The Audacity of Soap.

Hand-molding Arghand soap in the Cooperative in Kandahar.

Sarah & Pashtoon, her production manager, now studying at Tufts University.

Sarah Chayes didn’t set out to be a soapmaker in Afghanistan. A Harvard scholar in medieval Islamic history, Peace Corps alum, and NPR reporter living in Paris, she had the perfect pedigree for journalism. But after 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan, she asked to be reassigned to Kabul where she became deeply involved with the fate and future of the Afghans.  In 2002, she moved to Kandahar in southern Afghanistan and looked for ways to help– rebuilding homes, starting a dairy cooperative, making yogurt, and writing a book, The Punishment of Virtue. Then in 2005, she latched on to soap.

Mountains of herbs for the soap

It’s not as wild an idea as you might think. Kandahar is like the Central Valley of California: with irrigation, it produces a veritable cornucopia of fruits and nuts, where pomegranates grow big as grapefruits and everything, including opium poppies, flourishes like wildflowers.

Chayes figured that if she could establish a cooperative to make high-end soaps, it would not only mean good jobs for co-op members, but also encourage local farmers to produce flowers, fruits and herbs instead of opium. And four years later, Arghand is experiencing the sweet smell of success – with 11 women and 8 men working cooperatively in a small factory producing some of the most luscious soaps and creams you can imagine.It’s like aromatherapy on steroids! Shaped like river stones, the soaps are made entirely by hand and jam-packed with restorative pomegranate oil, natural antioxidants, grapefruit seed extract, and fragrant essential oils.

From cracking the nuts to squeezing the pomegranates, the workers mold, cure, polish, and pack every bar by hand. From the Amandine soap loaded with wild almond butter oil to the Elixir of Artemis that’s tinged with turmeric to give it a joyous yellow hue, the soaps look like exotic marble – almost too pretty to use (but don’t let that stop you from lathering up)!

The fruits of their labor -- artful Arghand soaps!

Arghand also has a new line of densely nourishing face and body creams packed with natural wild pistachio, pure apricot kernel and pomegranate oils that are rich with anti-oxidants and unsurpassed at fighting free radicals (like the Taliban). Speaking of which, every soap or cream you buy from Arghand helps support jobs for women and local agriculture in Afghanistan – and when women earn an income, that’s the most transformative of empowerment movements!

With an income, she's covered in possibilities.

My $100 today goes to Arghand towards the purchase of an industrial nut cracker and to Sarah Chayes, who is still living in Kandahar and working through electricity outages (the factory is now 100% solar), corrupt government officials, and constant intimidation to provide peaceful economic opportunities for the Afghan people.

To donate, click here. To order your soaps online (or to find a specialty retailer carrying Arghand products near you) click here. At $8 a bar, Arghand soaps are a unique, delightful and meaningful present for truly gifted (and squeaky clean) givers.