CNN Heroes

How hotel soap can save lives

Samir Lakhani has been selected as a 2017 Top 10 CNN Hero. Hero of the Year will be revealed during ‘CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute,’ airing live, Sunday, Dec. 17 at 8 p.m. ET.

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Samir Lakhani noted a need for basics like soap while volunteering in rural Cambodia

Then a college student, he started a nonprofit to repurpose discarded soap from hotels

The group has provided hygiene education and soap to 650,000 people so far

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania CNN  — 

For many Cambodians, a bar of soap is a luxury they cannot afford.

Yet children living in rural areas are vulnerable to disease simply because they are unable to wash their hands.

According to UNICEF, diarrheal diseases alone account for one in five deaths of Cambodian children age 5 and younger, largely due to poor hygiene practices.

In 2014, as a college student, Samir Lakhani saw the issue firsthand while volunteering in a Cambodian village.

“I remember quite vividly a mother bathing her newborn in a basin filled with laundry powder and water,” said Lakhani, now 24. “It’s an image I’ll never get out of my mind.”

Lakhani was staying in a hotel in Cambodia, and he realized that one solution to the problem was being thrown away: barely-used bars of soap.

So, he figured out a way to save this soap and give it a second life.

While still attending the University of Pittsburgh, Lakhani started the Eco-Soap Bank. The nonprofit recycles discarded bars of soap from hotels in Cambodia and distributes it to people in need.