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Arghand Cooperative

Soap Pebbles

Washing Away the Opium Trade

Think of farming in Afghanistan and you probably think of one crop: opium. Over 90 percent of the world’s opium supply comes from this tiny war torn nation. Cash from that crop mostly goes to fund the Taliban and Al Qaeda, leaving Afghan workers earning a paltry $100 per month.

In 2002, National Public Radio (NPR) reporter Sarah Chayes tossed aside her tape recorder and dedicated herself to changing the lives of those
underpaid Afghanis. “Stop talking about it already—do something,” she says her conscience told her. After cutting her teeth cleaning up a bombed-out village and running a dairy co-op, Chayes started a cooperative called Arghand.

Arghand’s dozen or so male and female workers craft soap pebbles using age-old techniques. Oprah was impressed enough to give Chayes a “Chutzpah” award. The soaps are a winner, too. Each one takes a total of six weeks to make. The result is a dense and long-lasting soap that resembles a beautiful stone polished by river water. All of the natural ingredients are painstakingly gathered from around Kandahar in Southern Afghanistan. The enterprise encourages farmers to plant crops like apricots, pomegranates, spices and herbs — instead of opium.

Arghand means “triumphant” in Persian. That’s how you’ll feel using these beautiful soaps that just might make the future of Afghanistan a little more bright and shiny.

— Emily C.
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Arghand Cooperative - Soap from Afghanistan

Shop Arghand Cooperative Products

Grommet Launch Conversation

  • Jennie
    Jennie

    Good afternoon. I'm delighted to be here today. Arghand is a business cooperative in Kandahar, Afghanistan that was founded by Sarah Chayes, formerly an international correspondent for National Public Radio. Its purpose is to contribute to the economic development of southern Afghanistan by producing all natural skin-care products from the legendary fruits of the Kandahar region – thus also competing with the opium poppy industry by expanding the market for licit crops.

    Arghand guarantees the livelihoods of its members who participate equally in all aspects of production and management regardless of gender, ethnicity and tribal affiliation. Thank you for learning more and supporting our mission. I look forward to reading your comments and am happy to answer your questions.

  • Jennifer
    Jennifer
    6/16/2009 12:17 PM

    This is wonderful Jennie! I will help spead the word about these beautiful soaps and such a worthy mission! Bravo!

  • Jules
    Jules – Grommet Team
    6/16/2009 12:33 PM

    @Jennifer Thanks for the offer to help spread the word. That means a lot to me. Supporting this is a way the Daily Grommet community can really help people in a place that so badly needs us. Bravo for Sarah and Jennie for giving us a lovely way to do it!

  • Diana
    Diana
    6/16/2009 12:36 PM

    Just bought two -- one for our guest bath and one for a house gift. This is one of my favorite grommets. Such a worthy cause!

  • Jules
    Jules – Grommet Team
    6/16/2009 12:45 PM

    This one is going fast. If you saw a "greyed out" Buy It Now button, it meant we were temporarily sold out. We just arranged for some more so we are back in stock.

  • Tony
    Tony
    6/16/2009 1:23 PM

    Those are gorgeous! My wife would love them.

  • ran
    ran
    6/16/2009 1:48 PM

    I bought these for my wife and she was blown away! ( I was too, honestly) We are hooked- the soap, the story, the whole thing is just great- now we are giving them as gifts!

    we got ours at a great on line shop- www.earthlovershopping.com

  • Jules
    Jules – Grommet Team
    6/16/2009 1:54 PM

    @Ran People can get them right here on Daily Grommet until noon tomorrow, and then we will link out to a nice green ecommerce site for the duration. (Real Green Goods)

  • Jennie
    Jennie – Special Guest
    6/16/2009 2:48 PM

    This is all very exciting and meaningful for us. Unfortunately, it is evening in Kandahar and our offfice is closed for the day. Otherwise I would try to get Mahmooda, Nurallah and some of our other Afghan members to log on. However, I will send them an email with the link and maybe they can pop in tomorrow. Circumstances are very precarious in Afghanistan right now, particularly in the south, and so we REALLY appreciate your support.

  • Sara
    Sara
    6/16/2009 3:04 PM

    Dear Jennie, It would be an honor to purchase these soaps and to spread the word about your undertaking. It is difficult to imagine what you all are going through in Afghanistan. Sending positive energy, prayers and support!

