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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Osasco

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.

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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…

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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.

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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!

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Landed in Brazil

I am an International Development and Latin American and Caribean studies student, and I am spending the summer of my second year as an intern at an NGO in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I’d like to think that I have been selected because of my GPA, or the fact that I have been studying Portuguese for two years, or even for my well-written motivation letter, but I’m afraid the truth is that I was the only applicant for the position. To be completely honest, I’ve wanted to go to Brazil for a very long time, but never would I have chosen Sao Paulo among the dreamingly exotic destinations of the country. In some ways, I understand that Sao Paulo, a concrete jungle and the business capital of the region, wasn’t too popular with my fellow students. Yet, I am thankful to have been sent here as I think I might have skipped the city should I had been here solely for travel purposes. And that would have been a mistake because it is a wonderful place that has a lot to offer. I will try to share my experiences in the city through this blog, kind of as a way of remembering all of it as well as to avoid telling the same stories over and over again.

 

Vila Madalena

 

Bixiga

I have been warned by every single Brazilian I met back in Toronto about how dangerous Brazil is. I’ve been told not to wear any jewelry or slightly revealing clothes, not to walk alone after sunset, not to talk to strangers, and so on. But I’ve already done all of that and haven’t felt threatened once. Of course, I am careful. It surely isn’t as safe as Toronto, or Tokyo, but it really isn’t as bad as they say. Brazilians wear revealing clothes and jewelry and handbags, and considering that the sun goes down at 6:30, I’ve walked home alone after dark many times. But I  wouldn’t with my laptop in my backpack, I hide my phone when I don’t need it for directions, and I keep my cards and my money in different places. Just in case.

Cafe Jardin Plantas e Flores


When I made it to the hostel, I was surprised at how very few non-Brazilians there were. Unless someone was hiding in a dorm, we were only two. And on the first night, I was the only female in the place. Few years of living in Japan made me wonder if I had just checked in in a male-only hostel, but the puzzled look on the face of the receptionist when I asked him made me realized that it is not a thing here.


I found an affordable apartment in less than 24 hours thanks to the help of my organization who put me in touch with my landlady, Donna Leila. At first, I was told that she had a shared apartment that had a spot available. I had no problem with sharing an apartment but then she said I also had to share a room. I lived for about 5 months in an apartment in which I had to share a room when I was in Australia. And as it wasn’t a pleasant experience, I wasn’t sure I was ready to do that again. It was so cheap though, I thought that if the place was big and really nice, maybe I could do it..? But then I found out that I had to share with three other people. My room. Share my room with three girls. How many people could live in that apartment? Twelve. Twelve people live in that place. And although I was sure they were all lovely people, I was definitely not ready to live in an apartment that has two bathrooms and TWELVE PEOPLE. When she saw my hesitation she told me about another apartment she had. They call it a kitchenette, it is the equivalent of a bachelor, and it was right across the street from that first place. I went to see it and it was cute and affordable and even had a balcony and the kitchen was good enough to do some cooking and I just told her I was taking it and was to move the next day. So on day 3, I moved to Santa Cecilia, a lovely and safe neighborhood less than a kilometer away from work. The best about it; I don’t have to share it! Donna Leila is a lovely and rather chatty woman and she has been very helpful from the day we met. It’s a very modest apartment but it is perfect for my current position of unpaid intern in Brazil.

View of my neighborhood, Santa-Cecilia

Paróquia Santa-Cecilia

My first few days in the country were absolutely fantastic. From the moment I landed, I met amazing people. My Uber driver from the airport went on and on about how his passion for cars and driving brought him to be a full-time Uber driver. Whenever I ask directions, people engage in conversations and ask me where I am from, what I’m doing or how I like Brazil. People I have never met have let me use their phones or connect to their wifi. People go above and beyond to help and are really receptive to my very basic Portuguese skills.