Sanitation is one of the main challenges facing financially vulnerable Cambodians, who often fall victim to diarrhoea and respiratory infections, which can be lethal in developing countries.
Diarrhoea and respiratory infections globally cause 80 to 90 per cent of deaths among children under five diagnosed with communicable diseases, according to the non-profit Population Reference Bureau.
Simple practices, such as hand washing with soap, can prevent these infections. However, many Cambodians, especially those in rural areas, do not have easy access to something as simple as soap.
Eco-Soap Bank (ESB), which started in Siem Reap before scaling up to 11 countries, has been raising awareness on the importance of hand hygiene in rural areas by donating recycled soap to vulnerable children.
The NGO is the brainchild of Samir Lakhani, who arrived in the Kingdom in 2014 as a volunteer, and was spurned to start the programme after he witnessed a mother bathing her child with laundry detergent.
“We are proud to have started this global movement in Cambodia,” Samir says, adding that the programme has spread to Laos, Nepal, Lebanon, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Swaziland and Sierra Leone.
“I pledge for the rest of my life, I work to get soap into the hands to those who need it the most because we should never accept the children still suffer from diseases which could be prevented by the simplest of acts, hand washing. Help us save soaps. So together we can save lives,” Samir tells The Post.
Cambodian children have received some 600,000 bars of soap through an outreach partnership with the Angkor Hospital for Children. In total, ESB has donated over 125 tonnes of soap since 2014 – the equivalent to the weight of a blue whale – which would otherwise be sent to landfills.
“First, we take the collected soaps from hotels and guesthouses and clean, sterilise and dry them in sunlight for a few days. The dried soap is then whittled into the ice machine and ground into power after we separate them by colour,” explains ESB project manager Lux Mean.
“When the soap becomes a powder, we mix it with water, add fragrant oil and eco-friendly ingredients before the mixture is weighed and moulded into the shape of a brick and finally cut and stamped with our logo,” Mean says.
Already, ESB has partnered with more than one thousand hotels across the world to recycle soap for the needy using this process, Mean says.
The eco-friendly initiative has employed women from Sierra Leone to Siem Reap.
“Sustainability is our goal and also our main challenge. We work every day to improve the environment, employ women and save lives.” says Mean.
At the Siem Reap factory, Hak Hun tells The Post that she worked as a waitress before joining ESB about a year ago.
“When I worked as waitress, I focused on only service and did not have time to learn any other skills. Here, I know how to produce soap and how to collect soap at hotels, request budget, purchase supplied materials and visit villages to teach children how to stay clean,” she says.
Sahadatu from Freetown, Sierra Leone, writes that the single mother has been able to provide for her children while helping prevent unnecessarily fatal illnesses.
“I am enjoying this job so much because it’s helping to promote hygiene in order to prevent common illnesses like diarrhoea and cholera,” Sahabatu writes on Facebook.
ESB hopes to distribute some 2.5 million bars of soap to Cambodian children next year as a part of its drive to “put EcoSoap in every school in Cambodia”.
“We believe we can do that as it is the most cost-effective ways to reduce disease and to save lives. Investment in hygiene for children decreases absentee rates and disease rates,” says Samir.
“It is our mission to provide as much soap and support to NGOs and schools in Cambodia as possible. We work directly with organisations, ministries, and individuals who want to provide their communities with soap. If any organisation is interested in receiving ongoing soap, they can contact us anytime.
“We hope that more NGOs reach out to ESB request free bars of soap to be distributed and we hope those NGOs will continue to support us in the future,” says Mean.
Mean encourages NGOs to reach out for a free soap by calling 085 501 286 or emailing [email protected].