In this blog, we reflect on the successful sanitation and hygiene drive of the Gikuriro programme to normalise hand washing with soap practice across eight districts in Rwanda. Through the application of market principles and trainings, we are seeing increased access to soaps (and toilets), and more people taking an interest to participate in the sanitation and hygiene drive.
Hand washing with soap during critical times was not commonplace before USAID’s Gikuriro  started implementation in the programme’s eight districts. A Gikuriro barrier analysis conducted at the start of the programme identified soap availability and affordability in local markets to be key barriers. To address these, one strategy taken by the Gikuriro programme was to help set-up a (local) liquid soap business run by Community Hygiene Clubs (CHCs) who have been central to the success of sanitation and hygiene programmes in their respective communities.
Steaming ahead, SNV trained 17 of its sub-partners and USAID LCSO staff on (local) liquid soap production. In turn, production know-how obtained from this training was cascaded to the best performing CHCs (five CHCs per district or 40 CHCs for all Gikuriro programme districts).
The market for locally made soap is multi-layered, and covers households, restaurants, bars, and car wash stations. For CHCs in urban settings, the soap business flourished almost instantaneously. This success spurred ambitions to grow. In the Kicukiro district for example, 58 CHCs enlarged their operations by borrowing FRW 7,091,900 (approximately US$ 7,560) from village savings groups. Together, the CHCs realised a profit of FRW 1,652,100 (approximately US$ 1,800) before labour and tax payments.
During the COVID-19 closure period, the volume of liquid soap sales increased further. Heightened demand for soap provided great motivation for the CHCs to function well. At the end of the Gikuriro programme, 4,393 CHC members across eight districts received training on liquid soap production.
Beyond efforts to increase the availability and accessibility of soap, through the Gikuriro programme, SNV also set up a savings group for CHC members. Today, the savings scheme provides small loans to CHC members – minus interest – for the upgrade of household toilets and hand washing stations.
By kick-starting local soap production and setting up savings schemes, more households have taken an interest to engage in CHC membership – including men. As many countries, the responsibility of sanitation rests traditionally on women. With more and more men in communities taking an interest to participate in the sanitation and hygiene drive, we are seeing small but encouraging signs of disrupting long-held gender roles and norms.
Written by: Getachew Tessema, WASH Sector Leader, SNV in Rwanda
Photos by SNV in Rwanda: (Banner) CHC training on local soap production in 2019, pre-COVID pandemic
1 Between 2016-2020, USAID funded two large, complementary WASH programmes in Rwanda, which includes the Rwanda Rural Sanitation Activity (Isuku Iwacu) and the Integrated Nutrition and WASH Activities (Gikuriro). SNV managed in-country implementation of the Isuku Iwacu project, while in Gikuriro, SNV was a sub to CRS, and responsible for the programme’s WASH component.
2 Kayonza, Kicukiro, Ngoma, Nyabihu, Nyanza, Nyarugenge, Ruhango, Rwamagana