By Angela Ling
The U.S. throws away 800 million bars of soap every year.
“That’s 2.6 million bars every day,” said Derrek Kayongo, in his Oct. 6 Dillion Lecture.
Kayongo, now a U.S. citizen, is originally from Uganda and is a survivor of a civil war and refugee camps.
He grew up in a modern and very successful African family, but civil war wrecked his parents’ success and drove them to Kenya, seeking refuge from the dangers in Uganda.
Kayongo saw first-hand, many men, women, and children die of infections and diseases that could have been prevented if they only had soap to wash their hands with. He saw the need for soap in the poor African villages, but it wasn’t until many years later that he could help.
Upon coming to the U.S. for school, which was provided by an anonymous donor, he could not believe how much soap was being wasted in hotels. He had the audience at Gowan’s Stadium laughing over his first few days in a hotel, where he was afraid he would be charged for “stealing” soap from his room. He later realized Americans take free soap from their hotel rooms.
Kayongo’s speech was filled with funny stories about his life, like his first encounter with an African American, or serving as a manikin for his mother’s seamstress business. His mother made him try on dresses for size; so he had been “cross-dressing” since the age of five, he said, drawing more laughter.
Kayongo went on to tell of how his first week in a hotel inspired him to start The Global Soap Project. The group takes used soap from hotel rooms and makes them into new bars of soap, which is given to needy populations, particularly in Africa.
According to the Soap Project, 1.4 million deaths can be prevented yearly by washing with soap.
Through his work with the project, Kayongo has gained recognition. However, it is his witty humor, his thick African accent, and his passion for helping people that holds audiences.
Such was the audience at Gowan’s Stadium. There was a good turnout, and the audience’s approval of Kayongo could be heard from their laughter and raucous applause.
He closed out his speech by challenging each person, and particularly the younger people, to serve others, educate themselves, lead with passion, and to have faith in themselves.
He repeatedly reminded the audience that, “You are American — Americans give back.”
To end the lecture, he taught the audience a short song in an African dialect.
The audience joined in singing a few lines, that translated means, “My heart, my heart, I have peace in my heart.”