Over the first weekend in March, Soap Cycling, a local charity founded and run by undergraduate students from the University of Hong Kong (HKU), completed their third annual “Cycling for Soap Cycling” distribution trip to Mainland China. Supported by CEDARS at HKU, this year’s Cycling for Soap Cycling saw 25 volunteers participating in a weekend trip of cycling, service, and cultural exchange, bringing soap and joy to the lives of over 130 senior citizens along the journey to just north of the border in the Dapeng Peninsula, one hour east of Shenzhen.
Purpose of the Trip
Soap Cycling, Asia’s largest and longest-operating soap recycling organization, has long faced challenges in connecting its stakeholders with the downstream impact its work creates. In 2018 alone, Soap Cycling collected, reprocessed, and distributed 35 tons of hotel waste from five source countries (Hong Kong, China, Japan, Korea, and Singapore). The reprocessed hygiene and sanitary products were donated to charities serving tens of thousands of disadvantaged people in nine countries, including Hong Kong. Despite the massive amount of impact created and lives touched, Soap Cycling was far removed from the actual distribution of soap bars -- a life-saving resource that is often taken for granted.
With the aim of connecting stakeholders with downstream beneficiaries, Soap Cycling organized its first annual journey to mainland China in 2016. The inaugural Cycling for Soap Cycling trip took Soap Cycling’s stakeholders to the majestic Hakka tulou 土樓 On visits to schools and elderly centers in rural China, Soap Cycling’s students and stakeholders were able to see firsthand the charity’s positive impact on student empowerment, environmental conservation, and disease prevention through improved access to sanitation and hygiene amenities.
On Friday, 8 March, the third annual Cycling for Soap Cycling made its first stop at Soap Cycling’s warehouse in Longgang, a suburb in the northeast of Shenzhen, where participants learnt about the organization’s mission, and volunteered for two hours to prepare the soap to be distributed along the trip. Since its inception two years ago, Soap Cycling Shenzhen has expanded its network of hotel partners to 100 hotels all over China. The reprocessed soap is distributed mostly to Yunnan and Henan provinces, with the help of partnering charities that work with rural schools to improve hygiene. After working up an appetite at the warehouse, the participants made a short trip over to 甘坑客家小鎮, a restored Hakka village, for lunch.
On the International Women’s Day, the Soap Cyclers stopped at an elderly center in Kuichong, just outside of Yantian, to visit the mostly female 100 residents. Following a Chinese idiom guessing game organized by the participating students, the elderly residents interacted with the Soap Cyclers before receiving soap and other gifts brought from Hong Kong.
A second elderly centre (大鵬敬老院) in Dapeng was visited on Saturday, March 9th. The residents were mostly disabled. The Soap Cyclers walked to the residents rooms to hand out gifts and have a short visit to introduce themselves and the organization’s mission.
Soap Cycling Student Interns
This year’s cohort of interns represent 10 countries (HK, China, Taiwan, Spain, United States, Indonesia, Korea, Ireland, United Kingdom, France) and all contribute with their unique blend of youthful passion, creativity, and willingness to learn while improving the world. The Cycling for Soap Cycling trip brought these students together with a shared mission to help promote their adopted charity to the wider world while also offering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to connect with a diverse group of Hong Kong residents.
Students are the lifeblood and DNA of Soap Cycling’s mission and operations. Every semester, the organization recruits, onboards, and empowers a new cohort of 15-20 undergraduate students from around the world to help run its operations and expand. The yearly Cycling for Soap Cycling trips offer an unique opportunity for young people to plan a complex event, communicate with a vast array of organizations and individuals involved with the trip, and to finally successfully. Each semester the interns do an amazing job with a short runway of just a few months to pull everything together.
For the 2019 version of Cycling for Soap Cycling, a new partner was recruited to provide additional meaning and impact to the trip. Impact HK, a local charity providing support to HK’s homeless population, brought 5 participants, including the founder, Jeff Rotmeyer, to join the fun. Bringing along 4 of their formerly homeless community helpers to join the action, it was a really interesting opportunity to create connections among a diverse group of people.
The Dapeng Peninsula is a hidden treasure of spectacular beaches, fresh seafood, and charming village culture. The Soap Cycling trip team cycled a cumulative 100 km to all points of the peninsula during the weekend. Based in the Dapeng Residential District, Soap Cyclers travelled west to the rapidly-developing fishing village of 南澳, east to enjoy a Hakka village lunch at 東農村, north to visit an elderly center at 葵涌, and all the way south to the beautiful secluded beach at 東沖. Highlights of the trip included hiking in an abandoned village deep in the hills of 楊梅坑, visiting the well-preserved Qing Dynasty structures of the 大鵬古城, and watching the sunset looking back towards Sai Kung and 東平洲 at the beautiful 金沙 beach.