Soap and Water for the World

May 14, 2012 § 8 Comments

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]

T-Shirts Redux

March 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

In an earlier post I talked about sports leagues giving  losing-team t-shirts to the poor in Africa and other places around the world through World Vision. Turns out there was a long online debate about whether these kinds of “gifts in kind” help or hurt the recipients. One article that seems to give a pretty straightforward overview of the situation is “What Happens to All Those Super Bowl T-Shirts?: A Guest Post by Dean Karlan” (Freakonomics, February 15, 2011). Karlan is co-author of More Than Good Intentions: How a New Economics Is Helping to Solve Global Poverty.

I say this article seems to give a pretty straightforward overview because the issue is complicated,  and while I think I understand the problem (the biggest negative is the possible impact on the local textile economy) , I don’t know nearly enough to take sides or figure out a solution. Actually, what led me to this discussion was the serendipity of the Internet: I was searching for repat to see if it’s a legitimate abbreviation for repatriate, like expat for expatriate. (Answer: Not sure, but it should be.) That led me to the ProjectRepat site. ProjectRepat raises money for nonprofits by buying back used American T-shirts in Africa and then reselling them in the US. They explain that most of the shirts donated to non-profits in the US are baled up and sold for “pennies on the pound” and shipped to places like Africa to be resold in local markets. (I remember that as a college student I volunteered at the local Salvation Army, helping bundle up similar bales of clothing.) ProjectRepat then buys some of them back, adds their own screen-printed label, and resells them to US customers for $25 apiece. It’s an ironic and hip way to raise funds and draw attention to the situation. They also sell bags, scarves, and other items made by Kenyans from upcycled T-shirts. It was when I clicked on some of the news articles about their work that I found one at UN Dispatch: “Fighting Bad Aid by Selling Second-Hand T-Shirts Back to Americans” (May 17, 2011), in which Penelope Chester writes about the World Vision controversy and then draws attention to ProjectRepat. It’s interesting to note that on ProjectRepat’s FAQ page, they address the question of whether used T-shirts in Africa are destroying local markets:

This is an interesting question, and one that we will continue to explore as we grow as a company. We’ve heard a lot of different arguments. On the one hand, an abundance of inexpensive secondhand clothing does prevent local entrepreneurs and textile companies from starting their own businesses. On the other, it has created millions of small businesses (from clothing vendors, to seamstresses, to those packaging the clothing), and provides inexpensive clothing for those who otherwise might not be able to afford it at full price.

[the photo was taken in San, Mali: “San Market” by Janet Goldner, used under a Creative Commons license]

The Global Church Is on the Move

March 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

According to Peter Crossing of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, one hundred years ago, the statistical center of Christianity was in Spain, with over 80% of Christians living in Europe and Northern America. But today, broad changes in the Christian population have moved the statistical center to Western Africa. “This 100-year shift is the most dramatic in Christian history,” said Crossing, who spoke in October of last year at the Global Christian Forum in Manado, Indonesia. Other statistics noted at the forum were

• In 1910, less than 2% of Christians were in Africa. Today, 20% live there.

• While 60% of Christians now live outside of Europe and Northern America, their share of Christian income is only 17%.

• The top five languages used in churches are Spanish, Portuguese, English, French, and Chinese.

• 32.39% of the world’s population consider themselves Christian. The next largest group, Muslims, make up 22.9%.

• In 1960, evangelical Christians were 2.9% of the world’s population. Today they have reached 7.9%.

(Mazda Rosalya, “For 100 Years, Christians Make up One-Third of World’s Population” and “Christianity Underwent Greatest Cultural Shift in 2,000 Years, Says Scholar,” Oct. 10, 2011, The Christian Post.)

[photo: “Praying Together” by Boyznberry, used under a Creative Commons license]

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