Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of speaking to Derreck Kayongo, the founder and creator of the Global Soap Project, a project that recycles partially used hotel soap to save lives in impoverished countries. We had a very interesting conversation about the origins of the Global Soap Project, what he’s doing now, and what we can do as a community to get involved in ways that meaningfully contribute and give back to our African diaspora community.
How did the Global Soap Project begin?
“One day, I checked into a hotel and discovered that most hotels throw away partially used and unused soaps. Growing up in a place where children died every day from exposure to diseases and bacterial infections that were completely preventable if only they had access to soap to wash their hands. I knew then I had to find a way to recycle the hotel soap and get it into the hands of those who needed it the most.”
What was the process you had to take to get the project started?
“It took about ten years, a move to a new country (the United States) from Uganda where my family fled the civil war, learning how the country works, learning how NGOs work, and learning how to build a board. Once I learned those things coupled with my experience working for NGOs for a decade, we launched the Global Soap Project (GSP) in 2009. The GSP now operates in 92 countries globally and in the last couple of years began partnering with the Clean the World NGO.
Why partner with Clean the World?
“We were duplicating efforts, so the leadership of the two organizations decided to join hands and work together. It made more sense to merge forces and work together. Now GSP is the foundation part of Clean the World (CTW), in that GSP works with refugees, refugee camps, schools, hospitals, etc. and works to ensure that soap goes directly to three communities, specifically humanitarian disaster areas, Haiti, and Ebola-affected West Africa. CTW works more closely with partner institutions that have a focus on hygiene, water, and health such as World Vision, CARE international and other organizations with footprints in the countries GSP and CTW want to reach. Working with these organizations helps avoid the soaps being sold on the black market and ensures the soap reaches those who need it most.”
Since you left GSP recently, what are you doing now?
“I am currently the CEO at the Center for Civil and Human Rights based in Atlanta.” According to the website, the Center for Civil and Human Rights (CCHR) is a museum dedicated to the achievements of both the civil rights movement in the United States and the broader worldwide human rights movement and was first established in June 2014.
What are the parallels between your work with GPS and the CCHR?
“The work I did with GPS fits in with the work I am doing with CCHR and vice versa because it is all centered around human rights. For me, the key is that human beings are the common denominator and the environment in which they live is a common denominator. With these institutions, I work to ensure that human rights are respected.”
What issues/subjects do you focus on primarily at CCHR?
“The work of CCHR that I focus on primarily encompasses peace enforcement, policy, social justice, community advocacy and involvement, and is broken into four quadrants:
- The first quadrant focuses on helping corporations create an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding in the work environment.
- Two, the academic quadrant which is if we teach kids from a very young age how to be respectful of all people, what human rights are, and how to respect them when they join the workforce they will have practical and social skills.
- The third quadrant focuses on faith organizations. We work with them to promote moral aptitude and creating moral guard rails that people can use to guide their behavior toward and treatment of others.
- The fourth quadrant is government. We work with governments, local, state, and on a federal level to ensure that governments respect every citizen, that they create an environment where everyone knows what they are doing and where every person’s rights are respected. If we do not work with governments on these fronts, you end up with an Assad situation.”
What dictates the focus of your work?
“Current events dictate where we work. For example, when Syria erupted into violence the focus became and remains Syria. When Ferguson happened, we took a deeper dive into community policing and the relationship between police departments and the communities they serve.”
How do you work with police departments to improve the relationship and communication with the communities of color they serve?
“Take Atlanta for example; we work with the city police department, the APD, and surrounding police departments. When a new cadet joins the force, we invite them to CCHR to see and understand the history between the African-American community and the police going back over 400 years. We believe this exposure and explanation helps officers understand the plight of the African-American community and communities of color in relation to the police and why there exist so much distrust and fear.”
What institutions do you work with on a federal level?
“We work with the FBI and other law enforcement departments to make sure they can work within communities of color successfully.”
“We work with them to create and institutionalize good police enforcement policies. We examine what good relationships look like, what good policing looks like and what it entails, we look at specific examples and anecdotes, and figure out with the police departments and criminal justice institutions how to replicate effective and positive models. We identify ways to support the police force in terms of police training opportunities and helping them find ways to buy homes and live in the communities they serve. Many police departments suffer, especially in the big cities, from lawsuits which take money away from departments and usually the budget line items that disappear first are the ones that bring police closer to the community.”
Is there a role communities of color can play?
“Yes absolutely. Communities of color need to play a role. Communities can start by encouraging their members to join the police force themselves. Having members of the community on the police force ensures that people who intimately understand the needs of the community and the reasons behind why communities distrust the police and feel uncomfortable with the police are in positions where they can set a good example. Police forces need more good-hearted people who by their very presence on the force can begin to heal historical rifts and build bridges of understanding and communication between communities of color and the police.”
To learn more about Derreck Kayongo and the amazing work he does, please visit:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sauWSDPBV3g – CNN Heroes Tribute
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHW5hvTFhrg – TEDx Talk “Simple Solutions for Colossal Problems”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DUpv3s91m6k – “Choose to be Exceptional”