The Internship

The organization I work with acts as a consultant for cooperatives in sustainable development that try to implement changes around the waste issue.  Waste is a particularly huge problem in Brazil. Being one of the most unequal countries in the world, the rich produces a lot of waste and looks down on the poor who picks it up and sells it to private companies to make a living, known as catadores. There are different ways municipalities choose to sort their waste and get rid of it. In Sao Paulo, if it weren’t for these cooperatives, there would be no sorting whatsoever. I mean, individuals could sort their waste, but the private companies that pick up the trash would still dump everything in landfills. My organization works with cooperatives that are focusing on sustainable waste management, and to that end, collaborate closely with catadores. Some catadores live and work on landfills. They dive in the piles of trash delivered daily and sell what they can find to recycling companies. The landfills are dangerous workplaces where catadores work without equipment or protection. It is illegal so some municipalities try to eradicate this phenomenon, which usually results in taking work away from catadores. Some have been doing this for generations so criminalizing their livelihood certainly doesn’t help them.

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On my first week here, I got to go on a few trips in the outskirts of the city. On our way to one of the projects, we got lost and had to ask around for directions. Every single person we asked told us not to go there as it was too dangerous. Now, I am unreasonably scared of spiders, but I was thrilled about going to this favela. And there was nothing to be worried about, I met amazing people, we chatted, played games, sang, danced, etc. I am always amazed at how people can do so much with so little. Resources are limited, yet, they organize arts and crafts activities for kids and grown-ups as well as cooking lessons to improve their health and reduce waste. One project made jackfruit “meat” that was absolutely delicious.


Franco Da Rocha

Another project we went to was coming to an end because of lack of funding. This is, unfortunately, a common issue for my organization. This project of waste management was funded by a huge soy producer, which is kinda paradoxical as they are themselves, mega-polluters. The day we went was the final day of the project, so we had a little festa to say goodbye and hope to send them on the right track to continue working on these issues. Everyone talked for a while about the project, shared their own experiences and goals. The woman who runs the soy company shared proudly that she had started recycling in 2017… Some kids involved in the project were there to present a play they put up for the event, and everyone praised them for their involvement, saying that we had to focus on kids as they are the future, and blah blah blah. However when it was time for the play none of these people stayed to watch them. I felt sorry for those kids. They waited and listened to a bunch of people for hours and when it was their time to shine the leaders of their organization just wasn’t bothered to stay and watch their 5 minutes play? Oh, right, they had other things to do like prep the cakes and juices they were about to serve in plastic cups and disposable plates…


Chatting with a catadore – Itaim Paulista

The cooperative we visited in Itaim Paulista is trying to recruit catadores to work with them. By working for the cooperative, catadores get more of a job security, they become part of the workforce which makes their work a little less precarious. We chatted with this man to find out he was 74 years old, had retired many years ago from a bus company but his pension wasn’t enough to cover his basic needs. So he rents this cart from a company in exchange for the waste he finds. 70 reais is what he makes on a good day. On bad days he makes close to nothing. So his average is about 40 reais per day, giving him just under the minimum wage, which is just under 1000 reais, monthly. 6 days a week, from dusk to dawn, going through other people’s trash for the equivalent of 300 USD per month which barely covers rent and bills.

Another interesting project of that cooperative is the introduction of an alternative currency. They want to grow the local economy by giving this alternative currency to individuals bringing their sorted waste to the cooperative. This money can then be used to buy local products and pay for services in the neighborhood.


Poetry at the cooperative – Itaim Paulista

These trips are all so interesting and teach me a lot about the work of an NGO and also about the country I am in and its people. Everyone is so kind, so helpful. On the way to a project, the other intern and I were waiting for one of the staff from my organization at a metro station. We waited for about 30 minutes when we asked security if there was any other gate where she could be waiting for us. After confirming that we were at the right place he started asking us our names, where we came from, what we did here and for how long. Very chatty guy. He said he could call her on the interphone and we politely said it was unnecessary but he did it anyways. He called our coworker on the interphone in the whole Batanda Station. Everyone around started looking at us. I felt like a lost child at a mall! If this is not above and beyond customer service, I don’t know what is!


Author: Sustainable Serendipity

I am an international development student currently doing an internship in sustainable development in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I want to contribute to making the change we need to make this world a better place, as cheezy as it sounds, but feel an eternal conflict between what I believe in and all the things that I like that are what is wrong with the world. In this blog, I will share the different alternatives I come across to keep enjoying the things I am used to but in a way that doesn't harm the environment nor increases inequalities.

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