If you were at last month’s ROI Summit, you helped a community of refugees in Uganda, and likely had no clue!

Allow me to explain: After the Summit ended, I, like the crazy soap lady I am, picked up all the bars of soap that were used at Hotel Yehuda during the conference. Stuffed in my luggage, together we flew through Ethiopia to a small village in Mubende District, Uganda, just over 5,000 miles from the Holy City.

Sundara works with 13 women in this village who are hygiene ambassadors in their community. On the weekends they recycle used bar soap from some of Kampala’s nicest hotels, chemically transforming it to soap that’s as good as new. They distribute the soap to their community, running trainings about the importance of hand washing and proper hygiene practices in the home. 

The women who work for Sundara are by no means abnormal for Uganda standards but their lives are full of the kind of suffering many of us only hear about. 10 out of 13 are single mothers. Nearly half fled from Rwanda during the genocide, which killed entire families. Two lost their children in the past year.

One woman, Margaret is 57 years old. Through recycling soap and working as a hygiene ambassador she has managed to pay the school fees of all 7 of her grandchildren so they can become literate and have a chance at a career other than subsistence farming.

Another woman, Josephine is my age (26) and a single mother of 4. She faced nearly 8 years of beatings from an alcoholic husband, before she decided to leave.  While nearly 4 months pregnant, she bravely took her children and slept on a blanket, essentially homeless, for weeks. Now, as a hygiene ambassador she has a mud hut and a proper address for herself and her children for the first time in her life. 

With the extra soap I brought from Jerusalem, the hygiene ambassadors were able to make almost 250 bars of new soap. I asked them what we should do with the surplus and the women asked if they could distribute the soap to the Bukompe refugee camp: comprised of 700 families, all refugees from Rwanda, DRC and internally displaced people from post-conflict areas of Northern Uganda. The average person in this refugee camp lives on about $178 per year, so something as simple as soap is deemed a luxury that few of them are able to afford.

As we distributed the soap together, we chatted a bit.  I told them that although I am American, this time I was coming to Uganda from Israel – the only Jewish state in the world. They wanted to know what ‘Jewish’ meant so I explained that Judaism was a religion that actually came before Christianity and that Jesus himself was Jewish. I think that really shocked them…

I told them that when I was in Israel, I went to a conference where 150 Jews from all over the world came to talk about ideas to improve their communities and the world in general. That they are representing organizations that are run by Jews and funded by Jews that are trying to work together with Christians and Muslims and Hindus to make the world a better, more accepting, fairer place. 

They liked knowing that this soap was not only donated by Jews but came from Jerusalem – our holiest city. The women were pretty excited that they got to meet a real live Jew (aka yours truly, you're welcome). They decided to call this batch of soap ‘Jewish soap’ and told the refugees it was from a far away land where Jesus lived. The whole situation was quite comical.

I wish I could’ve had this experience with all my ROIers. I think they would’ve loved to meet you all and hear how you’re making a better world for your communities and for people like them. And even though you probably didn’t give me your explicit permission, thanks for letting me steal your old soap and bring it to someone who is likely using it (and/or being fascinated by it) right now.


Photo credit: Jjumba Martin