Soap and Water for the World

When Ugandan Derreck Kayongo first stayed in an American hotel in the 1990s, he was surprised to see that his partially used bar of soap was replaced with a new one each morning. He told CNN (Ebonne Ruffins, “Recycling Hotel Soap to Save Lives,” June 16, 2011) that he thought he was being charged for it, so he tried to return the new soap to the concierge. After learning that it was complementary—and the old soap had been thrown away—Kayongo, the son of a former soap maker in Uganda, decided to become a middleman to get the used soap to those who need it. In 2009, Kayongo and his wife, Sarah, founded the Global Soap Project. The organization receives used soap from over 600 hotels across the US, then cleans, processes, and remolds it into new bars. As of February of this year, they had distributed over 250,000 bars of soap to 21 countries, including Haiti, Kenya, South Sudan, Guatemala, and Afghanistan.

As a child, Kayongo and his family fled Uganda to live in Kenya, escaping the dictatorship of Idi Amin. There he saw the conditions of the refugee camps, where basics like soap were scarce. According to the Global Soap Project, many places in the world today have the same problem. Their “Soap Facts” page gives the following information:

  • 1.4 million deaths can be prevented each year by handwashing with soap
  • Children under 5 who wash with soap can reduce their risk of pneumonia by 50%
  • 1/3 of the world’s soap is used by the U.S
  • 7 million children have died due to disease that could have been prevented with proper hygiene since 2009
  • 2.6 million bars of soap are discarded daily by the hotel industry in the U.S. alone

Between the two of them, the Kayongos have spent many years in humanitarian relief, working for such NGOs as World Vision, CARE International, Amnesty International, and the American Friends Service Committee. But it is his work with the Global Soap Project that has garnered Mr. Kayongo the most attention, making him one of CNN’s “Top 10 Heroes” last year. He told CNN,

As a new immigrant and a new citizen to this country, I feel very blessed to be here. But it’s important, as Africans living in the Diaspora, that we don’t forget what we can do to help people back at home. It’s not good enough for us to complain about what other people aren’t doing for us. It’s important that we all band together, think of an idea and pursue it.

In February, Christianity Today ran the story “Cost Effective Compassion: The 10 Most Popular Strategies for Helping the Poor” (February 17, 2012), in which the author, Bruce Wydick, had asked “top development economists” to rank development programs for their cost effectiveness. “Soap” wasn’t on the list, but it is similar to the kinds of projects at the top: those that provide direct aid to individuals to meet immediate health needs. Here is the list, starting with the most effective—

  1. Clean water for rural villages
  2. De-worming treatments for children
  3. Mosquito nets
  4. Child sponsorship
  5. Wood-burning stoves
  6. Microfinance loans
  7. Reparative surgeries
  8. Farm animals
  9. Fair-trade coffee
  10. Laptop computers

In the CT blog Her.meneutics, Elrena Evans (“Amid Bribery Scandal, Wal-Mart Contest Attracts Christians” April 25, 2012) wrote that the bottled-water company, HumanKind Water (HKW), had reached the top ten in Wal-Mart’s “Get on the Shelf” contest. The competition had product developers vying for online votes, with the overall winner receiving a contract to sell its item in Wal-Mart’s Web and brick-and-mortar stores. Evans highlighted HumanKind because the companies founder, T. J. Foltz, is a former Christian youth minister and because 100% of HumanKind’s profits go to providing clean water to needy communities around the globe. She also pointed out that the group’s strategy was consistent with the findings of the CTarticle above. HKW started bottling water in October of last year, and Foltz found out about Wal-Mart’s contest only three months later. “Our entire marketing plan got put on hold, and we went all in on plans to try and win this competition,” said Foltz. “Literally a half an hour after I got that e-mail, we were strategizing on how we could try and win this thing.”

And win it they did, as the Wal-Mart corporation announced HKW as the top vote getter on May 3.

So  the next time you’re at a hotel, ask them if they’ve heard about the Global Soap Project, and the next time you’re at Wal-Mart, look for HumanKind Water (it should be there soon).

[photos: “Scavenger Hunt – Bar of Soap,” by Lucille Pine, used under a Creative Commons license; “Soap,” by Sam Sabbagh, used under a Creative Commons license]


8 thoughts on “Soap and Water for the World

  1. What a great idea. I collect the soaps and toiletries from hotels and then give them to local domestic violence shelter -or homeless shelter. It’s amazing how having your own soap and shampoo can make a difference … thanks for highlighting this Craig. I’m going to link to it.


  2. Thanks for the info. I’ve never heard of these two “projects”. They are great. You hear of “Charity Water” all the time, but this one is great as well. Sharing this one, Craig. Great job!


      1. That is a good question. They are in mainland, or was when we were there…they were okay. Kind of like any supermarket in Asia. They didn’t sell too many western products.


  3. Interesting… I think it’s also interesting that some hotels/guest houses here (in Uganda) replace your soap every day! Maybe Ugandan hotels should also start saving soap and giving it to this organization!


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