 17 at the time, on one of these trips to Guatemala. It was then that we established a bond with the H.I.M. founder, Karen Scheeringa Parra, her daughter Julie Gillam, and sociology professor and volunteer Chris Cotten.
We had seen how much of an impact an organization like the Lovin’ Soap Project was making with their soap making groups with women in third-world countries, and we knew we could do something similar. So, after receiving some advice and documentation from the founders, we crafted our own curriculum based on our experiences. We sincerely appreciate the help that Benjamin and Amanda from the Lovin’ Soap Project provided.
After feeling confident that we could actually do this, we pitched our idea to Karen and Julie from H.I.M. and they liked it. Less than six months later, and with much help from Chris and others on H.I.M.’s staff in Guatemala obtaining the needed supplies, we landed in Guatemala City for our second time.
Our goal? To help kick-start a sustainable business that’s going to create prosperity for Edgar, Beberly, Isabel, Lidia, Antonio, Sandy, Marta, and their families.
What Did We Do?
We wanted to make sure that they would have everything they needed to continue making soap long after we were gone, and that’s why we used soap recipes that contained locally-sourced and cost-effective ingredients. Plus, we donated all of the supplies and equipment that they would need to start.
We began the class with the basics of soap making. Safety was paramount since we were teaching them the cold process method of soap making using caustic soda (lye). We then went over the recipes that we had to create based on the vegetable oils that we were able to locally obtain and taught them how to accurately measure ingredients on a scale. Once they had the steps down, each student was able to make three batches of soap of different essential oil and herb blends during the class: Jabón Cítrico - a blend of aceite esencial de mandarina (mandarin essential oil) and aceite esencial de limon (lemon essential oil). Jabón Hierba Pura - a blend of blanco aceite esencial de albahaca (white basil essential oil) and mandarin. And Jabón Avena Hidratante - a blend of aceite esencial de clavo de olor (clove essential oil) and lemon with avena (oatmeal) that we purchased at a local market.
Interspersed through the class, we covered the business concepts that would be so important to making their business sustainable, like branding, cost of goods calculations, pricing, and accounting. One evening their homework assignment was to think of possible names for their company.
The next morning the group discussed and voted on their company name: Brisas del Valle or Breezes of the Valley. Edgar even created some sketches of logo ideas. With this information, we were able to create a logo and Facebook page for them while we were there! Thank you to our graphic artists and friends, Ali Koski, of AHA! Creative and Bre Gotham for helping us make this happen on such short notice.
We also helped the students identify their skills. Antonio, a farmer whose land no longer existed, ended up being incredibly efficient at scraping and cutting soap. Lidia, who had recently lost her job at a hotel, was particularly good at attention to detail when measuring ingredients. And Marta could stick-blend the soap mixture like nobody's business.
And over the course of five days, amidst the prickly pear cacti native to the area, we learned from them, too. We heard each of their individual stories and got a glimpse of what it was like to live in the Zacapa region of Guatemala. Their overflowing gratitude towards us was a heart-warming experience that we will both cherish forever.
What’s next for them?
Since we’ve left, we’ve kept in contact through email and text messages with the participants of the group. They’ve been making soap successfully and have upcoming markets where they can sell to the gringo tourists and volunteers. Plus, they’ve
learned to make balls of soap that they can sell at a much lower price point to locals. They have been continuing to look for local and regional ingredients and recently found a source for lemongrass essential oil made from lemongrass grown on the Pacific coast of Guatemala.
What’s more, the director of Hearts in Motion is exploring the possibility of selling the soaps to retail stores in Antigua so they can expand both their reach and profit.
All in all, we’re grateful to have gotten the opportunity to teach what we love to those who can use it to raise their families and community higher. We’ll also be updating you on their progress, and we’re excited to visit them again when we return next year.
Most importantly, though, THANK YOU for supporting us so we can continue to support others.
Peace, love, and soap,
Jennifer & Andy