Cleaning up culture

Cover art Erka Capili Inciong

Words by

Digital Reporter

The elephant in the room is the house help, also called: yayakatulongkasambahay, the list goes on. Not too long ago, the late Pulitzer Prize‑winning journalist Alex Tizon shook the world with his viral Atlantic essaywhere he detailed how his family’s “Lola” entered a lifetime of servitude in order to survive. “In exchange for their labor,” he wrote of slaves, “they might be given food, shelter, and protection.” The essay, a biographical piece which he wrote in the final days of his life, shed light on the Fillipino tradition of hiring house help, whose service can sometimes be returned with harsh conditions. The problem is pervasive. “Even the poor can have utusans or katulongs (‘helpers’) or kasambahays (‘domestics’), as long as there are people even poorer,” he also wrote. “The pool is deep.”

In this day and age, is the practice exposed by Mr. Tizon still in place? While admittedly archaic, it comes in new forms. Yet, with evolving residences come evolving mindsets. Case‑in‑point: many urban professionals, especially young millennials, seek respite in high‑rise condominiums they call home, and whose lifestyle comes with a new set of demands, such as maintaining the cleanliness of their 30‑square‑meter units while they live their lives.

With this in mind, a team of urban professionals took a step forward and decided to disrupt the culture of finding help around the house, specifically in cleaning up.

“We seek to meet the need of condo‑dwellers for on‑demand cleaning services while also providing jobs to unemployed mothers who live in poor communities nearby usually in the shadow of high‑rise condo buildings,” one of the service’s founders, Oskie King, said. “Living in these communities, usually in the shadows of high‑rise condominiums, are mothers who seek additional source income as a means to provide extra support for her family.”

“We want to eradicate the culture of indifference and apathy in our country,” he further said. “We want to be that platform that enables a community where our pool of clients and cleaning ladies are able to make a difference in each other’s lives.”

Mr. King’s jogging buddy Frances Rafio was the one who pitched the idea of a sort of Uber for cleaning services. The two eventually founded the startup aptly called “Cleaning Lady,” which would provide an on‑demand cleaning service to condominium units and even some small offices and houses in Metro Manila.

Art Erka Capili Inciong

Launched in June last year, Cleaning Lady had its initial fund worth ₱500,000 from business incubator and accelerator IdeaSpace when they won its pitch competition last year. The company also received free office space, software support, and mentorship from executives of firms under Hong Kong‑based First Pacific Co. Ltd.

They then tapped cleaning ladies from Gawad Kalinga communities in Brookside, Quezon City and Manggahan Kawayanan, Parañaque City. The 14 ladies they have now have all received training under an agency accredited by TESDA. A number of them hold the agency’s National Certificate for Housekeeping Level 2, including Mr. King, who also joined the training.

At present, Cleaning Lady’s services are available in Makati City, Quezon City, Caloocan City, Pasig, Ortigas, Taguig City, Mandaluyong, San Juan, Manila, Alabang, and Parañaque.

Fees are ₱350 for an hour of service, ₱500 for one and a half hour, and ₱625 for two hours. Users have to pay ₱100 for every 30 minutes exceeding the first two hours. Bookings are done via text message or through the company’s Facebook page and website.

Cleaning Lady also offers add‑on services such as grease trap cleaning and fridge cleaning. Users opting to have cleaning services on a weekly arrangement can also avail themselves of the company’s subscription packages.

According to Mr. King, Cleaning Lady has already recorded more than 2,500 bookings and generated its first million‑peso revenue in less than a year of operation.

“Operations are sustained by our monthly revenues and we are proud to say that we have been sustainable ever since,” he said. “We continue to grow our pool of clients and are now ramping up our recruitment to have more cleaning ladies and meet our targets for 2017.”

More than a startup company, Mr King said that Cleaning Lady is a social enterprise that seeks to bring a social impact by “empowering unemployed women from organized communities.”

“We envision creating a social enterprise that places meaning before money, impact before income, and significance over success,” he said.

According to Mr. King, Cleaning Lady also aims to “bridge the gap between the privileged and the underprivileged by creating meaningful opportunities that foster inclusive growth and sustainable development.”

The company plans to tap more women from organized communities in the country as it expands its operation.

“We believe that our social cause goes beyond the immediate effect on the lives of our cleaning ladies,” he said. “Because with what we do, the effects go multiplied through their children, family, community and country.”

PLDT, Inc. is one of the three Philippine units of First Pacific Co. Ltd. Hastings Holdings, Inc.—a unit of PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund subsidiary MediaQuest Holdings, Inc.—maintains an interest in BusinessWorld through the Philippine Star Group, which it controls.