Soap Club

January 20, 2017
Heather Price-Wright
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A nonprofit group collects used soap from hotels to make new soap. The group is changing lives in Cambodia.

Samir Lakhani was in college when he first visited Cambodia, a nation in Southeast Asia. The trip changed his life. In a remote village, he watched a mother bathe her baby. She was using powdered laundry detergent. “That was scary. Laundry detergent should not be applied directly on the skin,” Lakhani told TFK. “So I asked myself why this was happening.”

Samir Lakhani is the founder and executive director of the Eco-Soap Bank.

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He learned that Cambodia is very poor. Most people don’t have clean running water to wash with. They don’t know how to maintain good hygiene. “This contributes to widespread preventable illness,” Lakhani says.

Lakhani also noticed that many Cambodians don’t have a basic necessity for good hygiene: soap. He decided to help solve that problem.

Cambodia is a small country in Southeast Asia.

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Soap for All

Cambodia is home to a big tourism industry. The country’s many hotels use large amounts of soap. A hotel can produce 150 pounds of soap waste every month. Lakhani’s idea was to recycle that soap. He would ask the hotels to donate used soap. Then he would turn it into new bars to give to people.

The project grew quickly. It became the Eco-Soap Bank. Workers from the nonprofit group visit hotels each month to collect used soap. They take it to a recycling plant, where it is cleaned. Then it is chopped up, mixed together, and put through a press. From bits of old soap emerge brand-new bars and liquid soap.

Schoolkids learn about staying clean and healthy with soap.

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The soap is distributed to aid groups. Some bars are also given to local women. They sell it in their villages at an affordable price. This allows the women to earn money to support their families.

Getting the soap to people is only part of the Eco-Soap Bank’s mission. Hygiene education is a top priority. “We want to equip the younger generation with the opportunity to keep themselves healthy,” Lakhani says.

A worker cleans soap slivers. They will become brand-new bars.

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The Eco-Soap Bank also helps the environment. The soap it collects would otherwise wind up in dumps and landfills.

The group has accomplished much. But Lakhani has even more ambitious plans. “We want to start Eco-Soap Banks in every tourist region around the world,” he says. It’s a big goal. But Lakhani is committed. He wants to help people take their health into their own hands—one bar of soap at a time.