A story of regeneration and empowerment

Picture from cooremm.com

A Reflection by Bro. Francesco D’Aiuto MCCJ

On my arrival in Santa Rita, a town in the hinterland of João Pessoa, I met a great mass of destitute people who survived by selling recyclable materials collected in the streets and dumps of the Marcos Moura neighbourhood. Hundreds of people, families, the so-called catadores (i.e. scavengers), were completely excluded, despised and humiliated as beggars by the general population. The contempt of the people was a reflection of the attitude of local politicians, who only took an interest in the wretched only at election time to buy votes with some little support for basic necessities, and then continued to ignore them with contempt.

The development of a global community of fraternity based on the practice of social friendship on the part of peoples and nations calls for a better kind of politics, one truly at the service of the common good. Sadly, politics today often takes forms that hinder progress towards a different world. (FT 154)

Lack of concern for the vulnerable can hide behind a populism that exploits them demagogically for its own purposes, or a liberalism that serves the economic interests of the powerful. In both cases, it becomes difficult to envisage an open world that makes room for everyone, including the most vulnerable, and shows respect for different cultures. (FT 155)

Reflecting with the community, we decided on an initiative in favour of these impoverished people with three objectives: to restore dignity to the catadores through social and economic inclusion; to improve the environment by making people aware of differentiated waste disposal management; to encourage and demand from the municipal government public policies in favour of the catadores. We began by visiting the families of the catadores, to get to know them and their reality. We held a first meeting in which many people participated, in order to socialize, to get to know each other better and to propose joining together in a collective activity rather than an individual one. For almost three years, we met twice a week to discuss how to organise ourselves, to carry out human and spiritual formation, and to run literacy courses. In one of the first meetings, the unanimous idea of organising ourselves as a cooperative was born. At that time, perhaps no one perceived the prophecy of this idea. A cooperative in Marcos Moura, an insignificant neighbourhood, dominated by drug traffickers, the ghetto of the impoverished, where nothing positive, nothing attractive, nothing good can come of it! Even the choice of name was prophetic: Cooperativa dos Catadores de Reciclagem de Marcos Moura – COOREMM. We also set out to make a difference in the terrible environment of the recyclables trade by creating ethical and transparent business relationships. Above all, we tried to make the population and the public authorities aware of the importance of differentiated waste collection and the implementation of the Solid Waste Environmental Management Plan in the municipality, creating public policies in favour of the catadores and the poor in general. We managed to achieve some results The catadores have regained self-esteem, they are appreciated by the population, they have grown in social and political awareness, they exercise their profession with pride, aware that they are important agents for society; we have obtained the Environmental License that grants us recognition from public authorities; we have set up our Fire Prevention Plan with the approval of the fire brigade; we have participated in several sessions of the Municipal Chamber on the implementation of the Solid Waste Management Plan and we continue to discuss with the mayor the implementation of public policies for the catadores. We are the best equipped and organised cooperative in the State of Paraiba. Every day, before starting work, we spend 30 minutes praying and reflecting on a passage from the Gospel.

Politics too must make room for a tender love of others. “What is tenderness? It is love that draws near and becomes real. A movement that starts from our heart and reaches the eyes, the ears and the hands… Tenderness is the path of choice for the strongest, most courageous men and women”. Amid the daily concerns of political life, “the smallest, the weakest, the poorest should touch our hearts: indeed, they have a ‘right’ to appeal to our heart and soul. They are our brothers and sisters, and as such we must love and care for them”. (FT 194)

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