Gifted Sonam

Working gifts

Working gifts

Ever so often, a reader will leave a comment that is much more powerful and important than the original entry. I am delighted every time that happens.

Someone called “Invisible” left such a comment to my last entry, “Farmhouse lunch.” The comment is insightful, thought provoking, and inspiring. So, if you haven’t already read Invisible’s response about SMEs and jobs for the “invisible people”, I encourage you to do so.

“If you ‘genuinely’ believed in Aum Sonam, enjoyed her lunch, and saw a business potential in it…” advised Invisible, “…let it give you inspiration, reason, and energy to drive SMEs in Bhutan.”

I am inspired. And it’s not just because of Aum Sonam’s lunch. It’s also because I believe in the potential of her idea to make homemade soap. Yes, you heard me right, soap.

You see, Aum Sonam and her fellow-farmers produce potato chips that they sell in Mongar and Bumthang. The chips sold well, but she was unhappy that they had to literally throw away the cooking oil after it has been used several times. And, it was not just potato chips: frying banana chips, tsip and khabsay also eventually produced cooking oil that they could not reuse.

So when Aum Sonam learnt that fat was the main ingredient in soap, she quickly decided to recycle the used cooking oils. She now collects all the used oil and produces soap from her farmhouse. Her soap is simple. But it is produces a rich lather that is effective at removing dirt from clothes.

A few months ago, a visitor chanced upon Aum Sonam’s farmhouse. He listened to her. And, he liked her idea, her spirit and her energy. So he purchased her entire stock, and encouraged her to expand her business to include herbal soap and creams that would find a ready market in our own hotels and resorts.

A month later the same visitor returned to her farmhouse. Aum Sonam eagerly told him about the progress that she had made, and about all the new possibilities that she had learnt since they last met. And, she confided that her biggest challenge was to produce soap that had a consistent shape and size. She’d tried everything, from tin cans to sawed-off mineral water bottles, and still she was not happy with the shape of her soap.

So imagine her surprise, when the visitor handed her a gift: a set of wooden soap molds that could produce several sizes of classic bar-shaped soap. She had only seen them – longingly – in pictures, and had wondered if she would ever own one. She was truly overjoyed.

That visitor was His Majesty the King.