WAXHAW – Malika Rawal and Simran Bhargava received cheers from children and gratitude from their caretakers last month when visiting impoverished villages in India.
The teens handed out hundreds of packages filled with sanitary supplies to women and children, as well as explained good hygiene. They even donated a water pump to one village.
Malika, a sophomore at Providence Day School, was shocked to see the conditions of some of India’s most impoverished villages when she visited the country a couple of years ago. She wanted to do something about it. But she couldn’t do it alone. So, she reached out to lifelong friend Simran, a freshman at Marvin Ridge High School.
Since April, they’ve grown the organization to 48 members and raised more than $15,000 through sponsorships, donations, grants and fundraising to promote healthy hygiene.
Their goal is to increase sanitation in impoverished counties to decrease the transmission of noxious disease. Last month’s trip to India was the culmination of their work.
“There’s some things about India that I think would really surprise people,” Simran said. “Like in the villages, they don’t have toilets. They have a hole.”
Simran said it’s especially hard for women to practice good hygiene there. Simran and Malika made it a point to deliver large supplies of sanitary napkins for girls and women in the villages.
Some of the women they talked to said girls would reuse the cloths. They knew it was unsanitary but the materials weren’t available or were too expensive.
HelpHygiene has been active in the Charlotte region, too. They’ve helped organizations such as A Better World, A Child’s Place, Crisis Assistance Ministry and The Relatives.
“These are the places where it’s children who really haven’t gotten a very nice education or are not really aware of what the issues are with their own hygiene needs,” Malika said.
Malika and Simran don’t just hand out packages. They try to explain to children what they need to do daily to maintain good hygiene.
“The saddest part is that most of them were born into poverty and homelessness, so they can’t really control what’s happened to them in their lives,” Simran said.
Running an organization has exposed the girls to skills that aren’t common in the classroom, like asking a company if they would sponsor their charity.
“We try to be genuine and say we’re using this money for something that’s a big need, especially in these impoverished communities that we visited,” Malika said. “When we show them pictures and show them what life is really like in some of these areas, they sort of get sentimental and open their wallets.”
Some of their local sponsors include Eye Level, Indian Expressions, Patel Brothers of Pineville, Curry n Cake Indian Fusion, Carolina Smile Dentistry and the Olive Garden in Pineville.
Malika and Simran credited their parents for setting the example to help others. Their parents have been involved in the community for as long as they could remember.
Malika most enjoys showing people images from her travels and providing a spark that inspires them to get involved. Simran loves interacting with children at shelters and learning what they have endured.
“I really like working with my friends to help other people,” Simran said. “It’s kind of like you’re hanging out but helping people at the same time. It’s a win-win situation.”
Want to help?
HelpHygiene is holding a membership drive in February. Members must be at least 10 years old, willing to come to meetings and pay a $30 membership fee. The fee covers a shirt and other expenses. Visit www.helphygiene.com to join or donate. You can find them on Facebook or Instagram.