When Soap Makes the Difference

Sundara is a soap making operation in Mumbai that collects bar soap waste from hotels and recycles it for underprivileged children who cannot afford to buy soap. PHOTO: Sundara

Sundara is a soap making operation in Mumbai that collects bar soap waste from hotels and recycles it for underprivileged children who cannot afford to buy soap. PHOTO: Sundara

Ever wondered what happens to the barely used soaps that you leave behind in hotel rooms? Think they get reused? We’ve got bad news – they don’t. In fact they are normally tossed away, cluttering our already crowded landfills. The solution at our Raxa Collective properties is to use dispensers filled with all-natural liquid soaps to avoid the waste of bar soaps. Sundara, a soap making operation in Mumbai has a community-based solution to the problem. They collect bar soap waste from hotels, sanitize and recycle it and distribute the new soaps to underprivileged children and adults who cannot afford soap. To date they have regular soap distributions reaching over 6,000 underprivileged children and adults in Mumbai slums. They have also saved thousands of kilograms of waste from going to landfills in the process.

And it started with a University of Michigan graduate. And she didn’t let a near-death experience with dengue hemorrhagic fever stop her from making the world and its people a little more clean.

A few years ago when Erin Zaikis, a graduate from University of Michigan was in rural Thailand, she met a group of kids who didn’t know what soap was. “When I asked for soap to wash my hands at a local school, all I got was a lot of blank stares. I was shocked. I never thought that there could be people in the world where soap was not a part of their daily life,” says Erin.

After this she returned to New York and began reading about soap and promoting hygiene. “Everyone was talking about clean water but no one was talking about soap and hygiene education,” says Erin. According to a study by Unilever there are an estimated 70 million people in India who don’t know what soap is or cannot afford it.

Currently, according to the World Health Organization, over 2 million children a year are dying of preventable disease – diseases like pneumonia and diarrhea, that can be prevented by a bar of soap and regular hand washing. What many don’t know is that soap, the most basic medicine of all, isn’t available to many of the world’s poorest. In fact, Unilever estimates that 70 million people in India alone don’t have access to soap. This compelled Erin to start Sundara. Sundara currently runs its programs in three countries with some of the greatest need – India, Uganda and Myanmar.

The hospitality industry throws away billions of bars of gently used soap into landfills every single year. Sundara takes those bars before they hit the trash and cleans and sanitizes them so they are pathogen-free, can not transmit disease and are fit for use again. It employs a holistic approach to soap recycling, relying on community members for leadership, giving dignified jobs to underprivileged women and focusing on intensive hygiene education in a sustainable movement to reduce preventable hygiene related death and disease.

Read more about Sundara’s work here and The Huffington Post brings you more on how Zaikis is using a simple household item to make the difference.

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