Samir Lakhani was volunteering in Cambodia in 2014 when he witnessed a mother bathing her newborn with laundry powder. For many in Cambodia, a bar of soap is a luxury item. The cheapest option is commonly detergent, however, it can be unsafe and toxic to the skin.
Staying in hotels while in Cambodia, Lakhani noticed that most of the bars of soap are thrown away after hardly being used. With this in mind, he decided to do something about the issue, and soon founded the nonprofit organization Eco-Soap Bank. The organization collects soap bars from Cambodian hotels, sanitizing and remolding them into new bars and then delivering them to the communities in need. At the end of 2016, the NYC-based photographer Sharon Radish traveled to Cambodia with Photographers Without Borders to document the beautiful work of Eco-Soap Bank.
Since its creation, the organization has partnered with more than 250 hotels across the country and assisted more than 650,000 people, helping to improve their hygiene and consequently, their health. Presently, Eco-Soap Bank employs 35 local women. According to the founder, the benefits of re-suing the soap are not limited to helping the people of Cambodia, but also helps keep garbage out of landfills.
For his inspiring initiative, Samir Lakhani is one of the Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2017 and can be voted to win as the Hero of the Year. The winner will receive $100,000 to support their work. Voting continues until Tuesday, December 12 (11:59 pm PT).
Samir says that when CNN contacted him to talk about the nomination, he thought it was a joke. "At 25, I didn't think I could be eligible for this award. I also grew up - in middle and high school - watching the show every year, nearly idolizing individuals like that," recalled Lakhani. "It's not that I wanted to be a Hero myself, but it was so empowering to know you could make a difference - and in a big way - just as one person with one good idea."
The Eco-Soap Bank founder explains that they have some exciting new plans if they win the $100,000 top prize. "We want to open three new branches in Sub-Saharan Africa: Tanzania and Ethiopia. We also want to hire 15 underprivileged women to collect and recycle hotel soap in those areas. Think about it: for the first time we'll be able to provide livelihoods to women for years to support themselves and their family, and simultaneously work to promote hygiene in village areas - all from a wasted resource (hotel soap) that nobody wanted to deal with, but us," Lakhani said.
The Hero of the Year will be revealed during the 11th annual "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute," airing Sunday, December 17.
And click here to learn more about Eco-Soap Bank and how you can help.