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Reflections from our first year in Ashte, India

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

Exactly one year ago, with the generous support of our partner, Soapbox Soaps, the fundraising efforts of our Board Members, and each and every one of you, we opened our second workshop in India.

Picture taken the day of the opening of the workshop in May 2016 with David Simnick, CEO & Co-Founder of SoapBox Soaps

Nita, Yogita and Parvati were hired to work full-time as our Hygiene Ambassadors on the Production Team, who recycle the used hotel soap 6x per week.

Yogita, Parvati and Nita in the Ashte workshop, nine months later (February 2017). 

For the first time ever, in partnership with Altico Capital India Pvt. Ltd, we were able to hire three additional women: Ranjana, Momta and Priyanka. They work 4x per week as Sundara’s Hygiene Educators. They travel to over 20 schools each day, reaching 10,000+ students, to execute the hygiene-education component of our program. This has allowed Sundara to operate at our most efficient speed to date, while also doubling the number of women we are providing fair wage jobs to.

Left to right: Priyanka, Momta and Ranjana. Photo credit: Karan Khosla.

Ranjana, Momta and Priyanka had never before spoken in front of big groups before and were quite anxious about it. This initiative helped them overcome their fears, providing them with confidence to have their voice heard, and become active agents of change within their community.

““People of the area know us, recognize us and have developed great respect for us and the work we do. I am very proud to have been part of this campaign. I’m very happy to deliver this important information to the children and all members of my community,” Priyanka, February 2017.”

Priyanka, Ranjana and Momta providing a hygiene education class in Ashte Primary School. Photo Credit: Bernat Parera

So far, over 14,712 bars of soap have been recycled and distributed. Over 88 hygiene education classes have been administered. Six women have been empowered and now receive a fair-wage income, triple the local average. The health of over 20,427 children and their families has been improved!

“Before, we only used soap for bathing and didn’t know that there were other times in the day where we should be using soap, like before cooking and after going to the bathroom. We only used water to wash our hands at those times. Now that we have soap distributed by Sundara monthly, we use it for all those times, as we know now that doing so prevents sickness.” Diya and Mayra-Sundara soap recipients in Ashte-explain to our team as we collect testimonials from the field this past February 2017.”

During our visit to India this past February, we had the pleasure of meeting two brothers, Vipul and Sandesh, six and eight years old, during our visit to Ashte. Both brothers attend daily Love2Learn classes, a program that our partner Gabriel Project Mumbai administers in conjunction with Sundara’s soap distributions. Here, amongst several other initiatives, students receive supplementary education, nutritious snacks, and are given bars of soap to take home to their families. Vipul and Sandesh used to have constant skin boils and rashes on their hands and arms that made them very self-conscious. Since Vipul and Sandesh started using Sundara soap on a daily basis, their boils and rashes have disappeared– which has also helped them gain their confidence back.

Dr. Pravin Rathod, who conducts monthly health check-ins with all the students as part of the Love2Learn Program, informed us that “Most illnesses are due to a lack of hand washing, waterborne diseases and lack of proper hygiene.” He reiterated the importance of Sundara’s efforts to include hygiene education: “The main barrier to handwashing is that most people in the area are illiterate and do not know about the importance of proper hygiene.”

The Ashte soap-recycling workshop has had an incredibly positive economic income on the entire village. Before the opening of the Ashte workshop, Sundara was delivering soap from our Kalwa workshop to the Dahanu area. “Now that soap-recycling is done locally, by the community and for the community here, not only does it provide soap for people of our community who can’t afford it, but it has also created employment and opportunities locally” –Yogita, Sundara Hygiene Ambassador.

Yogita proudly showing us a Sundara bar of soap she has made herself. Photo credit: Karan Khosla.

The impact of this new workshop for the communities of Ashte and the nine surrounding hamlets in the tribal Dahanu region has been remarkable– this success story couldn’t have been possible without the support of our partners and donors like you!

Handwashing in action at Ashte Nursery School, with Michelle, Kenneth and one of our board members Libby, during our February 2017 visit.

Photo credit: Karan Khosla.

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