Derreck Kayongo
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Derreck Kayongo

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NORCROSS, Ga. -- When we last met Derreck Kayongo two years ago, he had a big idea but no funding to make his dream come true.

Now, the Atlanta resident has more than a million dollars in funding from an international chain, and his factory is helping thousands of people.

Kayongo took 11Alive News on a tour of his Norcross facility, where he's trying to help refugees and orphans around the world.

"One has makeup on it. One has hair," Kayongo said.

But Kayongo doesn't mind. In fact, he has 400 tons of discarded hotel soap piling up at this facility.

Recycled soap is at the core of his nonprofit organization, Global Soap Project. This is truly a case of one man's trash being another man's treasure.

"If I can put a bar of soap in every child's hand, who can't afford it, that's my goal," Kayongo said. "Right now we have two million kids dying every year to what could potentially be diseases like diarrhea. The CDC says if you put a bar of soap in every one of those kids hands, you could potentially reduce the infection rates by 40 percent."

To sanitize the soap, they scrape off a layer and grind it down (Derreck took a chunk of money out of his 401(K) to pay for the machine.) After the soap is ground down, it's remixed and reshaped. To be sure it's safe, bars from each batch are lab tested for pathogens.

The Hilton hotel chain believes in Global Soap Project. It's now a partner and backing up the non-profit with $1.3 million in funding. Other major chains such as The Intercontinental and Marriott Renaissance are sending soap. Kayongo has cartons and boxes of used soap arriving from large U.S. hotels and small inns too.

Soap from the Global Soap Project has already helped people in 23 countries.

Three years since tinkering at home and trying to create the recycled soap in a crockpot, Kayongo traveled back to his home country of Uganda with fresh soap for orphans and refugees.

Kayongo knows the life of a refugee. He was forced to flee Uganda with his family in the 70s. Kayongo says going back to help was humbling.

"First of all it's very sad to know I left home to live in another country," he said. "It's very tough. But to come back to do good, it is so rewarding."

Kayongo's work has not gone unnoticed. He's currently a top 10 finalist for CNN's Hero of the Year. The voting closes Dec. 7. If the Global Soap Project receives the most viewer votes, Kayongo's nonprofit will receive a $250,000 grant.

Also, the Global Soap Project depends on volunteers. If you would like your school, religious organization or group to support the work of this Metro-Atlanta based nonprofit, visit their website. - Melissa Long - 11 Alive


Atlanta (CNN) -- That bar of soap you used once or twice during your last hotel stay might now be helping poor children fight disease.

Derreck Kayongo and his Atlanta-based Global Soap Project collect used hotel soap from across the United States. Instead of ending up in landfills, the soaps are cleaned and reprocessed for shipment to impoverished nations such as Haiti, Uganda, Kenya and Swaziland.

"I was shocked just to know how much (soap) at the end of the day was thrown away," Kayongo said. Each year, hundreds of millions of soap bars are discarded in North America alone. "Are we really throwing away that much soap at the expense of other people who don't have anything? It just doesn't sound right."

Kayongo, a Uganda native, thought of the idea in the early 1990s, when he first arrived to the U.S. and stayed at a hotel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He noticed that his bathroom was replenished with new soap bars every day, even though they were only slightly used.

"I tried to return the new soap to the concierge since I thought they were charging me for it," Kayongo said. "When I was told it was just hotel policy to provide new soap every day, I couldn't believe it."

Kayongo called his father -- a former soap maker in Uganda -- and shared the experience.

"My dad said people in America can afford to throw it away. But I just started to think, 'What if we took some of this soap and recycled it, made brand new soap from it and then sent it home to people who couldn't afford soap?' "

For Kayongo, collecting soap is "a first line of defense" mission to combat child-mortality around the world.

Each year, more than 2 million children die from diarrheal illness -- the approximate population of San Antonio, Texas. According to the World Health Organization, these deaths occur almost exclusively among toddlers living in low-income countries.

"The issue is not the availability of soap. The issue is cost," Kayongo said. "Make $1 a day, and soap costs 25 cents. I'm not a good mathematician, but I'm telling you I'm not going to spend that 25 cents on a bar of soap. I'm going to buy sugar. I'm going to buy medicine. I'm going to do all the things I think are keeping me alive.

"When you fall sick because you didn't wash up your hands, it's more expensive to go to the hospital to get treated. And that's where the problem begins and people end up dying."

Do you know a hero? Nominations are open for 2011 CNN Heroes

Kayongo, 41, is familiar with the stress that poverty and displacement can create. Almost 30 years ago, he fled Uganda with his parents because of the mass torture and killings by former Ugandan military dictator Idi Amin, he said.

