Iraqi Refugees Protecting Other Refugees… Through Soap

Cholera still exists?!

You’d be forgiven for thinking an old-school disease like cholera belongs on the “extinct” list along with flip phones, corsets, and most 80s music. And for good reason—there hasn’t been a cholera outbreak in the United States, Canada, or the United Kingdom in over a century.

But cholera in the developing world is a very real threat, and it’s deadly serious.

Cholera outbreaks are common in Iraq between the months of September and December. 2015 was no exception—except this time, 3.3 million of Iraq’s citizens were displaced, along with hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who fled east.

The cholera bacteria, which causes severe diarrhea and dehydration, spreads rampantly through the often contaminated water and cramped quarters of refugee camps. Even for the healthiest, cholera can be fatal in hours without prompt treatment.

Iraq was primed for a nationwide cholera catastrophe.

Refugee girl with water in Iraq camp

But cholera is preventable. The first and simplest line of defense against cholera is vigilant, vigorous hand washing with soap.

During the latest epidemic, camps ran aggressive soap-and-water hand washing campaigns, teaching refugees to clean their hands with soap before every single meal and every time after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, or taking care of the sick. Thankfully, cholera cases were well contained.

Soap can literally save lives.

But—at the risk of stating the obvious—to wash with soap, soap must be available. Typically, hundreds of thousands of bars will be imported  from abroad for use in refugee camps, sending money outside Iraq and away from those who need it the most.

It is easy to import commercially made soap from outside Iraq, but why not empower Iraqis as we protect refugee families from disease?

That’s where Sisterhood Soap comes in.  Our soapmakers are mothers. Wives. Daughters. Refugees. They lost everything to ISIS. But they are not victims. They are our sisters, and they refuse to be defined by what others have done to them. Instead, they create beautiful, natural soap.  And with each bar they sell, they reclaim a little more of what was destroyed.

They’re making their soap for you—in fact, we just ordered another 2,500 bars to sell in the U.S. But they are also making soap for their fellow refugees living in camps and protecting those most vulnerable to the spread of cholera. Our soapmakers now have purchase orders for tens of thousands of bars of soap to be distributed in camps across Iraq.

Refugee women are able to rebuild their lives by helping other refugee women.  

Soap cleans hands. It washes away disease. It safeguards the health of the most vulnerable.

But Sisterhood Soap does so much more. It remakes lives, allowing families to stay in Iraq to rebuild what was lost. It contributes to the local economy, keeping Iraqi money inside Iraq.

According to the World Health Organization, whenever there is a cholera outbreak toward the end of the year, there is “a high probability of another outbreak the following spring.” As long as hundreds of thousands of families remain in camps, there is an ever-present risk for disease outbreak. As long as ISIS keeps families from returning to their homes, there will always be an unmet need for greater economic opportunities.

Grow the Sisterhood. Support a soapmaker today!

Photo credits Caroline Gluck/EU/ECHO and Matthew Willingham