Two Indian Americans, Mona Patel and Samir Lakhani, have been selected among 10, to be honored at the “CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute” on Sunday, Dec. 17. In 1990, Patel was struck by a drunken driver at the age of 17 when she was walking to class at Cal Poly University and “flew up about 12 feet” when she was pinned between the “car and a metal railing” which “smashed my leg and my foot,” she told CNN.
Weeks later, when Patel got out of the ICU, she underwent her first amputation. It was the start of seven years’ worth of surgeries in attempts to salvage the rest of her leg. She however went on to earn a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees, and became a social worker.
Today, Patel’s nonprofit, the San Antonio Amputee Foundation, aims to help amputees rebuild their lives. The group offers peer support, education and recreation opportunities, as well as financial assistance for basic home and car modifications and prosthetic limbs.
She also leads health and fitness programs and sponsors amputees to participate in tennis tournaments and endurance climbs. In 2015, led by Patel, a group of amputees climbed to the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Patel had to undergo her first amputation when she got out of the ICU weeks later, which was just the start of “seven years’ worth of surgeries in attempts to salvage the rest of her leg.” Since then she has earned a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees, and became a social worker, though she has come a long way as she has continued to struggle physically with her disability.
In 2014, while then a college student, Samir Lakhani was volunteering in a Cambodian village and saw “a mother bathing her newborn in a basin filled with laundry powder and water” which he will never forget.
He then realized that his hotel was throwing away barely-used bars of soap after their customers left and thought if he recycled them and gave it to people who were actually in need of them then it would save the soap and give it a second life.
So while attending the University of Pittsburgh, Lakhani started the Eco-Soap Bank which is a nonprofit that recycles discarded bars of soap from hotels in Cambodia and distributes it to people in need. Today, the organization has four recycling centers across the country, providing jobs to 35 local women.
The used bars are sanitized and remolded into new bars or melted down into liquid soap and so far, more than 650,000 people have benefited from the group’s soap and hygiene education.
“What I love most is that we are killing three birds with one stone. We are keeping waste out of landfills, employing locals and spreading soap all over the country,” Lakhani told CNN This will be the 11th year that CNN honors 10 people who work to improve the world through their emotional stories. People can vote for “CNN Hero of the Year” online and the winner will receive $100,000 for their cause.