By John Vincent B. Toribio
Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU) received a grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Citizen Diplomacy Action Fund to run a training program in organic soap-making using locally available materials. With the continued threat of COVID-19 to people’s health and livelihood, MMSU welcomes the grant to complement its program to activate resiliency among Ilokano communities.
With the $10,000 grant, an MMSU team led by US Exchange Program alumni is set to train Ilocos Norte women using simple technology vital in combatting today’s health crisis, and one with promising entrepreneurial benefits.
Led by Dr. Fiorello Abenes, Former US Senior Fulbright fellow, Professor Emeritus at California State Polytechnic University (CalPoly)-Pomona, former MMSU Balik-Scientist, and a consultant to the National Bio-Energy Research and Innovation Center (NBERIC), and Dr. Jan Rich A. Guira, Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program (FLTA) alumnus and MMSU’s chief for student development, the group is set to train at least 50 women in a training program using the facilities of the National Bioenergy Research and Innovation Center (NBERIC).
“The World Health Organization and the Philippine Department of Health recommend washing hands with soap frequently to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. Soap making is an easy enterprise that families can get into.
“In addition to making enough soap for their own family use, the knowledge and skills gained by participants from this training could very well become a source of additional income for the participants. With the 'Starting an Organic Soap' business component, they could start a small business in their communities,” Dr. Abenes said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Guira said that for the training, only readily available materials in Ilokano homes will be utilized. “Except for NaOH (caustic soda or lye), raw materials, such as coconut oil, salt, and fragrant flowers like ylang-ylang and jasmines are readily found in kitchens or backyards.
“This ensures that all participants will be able to apply their learning even when they go back to their families and create low-cost but effective soap that they can use for washing and bathing,” he added.
Dr. Roque Ulep, USAID-STRIDE post-doctoral fellow, chemical engineer and lead trainer, assured that, “we will make sure that the quality of the soaps produced during the training are on a par with commercial soaps, with the same anti-microbial and cleansing effect.”
“We will motivate our trainees to be guerilla scientists in their own communities to produce a rippling effect,” Roque added. Sustainability of the project will be achieved through enabling the participants to cascade their training in their own towns or barangays.
MMSU President Shirley C. Agrupis, Fulbright-Philippine Agriculture Fellowship alumna, and project administrator, said that “the overall goal of the project is to empower rural women to protect their families and to alleviate poverty in Ilocos Norte.”
Aside from soap production, the project will also encourage entrepreneurship among the trainees, coaching them to establish small-scale soap manufacturing enterprises. To achieve this, the participants will be trained on how to prepare a business plan and will be introduced to microfinance sources from the government and banking industry.
Given the restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, all participants will be provided with personal protective equipment (PPPE), and physical distancing will be strictly implemented. Participants will be subjected to daily temperature checks before they enter the training room and will be required to undergo disinfection procedures. They will also be provided with a 100 ml bottle of 70% alcohol developed at the NBERIC for their use throughout the duration of the training.
Participants who opt to stay in the University during their 3-day training will be accommodated in University housing facilities, especially those who reside from towns far from Batac City.
Aside from Dr. Roque, other trainers include: Engr. Loreli Faye Manzano (NBERIC researcher) for soap-making, and Ms. Lenie Bayangos (MMSU business director) for busines plan preparation. Other members of the training team are: Engr. Thomas Ubina (NBERIC chief), Mr. Jayson Cariaga and Ms. Maria Concepcion Birginias (NBERIC researchers), Ms. Regine Bernadette Alibuyog (NBERIC Staff), Ms. Magdalena Valencia (Chemistry staff) and Ms. Jenny Padulip, (administrative aide).
MMSU Extension Director Aris Reynold V. Cajigal (Fulbright Graduate Student Program), serves as the local government focal point and trainee selection and recruitment lead. Meanwhile, the publication and documentation committee is composed of Prof. Luvee Hazel C. Aquino, acting director for strategic communication (FLTA alumna), and Mr. Ryan Roi Domingo and Mr. John Vincent Toribio, digital media and information services chief, respectively, both of whom are alumni of the Online Professional English Network (OPEN) Program.
The project is one of 38 winners of the Fall 2020 Citizen Diplomacy Action Fund (CDAF) which provides funding for US citizen-alumni-led public service projects that address the themes of media literacy education, building community resilience, and fostering alumni network development. Other projects also include supporting early education in Burundi, podcasting for media literacy in Mongolia, and food literacy in Indiana.
Matthew Lussenhop, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State congratulated “our exchange alumni who have received awards from the CDAF to lead public service projects in their communities.”
The CDAF is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and implemented in partnership with the Partners of the Americas. For more information visit https://alumni.state.gov. For questions on ECA exchange programs, contact ECA-Press@state.gov. - StratCom