Palam Rural Centre

Palam Rural Centre (People’s Association for Leather and Allied Manufacturing) offers employment opportunities to people of the marginalized Harijan community in a village in Tamil Nadu region, southeastern India. In the Tamil language, Palam also means "bridge." Palam Rural Centre seeks to build a "bridge" to the markets of the rest of the world. With money from product sales, Palam has purchased land and homes for artisans (ownership traditionally unavailable to lower castes) and built a school for artisans’ children. Other artisan benefits include health care and retirement pensions. Palam artisans see education of their children as the key to hope and change. Through this work, Palam Rural Centre is providing dignity and security to artisans and helping to break down caste walls in society. Ten Thousand Villages has purchased products from Palam Rural Centre since 2001.

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Scented Soap Production

In recent years the leather trade in India has gained momentum with the influx of large multinational companies, whose latest technologies have caused highly inflated prices for raw hides. Small traditional tanneries have been squeezed from the industry. Although Palam has struggled as well, their commitment to the harijans encouraged the development of new designs for leather products. After four years of careful planning, Palam has developed vegetable oil based bath soaps as a product alternative.



Vegetable oils are mixed in the correct proportion for the type of soap being produced. These oils are heated to separate the impurities from the oil. This heating and straining process occurs three times. Next the oil mixture is cooled and formed as a solid block. As the oil mixture hardens insoluble impurities collect at the top and bottom of the block. Those collected at the top are called the crust and those at the bottom of the block are called nigre. The solidified portion between the crust and nigre is known as neat and serves as the base for making bath soaps. The crust and nigre are used in making laundry soap.



A block of neat is dried and when the moisture content is just right the block is cut into bars and fed into a chipping machine to make soap chips. The chips are air-dried and then blended with the perfumes and dyes in an amalgamator. Then the soap is milled which further blends the soap,perfumes and dyes while also reducing the mixture to ribbons of soap. The soap ribbons are moved to the plodder, which compresses the ribbons into the desired shape. The soap is then cut into bars and weighed by hand. Each bar of soap is embossed with the word, Palam, on one side and the same word in the Tamil language on the other side. These soaps are being marketed with confidence that Palam is committed to creating employment opportunities for underemployed people in India.

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