Stefan Phang, the initiator of Soap for Hope, poses with students receiving soaps in ​Yen Bai province (Photo​: Soap for Hope Project)
Hanoi (VNA) – An estimated seven million children in developing countries, including Vietnam, pass away every year due to diarrheal and respiratory disease, which can be prevented by a simple but effective way: proper hand-washing with soap.

However, for many families mired in deep poverty, a bar of soap can be an unaffordable luxury.

With the aim of saving lives by promoting hygiene, “Soap for Hope” was officially launched in 2013. Since then, the project has recovered over 750 tonnes of soap generated by nearly 250 hotels, produced 6,2 million reconstituted soap bars and benefited over 400,000 people in local communities across 22 countries.

Since being introduced in Vietnam in August 2015, the project has distributed thousands of soap bars to poor children and communities in many disadvantaged areas, from the northern mountainous provinces of Ha Giang, Yen Bai and Quang Ninh to Ho Chi Minh City.

The idea for Soap for Hope came to Stefan Phang, Director for Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility of Sealed Air Corporation, when he was looking at the amount of waste that a five-star hotel generates.

“A typical 400-room hotel generates 3.5 tonnes of solid soap waste per annum," says Phang who has worked with many hotels in the world.

“Thus I thought of a way to convert these waste soaps into new soap bars, which are then given for free to entire communities that need them and in the process helping a few vulnerable people to make a small, sustainable living.”

Soap for Hope has received much support from global and established chains such as the AccorHotels Group and Shangri-La Group.

In Vietnam, the project has been jointly conducted by Sealed Air, the Centre for Creative Initiatives in Health and Population (CCIHP), major hotel chains like the Hilton Group, Silk Path Group, AccorHotels, IHG and volunteer groups throughout the country like Green 4 Life or the Wheel.

“The recycling process is simple, requiring no running water or electricity,” says Dinh Phuong Nga, Soap for Hope project coordinator from the CCIHP.

“All the recycling equipment is accessible, like a chopping-board, knife, basin and spices like lime, coffee aromas, which make the soap-recycling participants feel as if they were making a cake for their beloved kids at home,” she adds.

According to Phang, the Soap for Hope process is designed to simulate cooking.

“If we were to use industrial-sized tanks and pipes, it would be hard for people to participate. So we developed this like a cooking process – cutting, chopping, grating, pressing – methods that are familiar to people," he says.

“The machine is designed to be easy and safe to use, that even a child or a disabled person on a wheelchair can do it.”

It takes only ten minutes for a used bar of soap to get a second life. All the logistical costs and equipment, as well as the disinfectant required for re-processing soap, are covered by Sealed Air.

Nga says, all the soap of participant hotels must meet strict safety requirements. After being recycled, the soap will have its safety and sterilisation examined by the Vietnam Certification Centre, Directorate for Standards, Metrology and Quality.

She also adds that a soap distribution trip is combined with other charitable activities and conducted monthly. On average, from 100 to 300 bars are distributed on each trip.

Beyond channeling recycled soaps to poor communities with no or limited access to basic health amenities, Soap of Hope also helps hotels reduce waste, contributing to a cleaner and greener environment.

The project aims to sign up all the hotels in Vietnam for the sanitation and improved hygiene of 100,000 people, especially in the ethnic and mountainous regions.

“We found out that the Soap for Hope programme is a very useful one for the children in the mountain areas because most of them belong to ethnic minority groups. They didn’t have enough soap for washing hands and bathing,” says Dr Pham Vu Thien from CCIHP.

“Soap for Hope keeps growing in Vietnam,” Phang says. “As long as there are hotels that generate solid soap waste, and communities that benefit, the programme will continue.”-VNA