  • Jennie
    Jennie – Special Guest
    6/16/2009 4:18 PM

    Wonderful feedback! I also wanted to say that all proceeds from soap sales go directly back into the cooperative to cover salaries for our 13 Afghan members plus the facility, raw materials and day-to-day operations. Our few western salaries, administrative costs and capital investments are covered mostly by individual donations and public and private grants. If you have any questions about Arghand, please don't hesitate to let me know!

  • Jules
    Jules – Grommet Team
    6/16/2009 4:27 PM

    @Jennie, I'm happy you pointed out that the cooperative members get a fair salary from the soap sales, and all the revenues fund local operations. We had to cut that from the video and I missed it.

  • Marie Danielle
    Marie Danielle
    6/16/2009 10:22 PM

    It’s absolutely great to have such a site at hand. It brought tears to my eyes to watch the people of the coop at work: a meditative state, repeated gestures, long hours, patience and determination. I keep in mind everyone of them: the women sitting in circle sorting the almond shells, one by one, by hand, the man carefully tying a bow with a piece of Herat silk around an almond soap, the roll of thread standing by his side that he's going to use to attach the label to the soap, and his partner rapping each cherished piece of art in local newspaper. I was moved by the UNFORGETTABLE image of a man sitting meditatively in a chair - molded to his body with the hours of work - tapping endlessly to harden and shape the soap or to extract the palm oil. Now we know why these soaps are so long lasting and why they keep their hard shape ‘till the end. Such quality of work for such a good and worthy cause sets the standards high to us, as it is an everyday example of humility, team work in a real family spirit where everyone is equal, and a lesson of great courage and tenacity for a better world in an environment of terror and war. I would like to salute everyone of them and tell them that it gives us joy and great pride to buy and promote such unique products for health, skin care and to support this unmatchable local fare trade coop! May you be blessed, all of you who wake up every day for Arghand’s vision and know that here, we, like wise, wake up every morning with you, thinking and working as a team to help you reach your goal. Distance here is not an obstacle when the link is the heart and the vision is brotherhood.

  • Jules
    Jules – Grommet Team
    6/16/2009 10:43 PM

    @Marie Danielle Your thoughtful and heartfelt observations--and encouragement--take my breath away....this is work that is worth doing. It transcends work, when people like you help us all do our bit--to connect people with products and experiences and causes that carry deeper meaning. The Arghand Cooperative is this through and through.

  • Suzanne Hamlin
    Suzanne Hamlin
    6/17/2009 8:42 AM

    As a very fortunate Arghand soap consumer, I'd like to add some secular commentary: these gorgeous orbs of soap, which look like precious minerals or polished river stones, are soul soaps-infused with the strength of their creators and--on a very pragmatic level--magical, deeply nourishing cosmetic properties.

    Arghand: a gift to the world in every way.

  • Jeff
    Jeff
    6/17/2009 12:10 PM

    Thanks for spotlighting this company. I watched a very insightful interview with Sarah Chayes last year (see link below) and am very supportive of her work. http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/02222008/watch2.html

  • Peter Kenny
    Peter Kenny
    5/28/2010 2:22 PM

    What a remarkable way of integrating meaning into our daily process of living - soap. Soap that speaks to a struggle and to resilience. This impresses me - I love everything about it - right down to the way it is packaged. Brilliant.

  • Katherine
    Katherine – Grommet Team
    5/28/2010 2:50 PM

    @Peter, I find this to be one of the most compelling Grommet stories we've done. They've had a tough go of it and a few months ago updated us. You can read the update here:

    http://blog.dailygrommet.com/behind-the-scenes/update-from-afghanistan/

    It's not an easy read.

    We have more stories like this one, they all live in the "Social Enterprise" category of our site, you can see them here:

    Social Enterprise Grommets

  • Steve
    Steve
    8/3/2010 7:16 PM

    Sarah Chayes wrote a book on Afghanistan, and established the cooperative Arghand. Visit her website: http://arghand.sitegidget.com/index.html This is the work of an enlightened brave individual, who is supported by wonderful local people.

    They deserve their victory over the not so progressive rest of the Afghan nation.

  • Katherine
    Katherine – Grommet Team
    8/4/2010 12:22 AM

    @Steve - thank you for that link!

  • Connie Moralez-Piper
    Connie Moralez-Piper
    9/1/2010 10:09 PM

    I just LOVE this soap and think that Sarah Chayes is incredible. She is at the top of my hero list along with my Husband and Greg Mortenson.

