“Until 1981, I used to work as a rag picker on the streets of our city for a living, earning Rs 5 per day. I would begin my day at the crack of dawn. I would pick up large gunny collection bag to collect and unearth recyclable materials from other people’s waste. And at the end of the day I would sell the waste to a scrap dealer. I was the only bread earner in the family. It was in the year 1981 when I met Elaben Bhatt, the founder of Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), and my life changed, She suggested me that I should form a women’s co-operative who would offer cleaning services.
So initially I started Shri Saundarya Safai Utkarsh Mahila Sewa Sahkari Mandali Ltd (SSSUMSSML) with 40 women rag pickers. Once founded, it took me five years to get the cooperative registered by the authorities as we were not selling any product but a service. Our first work opportunity came from the National Institute of Design(NID), this was followed by other institutes like the Physical Research Laboratory(PRL) and Indian Institute Of Management Ahmedabad(IIM-A). Today, the cooperative employs 400 members, majority of whom are former rag pickers, and provides cleaning services to 45 institutions and societies in Ahmedabad. In addition to this, we have also offered services during the Vibrant Gujarat summits. The workers go through repeated intermittent training, learning new efficient safer techniques.
The majority of the cleaning women are former paper pickers. Their gunny collection bags are now replaced with modern equipment including road cleaners, vacuum cleaners, high-jet pressure, micro-fiber mops, floor cleaners, carpet shampooing machines, scrubbers and extractors. My next target is to make illiterate women tech-savvy, to ensure that they can understand the e-tendering process. Thirty five years ago I used to earn at most a measly amount of rupees 5 a day. Now, almost three decades later, I am heading a cleaners’ cooperative with a stunning turnover of 1 crore per annum. So this is my story from “Rags to Riches”.
Hard work with the combination of good intentions and belief in God can take you to places.”
Submitted By – Pray Bavishi
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