Witnessing the devastation of his homeland shaped Kayongo's mission and still haunts him today.

"It's a long-term grieving process that sort of never ends," he said. "As a child coming from school, passing dead bodies for 10 solid years -- 'It's not cool,' as my son would put it. It's not good. A lot of my friends were orphaned, and I was lucky."

Kayongo and his parents fled to Kenya, where he would visit friends and family in refugee camps and struggle to survive -- sometimes without basic necessities.

"We lost everything," Kayongo said. "We didn't live in the camps, but we sacrificed a lot. The people worse off lived in the camps. Soap was so hard to come by, even completely nonexistent sometimes. People were getting so sick simply because they couldn't wash their hands."

Kayongo transitioned from the tough life of a refugee to become a college graduate, a U.S. citizen and a field coordinator for CARE International, a private humanitarian aid organization. But he has not forgotten his roots -- or the fact that many refugees in Africa continue to lack access to basic sanitation.

"As a new immigrant and a new citizen to this country, I feel very blessed to be here," he said. "But it's important, as Africans living in the Diaspora, that we don't forget what we can do to help people back at home. It's not good enough for us to complain about what other people aren't doing for us. It's important that we all band together, think of an idea and pursue it."

With the support of his wife, local friends and Atlanta-based hotels, Kayongo began his Global Soap Project in 2009.

So far, 300 hotels nationwide have joined the collection effort, generating 100 tons of soap. Some participating hotels even donate high-end soaps such as Bvlgari, which retails up to $27 for a single bar.

Volunteers across the U.S. collect the hotel soaps and ship them to the group's warehouse in Atlanta. On Saturdays, Atlanta volunteers assemble there to clean, reprocess and package the bars.

"We do not mix the soaps because they come with different pH systems, different characters, smells and colors," Kayongo said. "We sanitize them first, then heat them at very high temperatures, chill them and cut them into final bars. It's a very simple process, but a - By Ebonne Ruffins, CNN


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Bio

Business Visionary and Global Soap Project Founder

Fleeing the rule of Dictator Idi Amin as a child in Uganda, monitoring elections with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter in Sierra Leone and Ethiopia, joining forces with the hospitality industry to create a sustainable, simple yet brilliant recycling solution to the growing problem of soap disposal, Derreck Kayongo has some amazing stories to tell.
Kayongo's journey from child refugee to fearless visionary is filled with moments of inspiration (along with the benefits of good, old-fashioned sweat equity) that make him one of the most popular - and authentic - speakers on the circuit today. From Africa to Atlanta with nothing but a dream and tenacity, Kayongo beat the odds, earned an education, and has served in leadership roles in some of the world's most respected NGOs since 1994. Today, he shares his vivacious spirit and invaluable experience in the areas entrepreneurship, environmental sustainability, global health, social justice and professional engagement with audiences in both the corporate and not-for-profit worlds.

Derreck Kayongo's ability to motivate others to understand the role their work and skills can play in problem solving is one of the many reasons he was a finalist for 2011 CNN'S Hero. Add to that the mantra of being a voice for the voiceless through his noble work of giving back, including dedicating his life to improving the lives of marginalized and vulnerable people across the globe: he has worked with the American Friends Service Committee as Program Director for the Southeast Peace Education program; joined Amnesty International as the Director of the Southeast Region; and currently serves as Senior Advocacy Coordinator for the Southeast region with CARE International.

In 2009, Kayongo and his wife Sarah embarked on a new journey pursuing their life-long passion of starting an NGO of their own. The Global Soap Project focuses on repurposing partially-used soap from hotels into new soap for needy populations, particularly in Africa. To date, The Global Soap Project has been able to donate 190,000 bars of soap to over twenty countries some of which include Afghanistan, Iraq, Swaziland, Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, Haiti, Malawi etc.

Derreck Kayongo is a proud naturalized U.S. citizen. He has been recognized as a 2011 CNN HEROES; won the Maxx Entrepreneurship award; recipient of the Refugee Services Award; honored by Congressman John Lewis with a Certificate of Congressional Recognition; is currently writing his autobiography; has been featured in more than 20 news stories in the U.S., featured on Fox News as part of the Real American story series; featured on CNN with Fredricka Whitfield.

Since 1994, Derreck Kayongo has given more than 500 speeches on key issues related to poverty reduction in Africa; mainly on water and sanitation, soap, HIV/AIDS, Child Soldiers, Health and Sanitation, Impact of Landmines in Africa, Countries in Conflict and role of basic Education for Girls in Africa, et al.