The Burundian refugee cleaning soap maker who’s combating coronavirus in Kenya

By Fernando Duarte
BBC World Service

Innocent Havyariama is seen bottling some soap

picture copyrightUNHCR

picture captionHarmless Havyarimana lowered the costs of his merchandise when the pandemic struck

When Harmless Havyarimana began his soap-making enterprise in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp in early 2015, he was making an attempt to maneuver on from the traumatic occasions that had made him flee his native Burundi a 12 months earlier.

Little did he know that his cottage enterprise would change into a significant weapon within the combat in opposition to coronavirus in one of many world’s largest settlements of its sort – Kakuma is dwelling to nearly 200,000 folks.

As quickly as the previous chemistry pupil realised the significance of hand-washing in tackling the unfold of Covid-19, he lowered costs and began to supply his merchandise in smaller portions and sizes, to make them extra reasonably priced.

“Everybody wants cleaning soap however not everyone is ready to afford it. So I lowered the costs, because it was extra essential to guard folks than to think about revenue,” the 35-year-old tells the BBC.

“I needed to improve my manufacturing by 75% to satisfy the demand when the pandemic began, so Covid-19 has been good for my enterprise.

“However I made positive I gave free cleaning soap to susceptible folks such because the aged and the disabled.”

picture copyrightGetty Photographs
picture captionKakuma, in north-west Kenya, is likely one of the world’s largest refugee camps, internet hosting nearly 200,000 folks

Mr Havyarimana’s initiative has been praised by the UNHCR, the UN’s refugee company, which frequently highlights the contribution of refugee entrepreneurs to their host communities.

“The refugees are enjoying a pivotal function in serving to comprise the unfold of Covid-19 in Kakuma,” Eujin Byun, a spokesperson for UNHCR in Kenya tells the BBC.

“They helped in some ways, from disseminating details about the virus to serving to folks take the mandatory measures.”

‘Taking care of one another’

She added that she was not stunned by Mr Havyarimana’s resolution to decrease costs.

“Refugees are very community-oriented and they’re going to take care of one another. They’ve beforehand stepped up and helped us do our jobs in conditions like that.”

Mr Havyarimana at present employs 42 folks in his enterprise, named Glap Industries – brief for God Loves All Individuals. The majority of the employees are refugees however 18 are Kenyans from the city of Kakuma.

Glap provides native companies and establishments outdoors the camp and even reduction businesses.

picture copyrightHarmless Havyariama
picture captionHarmless Havyarimana is eager to mentor different camp residents

“The businesses purchase my soaps to disclose to refugees who can’t afford them and for their very own workers too,” the Burundian proudly notes.

Mr Havyarimana will not be the one native cleaning soap service provider, however he doesn’t worry the competitors, and actually affords lessons to show folks find out how to make cleansing merchandise.

“I need to mentor ladies and youthful folks to allow them to have a chance to change into self-reliant and enhance their lives like I did,” he says.

“I need to assist the group in any manner I can.”

Efforts like his might have helped preserve Covid-19 at bay in Kakuma.

The latest UNHCR figures, relationship from 24 December, present that there had been 341 confirmed instances with 19 folks beneath medical care. There have been 10 deaths from the virus.

Kenya has registered practically 100,000 instances nationally, with round 1,700 deaths, well being ministry figures present.

picture copyrightGetty Photographs
picture captionBurundians fled their properties in massive numbers within the wake of violence and instability that started in 2015

Political instability and violence have compelled greater than 300,000 folks to flee Burundi to neighbouring African nations within the final decade, in accordance with the UNHCR.

Mr Havyarimana was in the midst of his chemistry research on the College of Burundi when he left. He says his life was at risk and that he was receiving loss of life threats from kinfolk of his late mom, who additionally seized his dwelling.

After arriving in Kakuma, he wished to make cash for himself, relatively than counting on humanitarian help.

‘No concept find out how to make cleaning soap’

The camp sits in an remoted and arid area the place the supply of primary providers is a problem for reduction businesses.

Exploring the area, Mr Havyarimana seen there was not a cleaning soap manufacturing unit, which meant that cleansing merchandise needed to be introduced from elsewhere.

“I had no concept of find out how to make cleaning soap, so I began browsing the online for some data,” he explains.

picture copyrightHarmless Havyariama
picture captionHarmless Havyarimana is now passing on his data of cleaning soap making by organising workshops

He later enrolled in a soap-making course provided by the World Lutheran Federation help company, and with a mortgage from a former classmate in Burundi, he began the enterprise alongside two helpers.

He additionally acquired grants from reduction businesses together with the UNHCR and NGOs such because the African Entrepreneur Collective (AEC), which says it has supported extra then 18,000 refugee entrepreneurs.

‘Lifeline for the group’

“Harmless’s story reveals how refugees can contribute to their host communities in a variety of methods,” Julienne Oyler, the AEC’s chair, tells the BBC.

“Camps like Kakuma are so remoted that entrepreneurs like him are a lifeline to primary items and providers at a time of lockdowns and different restrictions.”

A 2018 World Financial institution research recognized over 2,000 companies in Kakuma and estimated that they contributed greater than $50m (£37m) to the native economic system yearly.

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Michelle Richey, a lecturer in know-how and entrepreneurship on the UK’s Loughborough College specialising in refugee enterprise ventures, says folks like Mr Havyarimana are very import in altering the overall notion of refugees.

“The human potential inside refugees reveals once we give them probabilities to work as a substitute of simply specializing in humanitarian points,” she says.

“We can assist these folks have some management of their lives once more in any case they’ve been by.”

Beginning a thriving enterprise will not be the one change in Mr Havyarimana’s life since arriving in Kakuma. In 2017, he married Aline, a fellow Burundian refugee he met on the camp.

They’ve two sons, and the youngest one, Prince, was born in late November.


Mr Havyarimana speaks with fondness about life in Kenya however he desires of being resettled in Australia or Canada.

“I like Kakuma lots, however I need to give my spouse and children a greater life,” he says.

Within the meantime, Mr Havyarimana is specializing in increasing his methods to assist the group, and in addition to providing 21 sorts of cleaning soap and cleansing merchandise, he has devised a hand sanitiser created from aloe vera grown in a patch simply outdoors his workshop.

“Coronavirus has affected the entire world however for us right here in Kakuma, it has made it much more essential that we clear our fingers in any we will,” he says.

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