Four-year-old Sahir Raza vigorously washes his hands with his new soap — courtesy Doctors for You — an NGO run by doctors across the country.  The doctors from the organisation had come to a medical centre at Mankhurd and taught the children the right method to wash hands. At the end of the session, the children were given a free recycled soap made by the NGO.

Doctors for You has been working with the slum communities of Govandi and Mankhurd to provide them better healthcare facilities. They began distributing free soaps to the children as an incentive to their immunisation programme.

Children pose for a photo after receiving their recycled soapsChildren pose for a photo after receiving their recycled soaps

Children pose for a photo after receiving their recycled soaps. Prithvi Buddhavarapu/ Firstpost

Now, the programme has received a boost from US-based company Sealed Air Corporation, which will help the NGO produce and distribute recycled soaps to the community. Sealed Air has tied up with some of the biggest names in the hotel industry like The Lalit, Novotel, Sofitel, etc. who bring their leftover soaps to a health centre in Mankhurd and women from the nearby areas recycle them into a fresh bar of soap, which are then distributed among the children.

Stefan Phang, Director, Sustainability and CSR, Sealed Air Corporation, came up with this idea when he was staying in a luxury hotel in a South Asian city. He could see slums right outside his window, which is when he thought of a way in which luxury hotels can do their bit for the community.

“A lot of stuff that the hotel throws away as waste can be used as a treasure by the slum dwellers. So I was thinking if we can find some way to convert this trash into treasure for the people who need it and in the process create an income for some people and provide a better quality of life, whether it is healthcare or protection from diseases,” said Phang.

Besides providing a solution to major health risks like diarrhoea and pneumonia, this programme is also creating employment for women in the slum communities. Their work at the recycling process gives them a fixed remuneration every month, acting as an additional source of income for their household.

“I have been working since the soap recycling process started at the health centre a month back. The work is satisfying as I am contributing in the promotion of good health habits for children. We make 50- 60 soaps per day and in the last month, we have already distributed 600 soaps among the children,” says Smita Chavan, a worker at the health centre and a resident of a nearby slum.

A report by Unicef says that diarrhoea and respiratory infections are the number one cause for child deaths in India and washing hands with soap is one of the most cost-effective interventions to prevent these deaths and diseases. Each year, diarrhoea kills over 1.5 million children under five, making it the second most common cause of child deaths worldwide.

Hand washing with soap, particularly after contact with excreta, can reduce diarrhoeal diseases by over 40 percent and respiratory infections by 30 percent, the report said.

Dr. Naresh Gill, head of Mumbai operations, who works at the health centre in Mankhurd, stresses on the importance of teaching these healthy habits at an early age.

“To ensure that the children learn good health habits early on in their life, we include it as part of their curriculum in school. Childhood is the most likely stage in life to pick up a habit. If a child follows a routine for 21 days it soon becomes a habit. The school teachers play an important role here, as they can monitor and ensure the continual of the habit.”

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Good health and sanitation: NGO Doctors For You teaches slum children the importance of washing hands