  • Katherine
    Katherine – Grommet Team
    9/1/2010 10:29 PM

    Connie - I think you've picked some very good heroes! If we all had just a fraction of their selflessness and their vision for a better tomorrow, we could move mountains.

  • Connie Piper
    Connie Piper
    9/1/2010 10:34 PM

    I only wish I could do more. My (late) Husband was Special Forces and did not survive his injuries (sustained in Afghanistan back in June 2005). SSG Chritopher Neal Piper was his name and I live every day trying to do something to make things better somehow in A'stan. I have pamphlets for Sarah's soap and I buy small quantities to give to people I meet and think would be interested in the concept of helping to make A'stan a better place to live (by using the soap). Katherine, THANK YOU for all the awesome things you do!!

  • Beth Grader
    Beth Grader
    7/23/2011 2:41 PM

    @Connie Piper: Hi Connie

    You do not know me but my step-son Derek served in the Marine Corp in 2005 and knew your husband. My son, Jake Grader recently returned from Afghanistan and I am very interested in helping the people of this country. Currently, two Afghan college students are living with me in M'head, one is attending Salem State. My friend Javed sent me a sample of this amazing soap, which will certainly be part of my gift giving in the future. It is so important that we all do what we can to help the incredibly couragous women of Afghanistan. Beth

  • Katherine
    Katherine – Grommet Team
    9/1/2010 10:52 PM

    Connie - your husband is indeed a true hero, I am so sorry for your loss. I love that you are using these soaps to show how we can make a difference in Afghanistan. Thank you! We get updates from Arghand and hope to be able to share some news again soon.

  • Sandy
    Sandy
    9/2/2010 12:54 PM

    These soaps look very yummy and fragrant. Unfortunately, I cannot order as I have a son with severe nut allergies and therefore cannot have nut products in the home.

  • Reba
    Reba
    10/1/2010 1:01 AM

    Hi, I am thinking ahead for Christmas and birthday presents. I would love to know how much money, out of a $15 dollar purchase actually makes it back to the people of Afghanistan? I ask only because I try to make purchases or donations where every penny packs the largest punch for the people who need it. I am between this product, and a few others, and am trying to decide. Thanks so much!

  • Jennie
    Jennie – Special Guest
    10/7/2010 2:42 PM

    Proceeds from the sale of Arghand products go directly back into the

    cooperative to cover Afghanistan operating expenses, which include salaries for our Afghan members. Because Arghand has not yet achieved self-sufficiency,due mostly to production constraints associated with operating in a war zone, the cooperative continues to rely on government contracts, foundation grants and private donations to cover a few modest international salaries and administrative costs. Arghand also relies on public and private donations for capital investments such as equipment, land and construction costs in an ongoing effort to expand without incurring debt. I'd say about 10 of $15 of our soap sales goes back to the Afghan people.

  • Rebecca
    Rebecca
    5/19/2012 1:59 PM

    I am in love with this idea and commend everyone involved in this project! I'm hoping to purchase soaps for all my friends and family this holiday season but it appears I bought the last one! Hoping that there will be more to buy soon. Purchasing products that give back makes it so much more fun to give - twice.

  • Chew-Hoong
    Chew-Hoong – Grommet Team
    5/22/2012 12:32 PM

    @Rebecca Gerstel: We're glad the story touches you too & thank you for sharing this gift of "hope & triumph" with others. The soaps are flying off the shelf; we'll let you know directly once more become available.

  •  Marcie
    Marcie
    5/21/2012 11:38 AM

    Is the background story printed on the card attached to the soaps or included in any other way to accompany these products to be given as a gift?

  • Chew-Hoong
    Chew-Hoong – Grommet Team
    5/22/2012 12:36 PM

    @ Marcie: We agree the compelling story of "triumph" must be shared with as many people as possible. It is included in the package with the soaps.

  • Hannah
    Hannah
    10/25/2012 6:24 AM

    On average, how many soaps are in a single package? I would love to give the soaps as presents at my birthday party but I cannot afford a complete package for each guest. But it would be my way of spreading the word about this wonderful project.

    Hannah

  • Chew-Hoong
    Chew-Hoong – Grommet Team
    10/25/2012 12:25 PM

    @Hannah Puckhaber: There's 5 different soaps. What a lovely idea as gifts at your party. Thank you for raving about the project to your friends & family.

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