We don’t really think too much about the story behind the soap that we wash with, but this is a story worth thinking about the next time you grab that bar to wash your hands.
In Nepal in 2001, Josephine Tan set up Touch Nature soaps as a way of employing single mothers, as well as providing a crèche and childcare facility for their children. However, in 2012 she relocated to Kolkata, India: “With Kolkata housing one of Asia’s largest red light districts as well as being an active hub for the prostitution of Nepalese women, we decided that our skills and experiences could best be put to use by helping Kolkata’s trafficked women.”
Touch Nature India helps women who have been forced or tricked into becoming sex workers. Making and selling soap offers the women an opportunity to escape the industry with alternative work and start a new way of life, acquiring training, skills and independence – as well as offering refuge and dignity. Lives are transformed from hopelessness to hopefulness and from brokenness to completeness.
“Our next step is to establish a good and stable marketing platform for Touch Nature so that there is a continuous flow of orders to keep the women meaningfully employed,” Tan tells us. “In the next five to ten years, we hope to train the women and their children to manage and run the business on their own. We hope to pass on the business to the next generation who will continue to help many trafficked women and provide livelihood for them too.”
In this video – made by Our Better World, a digital storytelling initiative that shares projects for social good across Asia – Maiya explains how, at 13-years-old, she was sold to two men in her home country of Nepal, and taken to Kolkata, where she was forced into the sex trade. Working for Touch Nature has empowered Maiya, and given many other women in similar situations, a fresh start.
Adapted from a piece in Collectively.
Josephine Tan, Founder