With an almost unlimited choice of fruit-scented shower gels and creams available on the supermarket shelf, it can be all too easy to take for granted the availability of affordable products for keeping ourselves clean, but for many people around the world, soap is viewed as a luxury item which plays a key role in staving off serious illnesses and even saving lives. It was this urgent need to make safe hygiene products accessible to some of the world's poorest people that inspired an American student to develop an ingenious new way of recycling leftover soap.
American University student Samir Lakhani was spending his summer building fish ponds in a Cambodian village when he spotted a local woman washing her child with detergent - a harsh chemical which can damage skin, cause itchy eyes and even induce vomiting. Concerned, he set about thinking of a way that he could get his hands on large quantities of soap for free. It soon occurred to him that Siem Reap's hundreds of guesthouses and hotels, used by over 2 million tourists visiting the ancient Angkor Temples were disposing of huge amounts of soap each year and after persuading them to pass over their leftover soap, he came up with a way of recycling the discarded pieces of soap into a new bar of "eco soap". He also succeeded in recruiting a group of local students to help with the process of soap production.
Once back at University, Lakhani began raising money for his new venture and even managed to gain sponsorship from some major hotel chains to enable him to pay his soap makers. Employing 30 staff in 3 hubs across Cambodia, the Eco Soap Bank now collects soap from 170 hotels, and has supplied 650,000 with a way of getting clean. As well as being sold by local women, providing much-needed jobs, the soap is also given out free in schools, with "hygiene ambassadors" trained to demonstrate to children how to wash their hands properly.
In many parts of Cambodia, soap is viewed as a luxury, with detergent, ash or oil used as alternatives. With diarrhoea the country's third largest killer, inadequate hand washing can also lead to illnesses including parasites and lung infections. In this way, access to soap can make a huge difference to people's lives, with one statistic suggesting that proper hand washing can reduce instances of diarrhoea by 40-60%.
The next time you're lathering up in the shower, you might want to spare a thought for those struggling to stay clean and healthy around the world - perhaps you could also make a difference. To find a quality plumber in your local area, simply search using your postcode on the APHC website at http://www.aphc.co.uk/find_an_installer.asp.