Their lives shine as they make techies' cars gleam

Their lives shine as they make techies' cars gleam

As clouds gather over Technopark in Thiruvananthapuram on a seemingly regular monsoon day, Sophie steps out on work. The stocky, genial woman walks past young techies as they race against the rain to find cover in offices housed in tall, swanky buildings. The showers could spoil the day for Sop­hie and about 40 of her colleagues who make a living out of washing cars on the 300-acre campus. But there’s a tomorrow.

In one of India’s largest IT parks, on the sidelines of four million square feet of built-up space, these women are quietly rebuilding their lives with the help of their employers – the proprietors of two car-wash agencies named Well Care and We Care. Pradeep Kumar, who runs the agencies along with his friends Anil Kum­ar and Rafi, said when he started Well Care in 2008, the idea was quite uncomplicated: a business that also generates jobs for a few enterprising women.

Pradeep, who held the annual maintenance contract of the park at the time, used to get many enquiries for jobs. He proposed the idea of a car wash group within the campus to the park’s administrators. “There was some initial apprehension but after a one-month trial run, support poured in from the customers and we launched the agency with 12 employees,” he told Deccan Herald. We Care, the new wing, was launched in 2012 and is run by wives of the three proprietors of Well Care; Radhika Pradeep, Smitha Anil and Shafeena Rafi.

The women are paid Rs 4,750 and above as basic monthly salary apart from incentives that increase with the number of cars they wash. A new monthly order (three washes a week) fetches the company Rs 500 of which the employee gets
Rs 100 as incentive. A renewal of the order comes at Rs 450 and a one-time wash at Rs 150 of which Rs 40 each goes to the employee.

For every car above the stipulated “minimum”of 12 cars a day, the employees get Rs eight as another incentive. The salary packages have improved (in 2008, the employees’ basic pay was Rs 1,750) but the monthly fee that the customers pay has remained at Rs 450, the proprietors said. The women wash the vehicles – including the interiors – with sponge, sha­mpoo and towels; on the lines of what the customer himself would do at home but could not because he didn’t have the time.

With experience, an employee can finish work on a car in five to 10 minutes. According to Anil Kumar, there are women who earn between Rs 7,000 and Rs 14,000 every month. The women work between 8 am and 4.30 pm on weekdays and wind up early on Saturdays. “We also try to listen to them and address their issues at home. During the school opening months, we provide books and stationery to them apart from food and provision kits during the festivals,” Anil said.

Most of the women in these agencies are from the economically weak sections and are aged between 28 and 50 years. The women who stayed on the job have done well. Lathakumari, who joined the agency in its initial years, has managed to get her elder daughter married. Her second daughter is doing a course in nursing. Sophie, who joined in 2008, has constructed a house and is lining up plans for the education of her two teenage daughters. “My husband’s earnings did not leave us with much as savings. I had never worked anywhere till I joined this agency. This job has helped us secure our lives and it’s equally important that it has given me a new dignity,” she said.

There is the odd customer who brings in different cars through the week and
insists on getting them all washed though the agreement is for cleaning one vehicle. But these are exceptions in a campus that continues to endorse services of the chechis (elder sisters) even after a plush, automated car wash centre opened shop.

According to Pradeep, the business model has worked because it’s an all-women team on the job. “They don’t waste time, take interest in enrolling new customers and make the most of their time here. And more importantly, whatever they earn here reaches their homes,” he said. The proprietors have seen their humble intentions transform into something decidedly more significant. With every new employee moving in, they’ve found themselves getting more involved in their stories; sometimes inspiring, mostly sordid. Now, Well Care is registered as a charity and gives monthly
Rs 3,000 each to two cancer patients apart from scholarships to poor students.

Any plans of expansion? “As they age, some of these women will find doing this difficult. We hope to expand in such a way that they could be accommodated in a housekeeping business. Better, if we could also generate jobs for their
children,” Pradeep said.

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