Order Desk Gives Back: Hoa Mai Orphanage and Clean The World

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When we first started having company retreats, one of the goals that we quickly established was to leave our host cities better than we found them. So in 2024, when we had the opportunity to split our retreat into two smaller ones, we set intentional time and energy aside to put into activities that would challenge us to live out our company values—so that as we’re getting to connect with each other, we’re also connecting the work we’re doing to a bigger purpose.

As a completely remote company, our retreats serve as times for us to come together to work, connect and have conversation in ways we don’t normally get to in our virtual spaces, living out empathy and curiosity. Last year, we learned from our time in Mexico that along with having fun, we had a corporate social responsibility to spend some of that time giving back to the communities and countries we had gotten to visit and experience. After much research from Candice and Jamilah on our People Operations team, we determined that the Hoa Mai Orphanage in Da Nang, Vietnam and Clean the World in Orlando, Florida, USA were two places we could best access for our small but global team and embody our company values of generosity and humility together.

For the group that went to Vietnam, we were each asked to bring a book written in English for the kids at Hoa Mai Orphanage to read and practice their language skills, which we were excited to deliver to them. On the morning of the visit, we started off the day with a somewhat challenging team yoga class, taking some time to get centered in ourselves, paying attention to our breath in our bodies and setting the tone for our day. Among the mosquitoes and humidity and dirt, we found some peace and stillness. This reminded me to stay grateful despite what’s happening outside myself in the world. I can be strong and flexible, tired and yet determined, frustrated and yet calm and peaceful. We are made of multitudes.

This energy carried through to our mid-afternoon visit to the orphanage, where we spent a few hours in the boiling hot sun tilling the soil. The children at this orphanage work in the garden themselves, growing Bougainvillea Bonsai trees, which are eventually sold to fund their education and access to the resources they need to have social and economic pathways to success. We were asked to help prepare the soil beds that the children will eventually plant new seeds in, which was a hard task; the sun was brutal and unforgiving and the soil was dry. Despite this, it was such a fulfilling experience to know that this hard labor was not in vain.

We took turns cooling off in the shade, having much needed water breaks and getting back to the task. Sweat on our backs and shovels in hand, if we propelled the work of the Hoa Mai Orphanage even just a little bit forward, that alone made it all worth it. It’s no small feat for these children to work hard in the soil to get access to the same opportunities we often take for granted. They too have multitudes. They too are deserving. It was not lost on me that “Hoa Mai” sounds a bit like saying “who am I” in English. It’s something we could all reflect on periodically—who are we and what choices are we making everyday? What steps can we take to lighten the load of the most vulnerable in our world, our children? What more symbolic work is there than preparing the ground for our children to plant new seeds in? I feel this work helped bring me closer to finding an answer to those questions.

It’s my hope that if you’re reading this, you might reach out to Hoa Mai and learn more about their cause.

The Order Desk Team at Hoa Mai Orphanage in Da Nang, Vietnam

In Orlando, Florida we headed to Clean the World, an incredible organization doing the dirty work that’s needed to clean up the world, quite literally. Their mission is to reduce waste, taking old soaps discarded from hotels around the US, saving them from entering our oceans and harming the delicate balance of our ecosystem, breaking them down and recycling these old soaps into new bars that can be used afresh. The recycled bars aren’t sold for profit and never reenter the hospitality business, but instead, are donated to children in impoverished communities around the world that lack access to proper sanitation.

Our passionate and well-informed guide Michael, a former longtime volunteer turned team member of the organization, shared with us that globally, an estimated 1000 children under the age of 5 die every day because of a lack of access to sanitation. With the help of their organization over the last 15 years, that number has been steadily and significantly declining. Clean the World has collected 18 million pounds of soap and diverted 26.7 million pounds of waste from landfills. That’s 80 million bars of soap recycled and distributed through NGOs to over 120 countries.

Once again, this work directly impacts the lives of the most vulnerable among us, to whom we owe so much. As we jammed out to classic American tunes while we organized and boxed soaps for distribution, I noticed everyone working hard, together, to make the world a cleaner and more equitable place. Our team, along with the young family of five that took time out of their day to do the same, the staff that believe so deeply in their mission… and with that some hope was restored in my heart for the world we live in today. With collective action, we really can make the world a better place. It is still valid and valuable to have ideals and to work towards them.

My hope for you is to learn from an activity like this and cause you to reflect on the collective consumption and waste habits in our day to day lives, and the wider impacts of that. I hope we will consider our privileges and how we share those with those who have less than we do. I hope we will all continue to be moved to advocate for those in need so we can clean the world, even if it’s just one bar of soap at a time. If you’re curious about what that looks like for you, I encourage you to reach out to Clean the World, who has operations sprouting up worldwide, to learn more.

The Order Desk Team at Clean the World HQ in Orlando, Florida

From my perspective, these activities have been really rewarding to participate in, both for us as an organization and also just as human beings. As a global company, I look forward to us connecting more with local communities and organizations that are doing the work to make our world a more equitable, safer, cleaner place. Each of us has a part to play in that, and it’s our privilege to share some of that with you now.

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