Shuchil Soaps from El Salvador

Artisan Shuchil Soaps

The forests of El Salvador thrive with a lush diversity of native plants that locals have harvested for healing power since the days of the ancient Mayans. In San Salvador, Matilde Carillo de Palomo uses traditional Mayan recipes to create herbal soaps that soothe the body and quiet the mind. Matilde learned her craft from her father, an herbalist who spent decades studying the properties of local flora. Their company, Shuchil Soaps, creates spa-quality products from plants grown on the de Paloma farm, including hibiscus, lemon grass, vanilla, and coconut.

The company prides itself on hiring women from rural areas and paying them fair wages for the first time in their lives. One employee, Bertha Marina Miranda, asked Matilde for work several years ago because her husband's income wasn't enough to put their children through school. Matilde hired Bertha and taught her how to work with herbs and dry hibiscus and lemon grass. Today, Bertha is a master of her craft and all of her children are in school planning professional careers. Her eldest is in college studying to be a chemist.

Another employee, Reina Isabel Guerra, has worked on the Shuchil farm since the 1980s, when most local residents fled due to a devastating civil war. The de Paloma family was committed to keeping their farm despite the constant threat of guerrilla attack, and Reina was one of a handful of loyal employees who stayed on. When the war ended, Matilde's father expressed his gratitude by giving Reina and a handful of other employees each a piece of land to build on. Over twenty years later, Reina and her husband are still with the company and live in a thriving community that includes a school, health clinic, and soccer field.

Shuchil Soap's products have been given a Certified Organic designation in the United States, Germany, and Asia, and a recent grant from the Humane Society of the United States will allow a new line of organic pet shampoos to garner a USDA Certified Humane stamp.

Matilde's next project: training retired women in the craft of soapmaking to ensure their well-being in old age. "The elderly suffer from abandonment in El Salvador, and we want to help them live a life with dignity," she says. "We will also continue to teach pre-Columbian recipes used by our Indians and passed down from generation to generation."

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