Sundara Recycles Hotel Soap to Prevent Disease In The Developing World

(3BL Media/Justmeans) – While working in rural northern Thailand in 2013, Erin Zaikis met children who didn’t know what soap was, so she brought them some, trying to conduct an impromptu hand-washing workshop. She was stunned to see the children smacking their faces with the bars of soap, unsure of what to do with it. Soap is something that so many of us take for granted; however, there are many people in the world who can’t afford it and don’t understand the benefits of hand washing. Sadly, this is a common problem not just in Thailand, but for many of those living in the developing world. Hand washing is the best way to prevent the spread of infection and illness and is effective and cheaper, than any vaccine on the market.

According to the World Health Organisation, over two million children a year are dying of preventable diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhoea that can be prevented by a bar of soap and regular hand washing. Unilever estimates that 70 million people in India alone don’t have access to soap. So, Erin set up Sundara, a not-for-profit working to improve hygiene and prevent disease in poor communities in 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 reach the rubbish tip! It cleans and sanitises them so they are pathogen-free. These ‘new bars of soap’ cannot transmit disease and are fit for use again. The organisation 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.

Sundara operates by recycling used bars of hotel soap; hotels pay a fee to join the program, for used bars of soap and liquid soap to be taken away. Then community workers mould the clean scraps into new bars of soap and distribute them to schools, health clinics and community centre, where paid ‘hygiene ambassadors’ teach people the importance of using soap to keep clean and healthy. Sundara connects with local women’s groups to recruit the hygiene ambassadors. The women, many of whom are illiterate and don’t have other options for employment, participate in a two-week training course and receive a monthly stipend.

India is the country with the greatest need and is Sundara’s largest operation, where it employs several underprivileged women from the slums of Mumbai to recycle soap collected from dozens of local hotels. This soap is distributed to a network of over 30 schools and community centre and each regular soap delivery is accompanied by a Sundara representatives who instructs on hand washing and other healthy hygiene habits. Since its origin in 2013, Sundara, which means ‘beautiful’ in Sanskrit, has reached 4,000 children in India, Uganda and Myanmar with a community-wide reach of 6,000 and the amount of soap that has been saved is 2,900 KG!

Photo Credit: Sundara