Cleaning to make a difference

INCLEAN speaks to MADCOW Cleaning manager Maree Shay to find out how the small business is changing the lives of many Karen (Karenni) refugees in the Bendigo area.

MADCOW Cleaning is an initiative formed by Bendigo Baptist Community Care Inc. that not only provides a professional cleaning service to those in the Bendigo community, but is also changing the lives of many Karen (Karenni) refugees in the local area.

INCLEAN assistant editor Lizzie Hunter spoke to MADCOW cleaning manager Maree Shay to find out how the small business came to be and why cleaning is having such an impact on peoples’ lives.

MADCOW Cleaning staff

Formerly known as Eleven41 Cleaning Enterprise, MADCOW Cleaning (Make A Difference, Change Our World) was established in 2011 following a successful fundraising initiative to raise money for Karen refugees in the Bendigo area.

“Instead of running a campaign each year that only lasts a day, we decided to create an initiative that would provide ongoing hope, support and opportunity for the Karen people in the community,” explained Shay.

“After consultation with the local Karen people, Bendigo Baptist Community Care felt that establishing an ongoing business that could provide employment and training would be the best possible use of the funds raised for the Karen people in the community.”

For the past six years, MADCOW Cleaning has provided a professional cleaning service to the domestic and commercial market in Bendigo, while at the same time, providing employment opportunities for Karen refugees so they can support their families.

“We started with three Karen refugees and now employ about 15,” said Shay. “In total, we’ve put about 40 Karen refugees through our training. Some of them have remained with us and some of them have moved on to other jobs out in the community.”

While MADCOW Cleaning does employ other members in the community who face significant barriers to employment, it primarily targets Karen refugees to help them connect and interact with the Bendigo community.

“Karen refugees come to Australia on a permanent residency visa which entitles them to stay indefinitely. Compulsory hours at TAFE are a condition of them being granted entry into Australia.

“Once they complete their TAFE classes, some don’t necessarily have the confidence to go out and get a job. Many Karen refugees become very isolated; they stay at home and find it hard to interact with others.

“By employing Karen refugees, MADCOW Cleaning has helped people develop their skills and confidence to be able to progress onto other jobs out in the community. Sometimes it is simply about helping them unlock what they can actually do.”

MADCOW staff are employed on a full-time, part-time or casual basis. All cleaners have a Certificate 2 or Certificate 3 in Cleaning Operations or equivalent.

“We do on the job training every month and have a group training session which includes having dinner together. It’s a bit of a refresher course, but the focus is always on team building and improving staff communication skills.”

MADCOW services both domestic and commercial clients, offering house and carpet cleaning services, tile and grout cleaning, exit cleaning and window cleaning.

“We chose to create a cleaning business because that’s what we do well, the purpose of the organisation is to teach Karen people how to function out in the world; how to work with others here in Australia. We want to instil hope in these people to help them become better at what they do and be a more active member of the community.”

Shay believes there is a lot of learning involved for both employer and employee when establishing a business such as MADCOW Cleaning but the benefits are often two-fold.

“At the very start, there was lots of conversation around setting up the business, like how to find the right employees, deciding what equipment to use. Everything is new at the start, and as with any culture, it takes time to understand each other.

“But I think when you can help people find their place in the community and build a strong relationship with them, then everything falls into place.”

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