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China Daily Global / 2020-03 / 26 / Page004

Potato soap helps hygiene and financial health

China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-03-26 00:00

CHENGDU-Adding olive oil and alkali to mashed potatoes, Peng Yang stirs the mixture and pours it into a mold. Two days later, light yellow potato soap bars take shape under the sun.

It's not a studio in an urban area, nor a gift-making factory at a tourist site. Instead, the soap-making takes place in the kitchen of a school in Gujue village, Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture in Sichuan province.

Peng hopes to turn the potato soap bars into a viable business for locals while helping promote good hygiene.

He is a policeman with the exit and entry administration division of Chengdu public security bureau in the provincial capital.

Peng was one of 5,700 officials sent by the provincial government to Liangshan in 2018 to help with poverty relief.

A policeman for 17 years, Peng served as a police inspector, took charge of gun control, and handled matters related to foreigners. "But I never knew much about poverty alleviation," he said.

Gujue is one of the 80 most impoverished villages in Meigu county. Of the village's 66 families, 46 still live below the poverty line. Some villagers live in mud shacks.

"The village is 2,340 meters above sea level, and villagers traditionally grow potatoes and buckwheat," Peng said. "I thought hard about what to do to improve people's livelihoods."

Peng said he saw a video on the making of plant-based soap bars, and came up with an idea.

"I thought, potatoes are rich in starch and good for removing dirt, so I thought they would make good ingredients in soap bars," Peng said.

Last year, he started conducting a variety of experiments. After much trial and error, he managed to create the perfect soap bar using the humble tuber.

Amid the coronavirus epidemic, Peng made a batch of potato soap bars and distributed them free to local villagers.

"It is important for people to wash their hands to prevent infections, so this is good timing for people to better understand the importance of maintaining good hygiene," he said. "It is a chance to change the habits of some people."

Peng said one of the impoverished teenagers enthusiastically washed his hands with the potato soap after initially being surprised by its appearance.

He plans to ask women in the village passed over for marriage to start making the soap bars after the epidemic.

"I want to help create a handmade soap bar cooperative in a year," he said. "Local officials are quite supportive of my idea."

Besides soap bars, Peng is also in charge of other areas, including stopping drug trafficking, enhancing education and tackling AIDS.

As part of his hygiene drive, he often goes door to door to ask locals to fold quilts and clean their rooms. Sometimes he goes to the village school to help children wash their hair.

Other jobs he has done in the village over the past two years include: sending children to school; running errands for villagers; and transporting chickens, piglets, seedlings and fertilizer. At night, he plays films for locals while educating them on the dangers of illegal drugs and the transmission of AIDS.

During the day a group of children follow him around and watch him as he goes about his work in the village.

"I do not speak the Yi language, but I had experience of getting along with different people when I worked in the exit and entry administration department," he said. "I use body language to express myself or drawings to communicate with the villagers."

Peng's hopes he can have potato soap patented.

"I want to leave the soap bars to the villagers," Peng said. "When the highway is completed, I am sure a lot of people will come to this place and buy the handmade bars as gifts."


From left: Peng Yang makes potato soap bars in his house in Gujue village, Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture in Sichuan province. Two Gujue villagers admire Peng's work. LI LIKE/XINHUA



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