PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — A young, motivated entrepreneur is aiding the poor in an ingenious way via soap. After studying abroad in Cambodia, Samir Lakhani realized he wanted to help the rural population progress towards better public health practices, starting with providing access to soap in Cambodia and the fundamental act of hand washing.
How Soap Is Saving Lives in Cambodia
The idea was first sparked when Lakhani witnessed a mother washing her child with detergent. Lakhani was alarmed and became determined to find a solution. It occurred to him that the hotels in a nearby tourist town, Siem Reap, had a surplus of leftover soap bars that went to waste. Enlisting his chemist friends, he figured out a way to sanitize and recycle the waste to make access to soap in Cambodia possible. Eco-Soap Bank was thus born.
75 percent of rural communities lack complete access to soap in Cambodia. This makes illnesses difficult to prevent and leaves families vulnerable. Studies show that 92 percent of harmful bacteria is reduced by washing hands with soap. This combined with the fact that in 2015 it was estimated that 11 children under the age of five die every minute provides grounds for the fact that soap is an essential resource.
Eco-Soap Bank is able to function because of its many partnerships. The organization works with hotels in Siem Reap where tourism thrives thanks to the city’s landmark temples. Eco-Soap Bank partners with 29 different hotel companies in Siem Reap alone to reduce waste and acquire resources for soap creation.
The process involves staffers collecting all the used soap in affiliate hotels once a month. The soap is then brought back to be sanitized and processed into new molds. After remolding, they donate the bars to schools, hospitals, clinics and other institutions in need. The organization’s mission includes the circulation of hygiene education, so hand washing information and training are always provided with soap distribution.
Since its launch in 2014, Eco-Soap Bank has supplied 650,000 people with approximately 12 tons of recycled soap. Due to the tourism industry’s steady supply of hotel visitors, the process of recycling has proven to be incredibly effective as those 12 tons would have otherwise ended up as unused waste.
The company also employs disadvantaged Cambodian women to distribute and create soap bars. These women would struggle to find employment in normal circumstances and employing them makes Eco-Soap Bank a local company made by and for the community. This promotes a positive shift towards gender parity within Cambodia. Opportunities for women are essential to reducing poverty. It enables women to support themselves and their families–leading to an overall improved economy.
Investing in hygiene serves great returns. For every dollar invested, an average of $25.50 is put back into the economy. As Eco-Soap Bank’s website states, “One of our primary goals is to continue to focus on the economic impact of good hygiene in the developing world.”
Samir Lakhani was named one of the top 10 CNN heroes in 2017. Starting with his success in opening rural access to soap in Cambodia, Eco-Soap Bank has expanded its operation globally. The company now partners with 200 hotels worldwide in countries such as Nepal and Rwanda.
The trends Eco-Soap Bank is promulgating such as better hygienic health and female employment are absolutely critical to absolving poverty in Cambodia and in other developing regions of the world.
– Yumi Wilson