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Harter Lecturer at McPherson College Talks On the Life-and-Death Difference a Bit of Soap Makes

Three facts of Derreck Kayongo’s life led to him creating a global social venture that saves lives.

  1. His father was a soap-maker.
  2. He saw the deadly effects of poor hygiene in refugee camps while working for humanitarian agencies, such as American Friends Service Committee, Amnesty International, and CARE International.
  3. He stayed in an American hotel and confessed to “stealing” the bathroom soap, only to discover the unused bars were just thrown away every day.

These experiences led Kayongo to co-found – with his wife, Sarah – of The Global Soap Project in 2009. The project takes partially used soap from hotels and turns it into new, refined soap for those in need around the world.

“Events are what give us the impetus to do good things,” Kayongo said.

Kayongo talked about the Global Soap Project and how it came to be at McPherson College’s Harter Lecture on Wednesday, April 8.

Today, the Global Soap Project produces 30,000 bars of soap each week, and since its founding has provided more than 500,000 bars to countries including Afghanistan, Swaziland, Kenya, Ghana, Uganda and Haiti. The project led to CNN naming him a “CNN Hero” in 2011.

During the lecture, Kayongo said that more than 800 million bars of soap are thrown away every year in the United States. The project reclaims some of that and provides it to those in countries where the spread of disease among people who are unable to thoroughly wash their hands is a real and daily threat.

Giving out the bars of soap to a community is a celebration, Kayongo said. Whereas mothers in the U.S. may respond to a gift with a, “Thank you,” the reaction among those who need soap is quite different.

“We scream and we dance and we laugh and we cry together,” he said.

At times, he’s had to convince mothers to use the gift, however, because some of them are holding on to holding something more powerful when they hold on to that bar of soap.

“I told them about the passion of American philanthropy,” he said, “And they saw it as a sign of hope.”

The lecture closed with Ayongo teaching the audience a song from Uganda, where he was born, and then leading everyone in joining together.

Beyond providing life-saving soap around the world, Kayongo said he hopes the project has helped to change the mindset of American industry as well.

“We need to help corporations understand that their ultimate role is to help society,” he said.