Back in 1981, Manjula Vaghela began her day at a dumping yard where she would scoop out enough recyclables to earn ₹ 5 every day. Fast forward to 34 years later, and she heads a cleaning firm with an yearly turnover of ₹ 1 crore!
Needless to say, she passionately worked her way through rags to riches throughout these 34 years.
She first started cleaning firm Shri Saundarya Safai Utkarsh Mahila Sewa Sahkari Mandali Ltd. (SSSUMSSML) with only 40 women. Formed after the group met Elaben Bhatt, founder of Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), the organisation now has around 400 dedicated members. The firm provides cleaning and housekeeping services to 45 institutions and societies in Ahmedabad.
The journey came with its share of ups and downs. Back in 1980s, it was difficult to get a cooperative offering services, and not products, registered. But the women were committed and they soon got their due.
Most women in the group are former paper pickers.
However, in place of gunny bags, now they are equipped with modern cleaning tools like road and floor cleaners, vacuum cleaners, high-jet pressures, micro-fibre mops, carpet-shampooing machines, scrubbers and extractors.
National Institute of Design was the first institution to give business to the group, followed by Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) which hired 15 women from the group. Work soon started pouring in and the group was also offered to work for the Vibrant Gujarat summits.