Faith, Soap and Charity

Every day, in millions of hotel rooms in America, something weird happens. The housekeeping staff makes the bed, cleans the room, and replaces the soap, removing the used bar and leaving a fresh bar in its place. This simple American habit of throwing away 800 million bars of hotel soap a year completely befuddled Derreck Kayongo when he first experienced it fifteen years ago, in a hotel in Philadelphia.

As a child, Kayongo’s family had fled Uganda for Kenya during the Idi Amin regime, and he was all too familiar with the desperation of refugees who have little or no access to clean water and soap. Kayongo was educated in Kenya, came to America to earn his Bachelors and Masters degrees, and continued to rise to his position as a senior level humanitarian relief expert working for CARE in Atlanta– but he never forgot the extravagant waste of hotel soap that first struck him. “I kept thinking, what if we took some of this soap back home, recycled it and made brand new soap to give to people who don’t have any?”

Refugee mother & child, by Pierre Holtz for OCHA

Not having soap is a clear and present danger in refugee camps all across Africa. Hand-washing is the first line of defense in the prevention of acute respiratory and diarrhea diseases that ravage camps, particularly afflicting children under the age of 5. In Uganda alone, 200,000 children a year die from preventable diseases. Studies indicate that hand-washing with soap can reduce the risk of these diseases by 42-65% — which makes every bar of soap we throw away a tragic missed opportunity.

Derreck with the housekeeping staff of the Ritz.

So last year, Kayongo and his wife Sarah started the Global Soap Project to recover and recycle soap from American hotels: sanitizing, melting and remodeling it into new bars that can be distributed to refugee camps in Africa. To the Kayongos’ great amazement, hotels like the InterContinental, the Ritz, and hundreds of others enthusiastically embraced his idea. Volunteers lined up to help. And today, just months later, he has tons of soap accumulated in warehouses and a brand new machine to recycle the old into fresh new bars of soap that will be shipped as extra cargo on ships already making the trip to Africa. It’s a simple idea but enormously complex to carry off. Luckily, Kayongo has boundless enthusiasm that is absolutely contagious.

“Yesterday I got a call from a man in Minnesota who had lined up hotels to collect soap, stored it, aggregated it, and arranged for trucks with extra space to ship it down to Atlanta. It’s that incredible kindness of ordinary Americans that makes me so happy!”

When you hear Kayongo talk, it’s hard not to want to be a part of all this good, clean fun. “It makes you feel good to give,” he says, eyes shining. “It’s really powerful to love your neighbor. There’s such great energy in that!”

My $100 today goes to Global Soap Project and all those amazing bubbles of energy.

8 thoughts on “Faith, Soap and Charity

  1. When you have four sisters in two hotel rooms, the soap gets used up, trust me! BUT if you are looking for a great outlet … please check out Global Soap Project!
    Derreck Kayongo is a friend of mine, a Ugandan and a vice president of CARE who has started a brilliant soap repurposing project to melt down & reformulate abandoned
    hotel soap (800 million bars a year are tossed) to send to refugee camps in Africa. Brilliant!!

  2. Betty – You can never put enough links I say 🙂
    What a great project again. I think it is about time we got hotels in Europe to participate as well. I will contact Derreck for sure 🙂

  3. Hey Betty –

    I think I asked once before about another web link, but are you averse to trying to supply contact information for these wonderful people/orgs. that you’re giving money to? Not perhaps an individual, but for an organization it would be really great, because several have moved me to want to give even a small amount, but haven’t always been able to find out how. Don’t know if others would also feel this way –


    • Hi Susan!!
      Oh, I’m HOPING everybody will give, too — if you just click on the underlined words “Derreck Kayongo” and “Global Soap Project” it will take you directly to the facebook page of Derreck and the GSP website, respectively. Then go to the CONTRIBUTE link — or i’ll cut to the chase.
      Send $$ to : Director of Development
      Global Soap Project
      P. O. Box 94021
      Atlanta, GA 30318 …. I always include links to the websites (they’re underlined) and clickable…unless I’ve made some awful tech-error. Would it be helpful to be more explicit and just end with the direct web address?? It’s easy to do!

  4. Love this! Thank you Betty for sharing and including Kayongo’s Global Soap Project as part of your “What Gives” Project! You are so awesome!

  5. Another great story! This a wonderful idea… but beyond that… HE DID IT! Kudos to you for sharing this project and for making a donation. Further evidence that Gandhi was right… “It is not so important what you do… but that you do it!” Problems get solved by those who work at solutions not by those who talk about the “problems.” Or as my mom always said, “The steam that blows the whistle doesn’t turn the wheel.”

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