The 30 members of her cooperative—and others, including me—are lucky to know her and find inspiration from her strength. Guiomar was a waste picker before waste picking was first recognized as a profession in Brazil in 2002. Since then, she—along with other waste pickers and their cooperatives—have faced several challenges to keep their operations up and running.
I met Guiomar when we worked together in the National Movement of Waste Pickers (MNCR), a political organization in Brazil. Guiomar, along with many other waste pickers I came to know, cured me of my myopia.
They helped me understand that the invisibility waste pickers face is part of the same mechanism that maintains social inequalities—and needs to be transformed.
According to the MNCR, there are more than 800,000 waste pickers in Brazil, only 1 per cent of whom work under the auspices of formalized cooperatives or associations. Most work informally, individually, and face serious risks to their physical and mental health while trying to survive, including some while being homeless.
Pimp My Carroça is another very important organization in Brazil and other Latin America countries, as it uses art as an instrument to amplify the voices of thousands of independent waste pickers.
The artist Mundano—incredulous at the invisibility of waste workers—approached them to see if he could help them be seen.
Using bright, bold graffiti, he painted messages chosen by the waste pickers to bring greater awareness of social inequalities and their link to environmental issues.
With this and other initiatives, waste pickers in South America are increasingly becoming known as the ‘true heroes’ of recycling. Without them, there would be far less material recycled than there is now.
The initiative has quickly gained prominence. Pimp My Carroça holds festivals when waste pickers from around São Paulo gather to get support from a network of health professionals (ophthalmologists, doctors, psychologists) and other caregivers (masseuses, hairdressers), while graffiti artists and mechanics renovate and repair their carts. This celebrated event is now being replicated in many parts of the region.
In 2014, Pimp My Carroça developed an app (Cataki) that connects waste pickers with customers.
People hire a specific waste picker, working in geographical proximity, to pick-up their recyclable materials. The initiative has been a very positive solution that addresses the challenges of truly including these workers in society—especially in Latin America, Asia, and Africa.
Echoing Guiomar’s words “My dream is to never stop dreaming” I can only hope that it reminds us of our ability to create and achieve a more just, environmentally-conscious, and egalitarian society.