Our role in the soapberry investigation project with a university in Honduras is so provide traceable samples. They specifically asked for soapberries from the department of Paraíso, which is over 200 miles from where we live. A friend offered to provide the collection point. A great help. When we talked by phone, he said he thought maybe he could come up with 500 pounds. Super, more than we need. That was a Monday.
Our friend, Dagoberto, called back the next morning and said he had a problem. He was receiving a lot more than the 500 pounds he had estimated. By Saturday night he had 1,000 pounds of soapberries on hand. Another 1,000 pounds showed up on Monday. He had no idea there was that much production in the region. So we said “fine,” buy up to 3,000 pounds. Tuesday night we upped that to 4,000 and Wednesday night it went up to 6,000 pounds. Why buy 6,000 pound when we only needed 500?
Dagoberto described the situation as a humanitarian crisis.
How did this happen? We did not know how much production there was in the region, which is part of the reason for the study in the first place. More significantly, we had not taken into account that the region has been in severe drought conditions for a number of months. There was a total failure of the corn and bean harvest in March. There is no work in the fields and people are desperate. Very little government help is getting to the poorest folks. And then the word gets out that our friend is buying soapberries. He was hit by an avalanche of need.
Emotions in a crisis can be pretty raw. On Tuesday, upon being paid, one man wept because he could pay his power bill. Now his kids could study at night. On Thursday, a family that lives in a one-room shack made of scraps, located on the highway right of way, was turned away with 3 sacks of soapberries because the buying limit had been reached. That was emotionally hard for all concerned. Today, Friday, Dagoberto bought their berries and they reacted as if they had won the lottery.
Soapberries make good soap. When people buy them, it is not simply an act of compassion, to help somebody. It is a product worth buying. But, there is something very satisfying in knowing that a simple every day job that is part of everybody’s routine can provide a way for a man to help his family by paying a light bill, so his kids can study.