Student's project helps refugee camps lather up

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Student's project helps refugee camps lather up

Published Monday, February 28, 2011   |  447 Words  |  

Between studying for exams and job hunting, College of Charleston senior Ashley Montano makes time for a less-than-glamorous project -- collecting used soap from hotels.

The Beaufort native is heading a student-led effort to get the Charleston hospitality industry onboard the Global Soap Project, an Atlanta-based group that recovers soap from American hotels, molds it into new bars and distributes it to refugee camps in Africa and Haiti.

She works with the college's Club of Hospitality and Tourism to pick up bags of soap set aside by housekeepers from about 15 of the city's hotels, resorts, and bed-and-breakfast establishments.

Their goal is to collect 2,000 pounds -- about 16,000 bars -- by the end of March. "You would think, 'How will we get people to go and pick up dirty
soap?'<2009>" asked Montano, 22, who graduated from Beaufort High School in 2007.

But she has discovered her classmates are eager to volunteer and hotel managers are enthusiastic about tea.

"People like to give back," she said. "It's nice to see the outcome of something. With this, you're seeing an actual, measurable amount of soap that is not going into a landfill."

The Global Soap Project was founded less than two years ago by Derreck Kayongo, a humanitarian relief expert from Uganda. It has collected more than 30 tons of discarded soap and distributed remolded bars to refugees, orphans and disaster victims who are struggling to survive without access to clean water and soap, according to its website.

The organization estimates more than 2 million partially used bars of soap are discarded from the 4.6 million hotels rooms in the United States every day.

A few hundred hotels across the nation participate in the project, according to its website.

Montano, who is pursuing majors in business administration, hospitality and tourism, learned of the organization last fall through an acquaintance who got her property-management company's hotels involved in the project. Montano wanted to expand participation in Charleston and approached her college's Club of Hospitality and Tourism for help.

They've marketed the effort, recruited more hotels to participate and received a $3,000 grant through the Fulbright Canada Eco-Leadership Program to pay for storage of the soap until it can be sent to the organization's headquarters to be sanitized, melted and remolded.

The grant also will pay for small gifts for the housekeepers who keep the soap separate from other trash when they clean, Montano said.

Participating in the Global Soap Project is an easy way for the hospitality industry to support a humanitarian effort and reduce waste, Montano said.