University City

Project recycles soap to save lives

Many people, said Kayongo, either don’t realize the importance of hand washing with soap to prevent the spread of disease, or simply can’t afford to buy soap.
Many people, said Kayongo, either don’t realize the importance of hand washing with soap to prevent the spread of disease, or simply can’t afford to buy soap. Clean the World

It may seem hard to believe, but the hotel soap you used last July during vacation might now be suds between the fingers of a 5-year-old orphan in Uganda. It could be washing the Ebola virus off the hands of a villager in one of Sierra Leone’s hardest hit communities. Or it may be closer to home, rolling between the slippery palms of a mother and child inside a homeless shelter in the United States.

Regardless of where it is right now, its reincarnation could be saving a life through The Global Soap Project – a nonprofit organization that recycles used shards and slivers of soap into fresh bars for the world’s neediest people.

On Nov. 10 the charity’s founder, Derreck Kayongo, will speak at UNC Charlotte to discuss his efforts to get soap into the hands of people who desperately need it. The program is free to the public and takes place on the main campus at 7 p.m. at Cone University Center.

Kayongo started the organization in 2009 with a two-fold mission: to teach people who don’t know about the benefits of lathering up, and to make sure those who need soap never go without it again.

You start to see the power of this little product.

Derreck Kayongo, founder of The Global Soap Project

In his youth, Kayongo, the son of a soap-making man in Uganda, soap was always plentiful.

“For me, soap was something I took for granted,” he said. “It was always there. Then, the (Ugandan civil) war began and we became refugees. At that point I started to realize the power of it.”

According to The Global Soap Project’s (GSP) website, 1.8 million people around the world die every year from diseases that could have been prevented through hand washing with soap. Young children benefit the most, because soap can kill the germs that cause pneumonia and diarrhea – two of the most prevalent killers of children younger than 5.

According to GSP, U.S. hotels throw away around 2.6 million bars of soap every day. Those half-used bars, Kayongo said, may seem useless, but if put in the right hands they can prevent death.

“When you see people getting diarrhea, falling sick all of the time, you start to see the power of this little product,” said Kayongo, who began asking hotels for their used soap bars once he learned they were just tossing them in the trash.

Today, more than 5,000 hotels participate in GSP by boxing used soaps and sending them to GSP and its nonprofit partner, Clean the World, where they go through a sorting, sterilizing and molding process.

Both organizations work with the Center for Disease Control to determine where the soap should be shipped. Up to now, 32 countries have received the second-life bars, distributing them to homeless shelters, refugees, disaster victims and people living in extreme poverty.

To date, among the millions of bars given out, always free of charge, 500 have gone to orphans and refugees in Uganda; 5,200 to a homeless shelter in Atlanta; and 160,000 to people in Sierra Leone to combat the spread of the Ebola virus.

It may seem odd to those who have never had to do without it, but soap, said Kayongo, can really make a difference in the lives of others around the globe.

“For people who have been around soap all of their lives, you probably cannot think of recycling it,” he said. “It’s something we really take for granted.”

Lisa Thornton is a freelance writer:

Want to go?

Global Soap Project founder Derreck Kayongo will speak at 7 p.m. Nov. 10 at Cone University Center, McKnight Hall, UNC Charlotte, 9201 University City Blvd. Find more information at