This blog post was originally published on Little Pickle Press, a website dedicated to helping parents and educators cultivate conscious, responsible children.
Sitting across from me in this beautiful setting – a mountaintop in Park City, UT– is a handsome, stylishly dressed man with a big smile and infectious enthusiasm. We are both attending a conference on social media and storytelling and he is sharing with me his story, a long, arduous journey from refugee to social entrepreneur.
In 1979, ten-year-old Derreck Kayonga fled a bloody civil war in Uganda with his father (a printer and soap maker), his mother (a seamstress and teacher), and siblings, for life as a refugee in Kenya.
In Kenya, Derreck met Marge Campbell, a missionary from Pittsburgh, who helped him develop the necessary tools to survive and thrive. With encouragement and support from Marge, Derreck eventually traveled to the U.S. to further his studies.
Derreck arrived in Chicago where he checked into a hotel room and found three bars of soap. The next day three more bars of soap appeared. He immediately took the soap to the front desk worried that he would be charged for them. He learned that soap is replaced every day and old soap thrown away.
As a refugee, Derreck knew soap was a precious commodity and sanitation not easily accessible; growing up in Uganda he had learned how to make soap from his father. At that moment the Global Soap Project was born.
There are 4.6 million hotel rooms in the U.S. and 2.6 million bars of soap discarded every day or 800 million bars each year. Each year, 2.4 million children die from hygiene and sanitation related diseases like diarrhea and pneumonia. According to The Centers for Disease Control, hand washing and hygiene can reduce this number by more than 40 percent. Soap is the first line of defense in preventing disease.
The business model is simple. Hotels donate soap, and hundreds of volunteers – including school kids- donate time to clean, sanitize, and recycle the soap.
It takes only one person, one experience, one idea. Each of us has within our grasp our own unique experiences and connections, internal and external, to make a difference.
Photo at top credit: Karen Walrond