Our monthly online newsletter,"L'ESPACE".
L'ESPACE is a diverse French word that means place,area,cosmos,and gap.
- Giving recycled soap embedded with toys to Cambodian children -
In Close Up this month we introduce the Happy Soap Project. The Happy Soap Project began as a program to teach Cambodian children the importance of washing one's hands with soap. Leftover hotel guest soap and unused bar soap lying about the home are collected, which are then recycled and converted into hand soap embedding a toy. The organization hopes that this will help children acquire the fun habit of hand-washing. Another aim of the project is for Cambodians and Japanese participating in this activity to mutually learn their strengths and virtues in order to gain the ability to live in modern society. On this occasion we spoke with Project Leader, Ms. Risa Suzuki, about the origins of the Happy Soap Project and the development of future activities.
How did you come up with the idea of giving hand soap to Cambodian children?
After practicing aroma therapy and herbal remedies in Japan, I moved to the city of Siem Reap, famous for Angkor Wat, intending to learn about herbs in Cambodia. I subsequently founded a brand of herbal soap. I noticed during my time in Siem Reap that Cambodian children did not have the habit of hand washing with soap. There was no soap in the villages or communities on my visits to study herbs, nor in the schools I visited as a guide for a travel agency. When I noticed that many children had stomach problems due to not acquiring the habit of washing their hands, I had misgivings for preparing soaps in Cambodia only to sell to tourists visiting Siem Reap. I racked my brains everyday thinking, "I'd like to give soap to the children of Cambodia, but the herbal soaps are too costly to give as donations. What can I do?"
And how did the Happy Soap Project begin from there?
After several discussions with Toyomi Maehara, my friend and nurse working for a health NGO in Cambodia at that time (currently Vice Project Leader of the Happy Soap Project), I learned of organizations in the United States that collected used hotel guest soaps and reprocessed them to distribute in areas having poor hygienic conditions. I began to think of the possibility of doing the same thing in Siem Reap, one of the most touristic cities in the world, and having a great number of hotels which could supply the soap. I also thought of the idea to combine it with "Hope Soap", a WHO (World Health Organization) project to teach children to wash their hands by using soap embedded with toys. This is how the Happy Soap Project began in October 2018, with the goals of giving Cambodian children recycled soap embedded with toys and offering hygienic education making it fun for children to acquire the habit of washing their hands.
Didn't you plan a festival promoting the project in Siem Reap?
We crowdfunded to organize an event where Cambodians and Japanese interact and learn the fun of hygiene. Fortunately, we received great support and held a trouble-free Happy Soap Festival on March 24th of this year in Siem Reap. During the event we had the "hand washing visualization experiment" to show the degree of residue remaining after washing using a starch paste and an iodine solution; the "hand washing exercise" with original choreography performed to the song of a popular Cambodian singer; scientific experiments led by a Japanese scientist; performances by a Japanese singer song-writer; a workshop on the preparation of recycled soap; a workshop to create a kaleidoscope and Japanese fan; kiosks, a flea market, yard sales, etc. Many people from Cambodians, Japanese residents, Japanese organizations and companies, to the local professional soccer team liven up the festival. There were 603 visitors during the day and 92 supporters, for a total of 695 co-mingling Cambodians and Japanese, and we were able to present recycled hand soap and hygiene lessons to 508 children.
How will activities be developed in the future?
We want to organize small hygiene educational events visiting primary schools, orphanages, villages and communities needing recycled soap. Our plan is: we first approach the adults stating the reason it is necessary to hand wash with soap; the adults then explain to the children the importance of washing their hands. In addition, as there are usually small stores close to schools, we want to a create a collaborative effort with these stores whereby the store owners deposit hand soap into the net soap bags the children bring. Once the importance of hand washing and cleanliness is well disseminated, we'd like to offer public lectures on the cost effective elaboration of soap to the Cambodian people. The most important point is that the Cambodian people find solutions to problems in their country. After three years in operation, we are considering to hand over the administration of the Happy Soap Project to Cambodians while we remain to offer support.
Is it true that you have soap collection drives and events in Japan too?
We have Happy Soap Project supporters in Japan who collect used soap and organize workshops to produce recycled soap. Because I was once isolated in my house due to the excessive stress of life in Japan, I would like to motivate my fellow Japanese who are worried and under much stress. Though they don't have much, Cambodians are happy in their everyday lives. I think to overcome memories of the past civil war, they try to smile and be happy. There are many things we Japanese can learn from Cambodians. Therefore, in the recycled soap workshops that we do in Japan we first talk about the interesting differences and things we must respect in Cambodia, and only then do we begin to prepare soap for them. Doing something for someone, or being useful to someone, gives one a sense of satisfaction and animates that person. It would give me great pleasure to increase the number of Happy Soap Project supporters throughout Japan to bring happiness to both Cambodians and Japanese.
Please tell us of any new initiatives you would like to launch?
We would like to publish picture books and produce YouTube videos in the Cambodian language so that children can learn through repetition the importance of hand washing and hygiene in their homes and schools, as is done for Japanese children. We are also thinking of planning a tour for Japanese children in elementary and middle school to visit Cambodia, accompanied by their parents. It would be exciting if we could organize a tour where, in addition to regular tourism, the children visit schools in Cambodia bringing recycled soap which they made in Japan in order to enjoy socializing with Cambodians. We would like to create a humanitarian mutual aid disregarding national boundaries, where Cambodians and Japanese can discover "likes!" in each other, to learn, to be physically and mentally happy through the initiatives of the Happy Soap Project, a combination of eco-friendly activities, hygiene education and international exchange.
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