Aryemo: Higher taxes forced me to move my “liquid soap” business to my house

Aryemo: Higher taxes forced me to move my “liquid soap” business to my house
Florence Aryemo has converted part of her house into a shop where she sells home-made liquid soap. [Photo: Kevin Ogutu]

A dirt road right opposite the Turkish Embassy in Tongping leads you to Florence Aryemo’s home, tucked between several other homes. It is a muddy afternoon when I get here. From the outside, there is no indication that small-scale manufacturing of liquid and bar soaps could be going on here.

When I am ushered into the home, I find 20-year-old Emmanuel Oola, her son, making charcoal lighters. The raw material here is sawdust. But to make it stick together, it is mixed with molten candle wax. The mixture is then pressed through some twenty holes on a specially designed tool.

“We sell eight of them for SSP400,” an excited Emmanuel tells me when I enquire.

Inside the house, I am treated to an array of products, all made within the four walls of her home. She does not have a shop from where she sells her products. Instead, she hawks them in various government ministries. Once in a while, she gets calls from previous customers who want delivery.

On one of the walls of her small room sits a wooden specially designed stall for the display of her products that are neatly arranged for effect.

“Here I make a lot of liquid soap, bar soap, herbal jelly, tea (mixed with lemon grass) and craft shoes. The prices are affordable. One litre of liquid soap will cost you SSP1,000. A 5-litre container will cost you 2500 SSP while a 20-litre one will cost you SSP7000,” she says with a smile.

But I am more interested in how she ended up making liquid soap, which is no doubt the most dominant product here.

“I had five siblings – three girls and three boys. Unfortunately, my father died in 1985, just a year after I was born,” she says of her childhood beginnings.

Left with their mother as the sole provider, acquiring education beyond primary school was a far fetched dream to her family.

“Mother only managed to take my two elder brothers to secondary school,” she recalled.

In 1992 they moved to Uganda following the war in the then Sudan, mostly in the South.

“I only managed up to Primary 6 in Uganda,” she added.

She would later train as a hairdresser. But when she started having chest complications she had to quit.

“It took a family friend in Kampala who told me to venture into this business of making liquid soap. He went ahead and introduced me to Telesat International in Kampala,”she says.

Upon searching Telesat on the internet, I found out that Telesat International is an organization that promotes economic independence and improved livelihoods by providing life-changing hands-on skills that enable East Africans aged 15 years and above to produce goods and services that have a local market demand.

“We provide valid market information, career guidance and real hands-on skills training in areas such as; manufacturing, agriculture, Agro-processing, trade, soft mechanics, electronics, mechatronics, IT and service sector jobs,” reads a statement on their Facebook page.

But upon getting the skills, she was left with the daunting task of starting up, and the best place to start was her village in Ayii, Magwi County. And in 2009 she set up ‘shop.’

“I only had two customers when I started. One was my paternal uncle, who was running Magwi Guesthouse, and another was another hotelier, the owner of Obama Hotel. There were ladies who were buying from me as well,” she says.

In 2013 she moved to Juba, registered her company and even opened a shop in Buluk. But the business environment would be too unfriendly, courtesy of a myriad of taxes, licenses, and permits, some of which were more or less extortionate.

“I became frustrated. I could not handle the demands of City Council and Customs officials. I had to close that shop and start operating from here (her house),” she says.

She has a dream of expanding her business to the point where she can open a centre to train other women in making liquid soap.

“I also want to export my products to markets outside the country,” says Aryemo, full of optimism.