#LeadYoung - Malika Rawal: Co-leading sanitation initiatives from North Carolina, US to West Bengal, India

When visiting India, and more precisely the villages her parents grew up in, Malika was struck by the spread of disease and poor sanitation in that community.

To thrive in our rapidly changing world, we need to drive change, not stand idly by Malika Rawal’s story shows that when she empathized with a problem she faced a choice: to give herself permission to create change or to ignore her feelings. Guess what she chose?

Growing up in North Carolina, Malika Rawal (age 17) never thought twice about the value of hygiene as it was integrated into her everyday routine. However, several years ago,  Malika visited the rural communities in India where her parents grew up and learned that the level of hygiene she was accustomed to in the United States was not the same around the world. She was struck by the lack of knowledge and resources around hygiene, which leads to the spread of communicable diseases. She learned from her family that many people in these communities are also unable to afford clean water or sanitation products.

Even though Malika was not born in India, she felt a connection to the people she met in these communities because she spoke their language and was raised in an “Indian-style” household by two Indian-immigrant parents. After returning to the U.S., Malika researched the importance of hygiene and learned that unsafe water and poor sanitation is attributed to hundreds of thousands of deaths every year in developing nations. She also learned that access to sanitation, the practice of good hygiene, and a safe water supply could save 1.5 million children a year. Informed and compelled to take action, Malika realized that she could help protect many lives by increasing knowledge and resources related to hygiene and sanitation.

Malika, then 14, co-founded the HelpHygiene Foundation with her childhood friend Simran, who experienced a similar realization as Malika when traveling to India with her family. Their idea was a response to their shared concern for communities both abroad and in their own backyard. 

The HelpHygiene Foundation, comprised of 50+ youth members, aims to improve sanitation standards both in the United States and India.  In pursuit of this goal, the organization partners with communities and young leaders to fundraise for water pumps that will improve access to clean water in West Bengal. They also collect essential hygiene goods, such as toiletries, bedding, and shoes, to distribute to their families' communities abroad and in North Carolina. 

"One thing that I've really gained out of starting my own initiative is that I was able to change as a person. I was able to become more vocal and express my ideas, and really have that confidence to keep persevering."

 

Malika relies on the support of her community in North Carolina to organize, manage, and participate in donation drives for hygiene products across the state. By 2018, Malika, Simran, and their team collected 2,500 shoes for a local Shoes4Souls campaign and 15,800 toiletries to prepare sanitation kits for nonprofits in North Carolina. Annually, the team travels to rural communities in West Bengal to distribute hundreds of sanitary packets and host workshops on hygiene.

Looking forward, Malika is excited to not only expand HelpHygiene’s impact to reach more communities, but also to spread the changemaking mindset. “Being a young changemaker means the world to me,” says Malika. “Through this initiative, I have become more confident, [and] bettered my problem-solving abilities... The joy of helping others and seeing a change in this world is what I hope all youth get the opportunity to do.”

Caroline DelAngelo and Lucy Eills contributed to this story.

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