Erin Zaikis’s Sundara Is Changing Lives With Recycled Soaps in India
Erin Zaikis, A graduate from University of Michigan, while working in the rural northern Thailand, in a village school, she was stunned to find out that children there had no idea what a “soap” was. After this astounding experience, she went to the nearest town and got soaps for the children and proceeded to conduct an impromptu hand-washing workshop.
“After that experience I decided that I wanted to dedicate my life to talking about this issue and finding a solution. So many people talk about water – and rightly so. But where’s the attention on soap and hygiene education? That’s half the equation,” Erin says.
After doing a lot of research, she found out that this problem she saw in Thailand existed in most of the developing countries, in India alone around 70 million people (according to a recent Unilever study) don’t know what soap is and have never used it before. It was then when she came up with the idea of “Sundara”, a nonprofit organization that focuses on getting soap and hygiene education to the communities in need.
“According to a recent study by Unilever, there are currently 70 million people in India who have never used soap. This means that one Indian child under 5 is dying every thirty seconds from diarrhea (or another preventable hygiene related illness). So the need is real and this is why I’m here.” – says Erin Zaikis, founder of Sundara.
After coming back from Thailand, Erin began making her own soap in the kitchen of her New York apartment to raise funds. But she wanted to expand her operations. She came up with a very simple idea of recycling used soap. They collect gently used bar soap from over a dozen hotels in Mumbai – large international chains as well as small boutiques. Recycle them in a workshop in Kalwa (outside Mumbai). They shave down the outside layer, grind it down, mix it into a bleach solution and strain it. They train local slum women to work with them in this process. At Sundara they make three different flower shaped soap, for each country: India, Ghana and Haiti. Now, her soap production has expanded to nearly thirty schools and orphanages, providing soap as well as hygiene classes to children and adults.
Her venture to improve health and hygiene did a lot more than targeted, Sundara empowered slum women by providing them jobs at decent wages, For most, this is their first job they’ve ever had.
According Erin this is a total win-win situation, as She says that, “The environment wins (with reduced landfill waste), hotels win (through having a unique CSR program), and women win (by being employed at a dignified job and getting a fair wage) and the entire community wins (through free soap deliveries and community led hygiene education). Although we are still small, I think we are a good example of the kinds of sustainable solutions that India needs to move ahead.”