Promoting Hand Hygiene in Guatemala with Clean the World and ACI

By Mary-Ann Warmerdam

MaryAnnWarmerdamAs part of its commitment to social engagement, the American Cleaning Institute (ACI) supports the nonprofit Clean the World (CTW) in its effort to improve personal hygiene standards while recycling hotel amenities like soap. Lack of basic hygiene is a leading cause of mortality in children worldwide; CTW’s approach is an effective way to save lives through a holistic approach that integrates soap with a comprehensive water, sanitation and hygiene program. At a recent meeting with ACI (Clorox is a member company), Clorox employees contributed time to build “Hygiene kits” for CTW. Clorox’s Mary-Ann Warmerdam built the most kits and, as a reward, was invited to go on a trip to distribute the kits in Guatemala. She shared her thoughts on the experience.

Buenos Tardes from Guatemala!

Sometimes the simplest things that we take for granted in the developed world can make a huge difference in the life of a child and her family. Who would have thought that a bar of soap could be that impactful? Bob Miller, director of global stewardship, and I had a chance to see that yes, in fact, it can make a difference. And it was an amazing experience!

As participants in CTW’s Hygiene Ambassador program, we spent four days in Guatemala last month taking part in a hand hygiene education and soap distribution initiative.

First some basic facts:

  • Diarrhea is the second most common killer of children under five years of age, globally, and contributes to malnutrition, stunted growth and lost time at school.
  • Research shows that hand-washing interventions can reduce the risk of diarrhea by 44-47 percent. And promotion of hand-washing with soap has been proven to reduce the risk of acute respiratory infection in children by more than half.

CTW selected Guatemala for its Hygiene Ambassador program in part due to its relative political stability and the presence of a willing local partner in Children’s International. Both aspects were key to ensuring that the assistance gets to where it can be put to greatest use. So a simple bar of soap can make a difference in a child’s life and that of their family as well as community.

On this trip, our team handed out 15,000 bars of soap to two Children International centers and two local schools located in Tecpan and San Lorenzo, outside of Antigua, Guatemala:

  • In San Lorenzo El Cubo public School and Tecpan public school in the Paxixil community, 400 students received 4000 bars of soap.
  • In San Lorenzo and Tecpan Children International Community Centers, 1,100 mothers and children received 11,000 bars of soap.

Clean the WorldBeyond simply handing out soap, we also trained children in basic hand-washing techniques, further reinforced by singing a ditty set to the tune of “La Bamba” plus a skit performed by various members of the team.  The two main super hero characters ~~~ Super Jabon and Super Agua ~~~ through their amazing powers dispatched the germs that threatened to hurt the school children and their families. All together, the training, singing and presence of the “Super Heroes”, sent a powerful message of the import of cleanliness.This was how CTW educated people on how to take a preventative approach to caring for their own health versus having others take care of them once they are ill. Or, put another way, CTW teaches people how to fish rather than just giving them a fish.

So our trip to Guatemala was an amazing opportunity to be part of a small act that can change the world!


The Inspirational Backstory of Clean the World

As a frequent traveler while working for a tech company seven years ago, Shawn Seipler asked a simple question a Minneapolis hotel one night: what happens to the bar of soap when I’m finished with it?

Seipler, now CTW’s CEO, said that after some research, he discovered that millions of used bars of soap from hotels worldwide are sent to landfills every day. In the meantime, many people in developing nations are dying from illnesses that could potentially be prevented if they only had access to simple hygiene products.

Thus began his mission to help save lives with soap and even half-used bottled amenities like shampoo. The organization began as a tiny operation with a few friends and family in a single car garage in Orlando, Florida, where they used meat grinders, potato peelers and cookers to recycle used soap into fresh bars.

From this sprang  “Clean the World”, which has since grown to include industrial recycling facilities in Las Vegas, Orlando and Hong Kong, cities where hotels are plentiful and used bars of soap can be gathered easily by the thousands.

In the U.S. and other developed nations,  people take hygiene products for granted because they are everywhere. But soap in public restrooms or in the home are not a normal part of life or as ubiquitous as the cleanser wipes at the entrances of grocery stores to sanitize shopping cart handles.

So, if you’re looking for a great way to give back or a team building exercise, consider CTW’s mission and, whether a soap distribution trip or another activity, you’ll be more than repaid!

About the Author

Mary-Ann Warmerdam is the Global Stewardship Regulatory Lead at Clorox. Global Stewardship supports the entire product portfolio to ensure that they continue to be safe, are tested properly and are in compliance with the regulatory standards in the markets we serve.