I’m the founder of Sundara – an organization that Soapbox funds which trains local women from slums across India, Myanmar and Uganda to recycle hotel soap and distribute it to schools in need. I’ve just come back from India and wanted to share a remarkable story of one of the women at our workshop whose life you have changed through your purchases of Soapbox soap. We hope you realize that your bar of soap is doing so much more than cleaning – it is actually empowering women across the world to escape poverty and give back to their communities. And that’s a beautiful thing, don’t you think?- Erin Zaikis (SoapBox Aid Partner & Guest Blogger)
Madhuri Pawar is a radiant, determined woman from the Bhaskar Nagar slum outside Mumbai. She’s also 38 and single. Being single is a tough fate for any Indian woman, but especially hard for an uneducated one from the slums. “No one wanted me. I felt undesired. I had no dreams. I wondered…what will become of my future?” Last year Madhuri’s father passed away and her mother got sick. No one was contributing to the family income. Madhuri had to do something. She interviewed at a local self-help group for women. Madhuri didn’t have any traditional skill sets that the other women had like sewing or handiwork. What she did have was an open mind and a willingness to learn new skills.
A few weeks later, Madhuri got a call that changed her life. She was asked to work with Sundara, a new NGO that was recycling hotel soap in the slum she lived in. “I’m sure most people would turn their nose up at hotel soap but not me. I was excited to get my hands dirty.”
The next day, she showed up at work 2 hours early. Her enthusiasm hasn’t waned since.
Six days a week, for the past year Madhuri has recycled soap with Sundara. She started by learning the basics: how to sort the soap, scrape it down and mix it with sanitizing solution. Then she moved on to more advanced work, processing the bars with a soap press and preparing them for distribution. She trains new hires, has learned how to keep books and manage payment accounts.
“I can’t even remember the person I was before this job. This organization took a chance on me and I want to show them that it was a good choice. A job like this is a privilege. Working hard at it makes me feel good.”
Last month Madhuri was promoted to be the director of the Sundara workshop. A local TV channel came to film a special on her story. “I feel like a Bollywood celebrity!” she jokes.
She knows a bit of English – all of which she has taught herself. She is known for telling riddles and bringing home made sweets to the workshop. If you ever come visit Sundara’s Mumbai center, she will be there (early of course!) tying jasmine flowers to your hair and shaking your hand multiple times to make you feel welcome. “It’s my job now!” she laughs.
“I used to think that I could only give back if I was rich, when I was older, if I had a husband…but now I know that even I can help my community in some small way. We all can do our part. I feel proud to be able to help.”