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Former refugee dirties hands for clean project

[ 2009-10-16 13:09]     字号 [] [] []  
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Nearly two decades after arriving in the United States, Derreck Kayongo is still bowled over by one subtle display of American wealth: the endless array of soaps available in stores.

In Uganda, his African homeland, the cost of soap is out of reach for many, often with tragic consequences. In 2004, the World Health Organization found roughly 15 percent of deaths among Ugandan children under age 5 resulted from diarrhea-related diseases, many of which could be prevented through hand sanitation.

Now America's bountiful soap bars have prompted Kayongo to launch the Global Soap Project, an effort to help his country's poorest - one used bar of hotel soap at a time.

An Atlanta-based anti-poverty advocate, Kayongo has collected several tons of lightly used soap bars under a plan to melt, sterilize and reshape the soap for shipment to refugees in Uganda to help curb disease.

"Most people (in Uganda) find it very hard to spend money on something like soap, which could actually help them prevent diseases," Kayongo said. A bar of soap can cost 500 Ugandan shillings (about 10 cents) on a continent where many refugees have just a dollar to live on daily.

Clean, melt, re-model

Kayongo said soaps will be gently washed to remove surface dirt. Bars will then go into a high-temperature oven where they will melt and transform into a soapy, sterile slush. Kayongo said the mixture will finally be put into molds to harden and emerge as large bars of soap.

He got the idea back in the 90s when he had just arrived in America. Kayongo was surprised to find packages of soap in his hotel room. He used the bars, but was confused when he found they'd been replaced the next day.

Kayongo finally called his father in Africa and chuckled about it. The men talked about how the soap could be melted and reused. Kayongo sat on the idea for a few years, until his father recently brought it up.

In the soap business

Kayongo's own family had once thrived off his father's business making soaps and running a printing press in Uganda. But Kayongo said they went from being members of the middle class to refugees under the rule of former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.

The family fled to Kenya, where Kayongo said life without basics became the norm.

Now Kayongo wants to give other refugees a small item that can make a big difference. He plans to send off his first shipment later this month.

For the Global Soap Project, Kayongo said, he has gathered 4,500 kilograms of used hotel soap from 60 hotels in Georgia, Florida and Tennessee. Since June, just one Ritz-Carlton hotel in Atlanta's Buckhead neighborhood has turned over 1,400 kilograms of soap which otherwise would have gone into the trash.

"When I heard Derreck speak about it, I thought it sounded really easy and why haven't we been doing this all along?" said Olivia Brown, a manager at the hotel.


1. According to the World Health Organization, what could help reduce the death rate of children under the age of 5?

2. How much can a bar of soap cost in Uganda?

3. Where does the majority of soap used in American hotels end up?


1. Better hand sanitation.

2. 500 Ugandan shillings, or about a tenth of a Ugandan’s daily living expense.

3. The trash.

(英语点津 Helen 编辑)

Former refugee dirties hands for clean project

About the broadcaster:

Former refugee dirties hands for clean project

Casey Chin is an intern at the China Daily's website. When he's not shooting or producing videos he's trying to learn Chinese. He's from Sacramento, California (no he doesn't know Arnold Schwarzenegger) and he just graduated from the University of Hawaii at Manoa with a degree in journalism.