Erin Zaikis, Founder of Sundara
Sustainable Hygiene for Communities in Need
Judaism teaches how we can elevate our physical bodies through spiritual practice, but this week’s Torah portion, Tazria, teaches us how we also can lift up the spirit through the body. Tazria focuses on bodily cleanliness so we are featuring an organization that finds sustainable hygiene solutions for communities in need.
Thank you to Righteous Crowd member Rabbi Rami Schwartzer of The Den for contributing this week's lesson.
Read our interview below with Sundara Founder, Erin Zaikis.
What is the mission of your organization?
Sundara recycles old hotel soap into new bars, giving them a second life. We hire local women to do this work, lifting them from poverty with fair wage livelihoods, and they distribute the soap to their communities while providing free hygiene education classes for vulnerable populations.
What has inspired you in the work that you are doing?
I lived in Thailand where I met 13 year old children who had never used soap in their life - and were dying of diarrhea, pneumonia - diseases that children in the U.S. didn’t die of. In that moment I was dumbfounded, how had these people lived their entire lives without something I have taken for granted every single day of mine? I loved that soap was a low cost, low technology, easy to understand solution.
Hand washing with soap can save the lives of two million children a year! I thought that the problem was a lack of soap in this world - but it’s actually a problem with excess (hotels throwing billions of bars of barely used soap into landfills) and access (70 million people in India not knowing what soap is or being able to afford it). If we could connect the waste to the need - which is what Sundara does, while providing jobs to dozens of women across three countries, that felt like a solution everyone could get behind.
What’s a story about your organization that is meaningful to you?
I love to tell the story of Yogita. She's one of our employees in a tribal village in Maharashtra, and one of the only girls in her village who resisted being married off as a teen, instead finding odd jobs to buy land and ultimately build a house for herself. Today she works for Sundara and outearns everyone in her family - and on top of it all, is a landowner and homeowner. She walks around the village with a level of pride and respect I've never seen before, and she serves as an example to the girls in Ashte of a beautiful, empowered woman. See more on her here: https://www.sundarafund.org/blog/2017/10/12/a-house-a-workshop-one-girls-dream-come-true
What has surprised you about working with your organization?
Working in India can be complex and bureaucratic and constantly having to raise money can crush your self esteem. However, I feel truly lucky to have built a great team of 40 people around me who believe in this mission just as much – if not more – than I do. It has been the best surprise to realize that there are people who believe in this cause with every fiber in their being the way I do, and I really believe that as long as the people on your team are terrific, you can and will survive the bumps in the road.
What's the best part of your job and why?
The best part is watching the women we hire absolutely thrive in this newfound place of employment and empowerment. Once they are hired, their confidence soars – some are sending their children to school, taking care of elderly parents, starting side businesses. One is even running for local office! That confidence is something that they now have for life. In a world that is constantly telling everyone that we aren't enough, I want them to believe that they can do anything they put their minds to. I think they are well on their way.
What are some non-monetary ways for others to get involved in your organization or cause?
If you're in NYC, join our board or attend our gala in the fall. Shoot me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to be involved.
To learn more about Sundara visit https://www.sundarafund.org/.