Until 1981, Manjula Vaghela, now 60, used to work as a paper picker on the city streets for a living, earning Rs 5 per day. On rainy and cold days, this measly income would also elude her.
Today, Manjula heads a cleaners’ cooperative with 400 members that provide cleaning and housekeeping services to 45 institutions and societies in Ahmedabad raking in a turnover of Rs 1 crore per annum!Manjula recalls how Shri Saundarya Safai Utkarsh Mahila Sewa Sahkari Mandali Ltd (SSSUMSSML) consisting of 40 women offering commercial cleaning services was born after coming in contact with Elaben Bhatt-founded Self-Employed Women’s Association (Sewa).
National Institute of Design was the first institution to give business to us. Next, Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) hired our 15 women,” says Manjula, who was then the chief supervisor.She recalls how it took five years to convince authorities to register their cooperative as they were not selling any product but a service.
Over the years, Saundarya Mandali has gone from strength to strength through several levels of training. From providing cleaning services in institutions of national repute to residential societies, they also offered services during Vibrant Gujarat summits in the past.The majority of the cleaning women are former paper pickers. Their gunny collection bags now replaced with modern equipment including road cleaners, vacuum cleaners, high-jet pressure, micro-fibre mops, floor cleaners, carpet shampooing machines, scrubbers and extractors, these women claim to do a mean cleaning job.
It was a milestone hitting the Rs 1 crore turnover mark. The next target is to make illiterate women tech-savvy to ensure that they can crack the e-tendering process.”Today companies and institutes issue e-tender for contracts and job work which we find difficult to fill as we are technologically challenged. But we shall overcome this too,” says Hemaben Parmar, who is associated with Saundarya Mandali for the last 20 years. Parmar’s mother also used to be member of this cooperative and her daughter too is with Sewa.