Across China: Policeman's "potato soap bars" wash poverty away in southwest China
CHENGDU, March 17 (Xinhua) -- Adding olive oil and alkali into 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 urban areas, nor a gift-making factory at a tourist site. Instead, the soap-making process takes place in the kitchen of a village school in the Gujue Village in Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, southwest China's Sichuan Province.
The potato soap bars are potentially becoming an emerging business in the village, and Peng plans to turn it into a lucrative business for locals while helping them keep good hygiene.
Peng is a policeman with the Exit and Entry Administration Division of Chengdu Public Security Bureau in the city of Chengdu, the provincial capital. He is among 5,700 officials sent by the provincial government to Liangshan to help with poverty-relief in 2018.
Seventeen years as a policeman, Peng said he served as a police inspector, took charge of gun control, and was engaged in handling affairs related to foreigners. "But I never knew much about poverty alleviation," he said.
The village Peng helps with is one of the 80 most impoverished villages in the county of Meigu. Of the village's 66 families, 46 are still living under the poverty line. Some villagers still 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 livelihood."
Peng said he once saw a video of making plant-based soap bars, and came up with an idea.
"I think that potatoes are rich in starch and are good in removing dirt, so I think they would make good ingredients in soap bars," Peng said.
Beginning last year, Peng started conducting a variety of experiments. After trials and errors, he managed to create the perfect soap bars.
Amid the coronavirus epidemic, Peng made a batch of potato soap bars and handed them out to local villagers for free.
"It is important to wash hands to prevent infections, so this is good timing for people to further understand the importance of keeping good hygiene," he said. "It is a chance to change the habits of some people."
"I remember a teenager holding a soap bar in surprise and looking at it," Peng said. "He then wasted no time in washing his hands with it."
Peng said that he plans to ask left-behind women in the village to start making the soap bars after the epidemic.
"I want to help create a hand-made 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 fields, including stopping drug trafficking, enhancing education and tackling AIDS. He often goes door to door to ask locals to fold quilts and clean rooms. When the days are good, he goes to the village school to help children wash their heads.
In the past two years, the policeman also did all kinds of jobs in the village: he sent children to school, ran errands for villagers and transported chickens, piglets, seedlings and fertilizer. At night, he would play films for locals, during which he would promote knowledge against drugs and AIDS transmission. He even had a few "followers" tagging along every day: children from the village who admire him for his police job.
"I do not speak the Yi language, but I had the experience of getting along with different people when I worked in the exit and entry administration department," he said. "I would use my body language to express myself or even use drawings to communicate with the villagers."
Peng's biggest wish is to apply for a patent for his soap bars.
"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 hand-made bars as gifts."