From Rags to Riches, Literally! Story of a Ragpicker Who Now Heads a Firm with Rs. 1Cr Turnover.

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Manjula Vaghela’s life is literally a story of rags to riches. This 60-year-old, who was a ragpicker until 1981, is now the proud head of a cleaners’ cooperative with an annual turnover of Rs 1 crore.

Earlier, Manjula used to work on the streets of Ahmedabad, barely earning Rs. 5 in a day. Little did she know that she would become the guiding light for many.

The cleaners’ cooperative headed by her has 400 members, most of them being former ragpickers. It provides cleaning and housekeeping services to 45 institutions and societies in Ahmedabad.



Picture for representation only. Source: Tawheed Manzoor/Flickr

As a ragpicker, Manjula’s work would begin at the crack of dawn. She would pick up her large gunny collection bag to scrounge and unearth recyclable materials from other people’s waste. At the end of the day, she used to sell the entire collection to a scrap dealer. The only advantage in this job was that ragpickers always formed collectives of their own.

Her cleaners’ cooperative called – Shri Saundarya Safai Utkarsh Mahila Sewa Sahkari Mandali Ltd (SSSUMSSML), initially consisted of 40 women. It was founded after Manjula and the women in her collective met Elaben Bhatt, the founder Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA).

By the time SSSUMSSML was formed, Manjula had already been married and had a son. But tragedy struck suddenly, leaving her as the only breadwinner in the family.

“National Institute of Design was the first institution to give business to us. Next, Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) hired our 15 women,” said Manjula, who was then the chief supervisor.

Over the years, Saundarya Mandali has grown through several levels of training. They provide cleaning services in institutions of national repute, residential societies, and have also worked during Vibrant Gujarat summits in the past. The women now use modern equipment like road cleaners, vacuum cleaners, high-jet pressure, micro-fibre mops, floor cleaners, carpet shampooing machines, scrubbers and extractors.

The next target for them is to make illiterate women tech-savvy, to ensure that they can understand 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,” Hemaben Parmar, who has been associated with Saundarya Mandali for the last 20 years, told The Times of India.

Manjula also managed to earn enough to put her son through school and medical college. He is a doctor today. The college where he studied recently honoured Manjula and her son.

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