The Transvida Recycling Cooperative and Kids’ Home of Dreams: Transformed Lives in Rio de Janeiro’s Favela of Vila Cruzeiro [PROFILE]

Sustainable Favela Network* Profile

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This is the latest in a series of profiles of initiatives in Rio’s Sustainable Favela Network.

Initiative: Cooperativa Transvida (Transvida Cooperative) 
Year Founded: 2011
Community: Vila Cruzeiro, Complexo da Penha
Mission: Create a source of income for informal waste pickers and their families, and to promote environmental awareness, especially around waste treatment within the community.
How to Support: Donations of recyclable materials or funds particularly now during Covid-19 crisis

Initiative: Instituto Nacional Lar dos Sonhos (Home of Dreams National Institute)
Year Founded: 2014
Community: Vila Cruzeiro, Complexo da Penha
Mission: Provide fun and educational after-school activities for children and adolescents in the community and to raise awareness about the importance of school.
How to Support: Donations and sponsorship (financial support for a child linked to a supporter).

When crossing the streets of the Rio de Janeiro neighborhood of Vila Cruzeiro, in Complexo da Penha, in the city’s North Zone, Ilaci Oliveira Luiz does not go unnoticed. Known by everyone, she never misses an opportunity to greet her neighbors and ask about news. “Before I even knew what a social educator was, I was already looking for something better for my community,” says Oliveira, explaining how her engagement began. Originally from Complexo da Penha, Oliveira has been working as a social educator for over 25 years with different community projects, all dedicated to the “poorest and most vulnerable people of Penha.”

Cooperativa Transvida Promotes Recycling and Environmental Awareness

In 2011, then engaged in various projects through her church, Oliveira saw a group of residents picking through trash in the community in search of recyclable material. Looking for a way to help them, she ended up proposing: “Guys, don’t you want to form a cooperative?” That was how she met Ana Lucia Rozeno da Paz.

Originally from Rocinha, located in Rio’s South Zone, Rozeno moved to Complexo da Penha when she married her husband 25 years ago. However, after her husband lost his job, they had no choice but to go to work collecting recyclables to support their families. “In the beginning, nobody knew anything. We only knew how to separate the trash and assess the value of the different types of material,” says Rozeno. “In fact, the only things we were missing were organization and administration.” Thanks to Oliveira’s volunteer help in developing the administrative side of the organization, the Transvida Recycling Cooperative was able to begin its journey, with four volunteers and approximately 20 waste pickers.

At first, the collectors did not have a place to store what they collected. However, in 2014, managers of the Lagarfe cement company, which owned an abandoned and overgrown block on Moreira de Abreu Street in Vila Cruzeiro, decided to give the space to the Transvida Cooperative to use after seeing the work of the waste pickers in the local area. Now that they can store waste material, they’re able to collect and separate all recyclable waste. At the end of each month, all the material is collected by one of the group’s waste pickers who owns a truck. He then takes everything to be sold at the Rio Recycling Center (CRR). This process is known as a “joint sale” and the amount of the sale is divided between the Transvida members.

With the strength of their arms alone, the Transvida waste pickers do “an excellent job,” Rozena emphasizes. Although it is not enough profit to provide a regular salary, the initiative helps several families who are otherwise relying on the federal Bolsa Familia cash transfer and basic food aid provided by local churches. Most of the recyclables collected by Transvida comes from the community itself, but the cooperative nevertheless regularly participates in the CCS Recycling Project—part of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro’s (UFRJ) Recycling Program—which puts out a public notice every six months to select which cooperatives and collectors’ associations will receive recyclable waste from Ilha do Fundão, where UFRJ is located.

Thanks to valuable materials such as copper—pulled from waste received by the UFRJ program—each Transvida collector can earn up to R$500 (US$100) per month. “These are wealthy times, these are rich times,” jokes Oliveira. But, due to the lack of storage infrastructure, materials like cardboard end up losing value in the rainy season. “In summer, it’s no better. It’s hard to work in the sun,” Rozena explains.

But she insists that, despite it being a tiring job, “people are learning how to sort waste, learning how to take care of the environment.” Residents talk to one another about the positive results of the cooperative’s work, and “this is opening minds in our community,” concludes Rozena. So, in addition to bringing in income for waste pickers and their families, Transvida promotes environmental awareness, especially in relation to waste treatment within the community.

Lar dos Sonhos Rescues Childhoods

“I was elected president [of Cooperativa Transvida],” says Oliveira. Today, she no longer wants to be president, insisting that Rozena, who is vice-president, should take up the position with the other volunteers. “I just wanted to give it a push. They no longer need my help. Now I really want to be with the children.” The children she refers to are the children of the Instituto Nacional Lar dos Sonhos (The Home of Dreams National Institute) project. In 2014, “I saw five, six kids working in the dump alongside the waste pickers,” she says. Wanting to do something to intervene, Oliveira eventually invited some of the children to her house to teach them how to read and write.

Today, she supports more than 60 children and adolescents in Vila Cruzeiro at Lar dos Sonhos. “Home of Dreams. We call it that because so many children here have no house in the true sense of the meaning of a home. Many live in shacks.” The initiative runs from Monday to Friday from 10:00 to 12:30 for children aged 4 to 6 years old and from 14:30 to 16:30 for children aged 9 to 14 years. The morning shift is supported by volunteer Márcia Nogueira and the afternoon by psycho-educator Renata Correa.

Through this project, Oliveira strives to provide children with “an experience of childhood that they never had because of their very hard life.” Home of Dreams is funded solely through donations and sponsorship (when a donor sponsors a specific child). Donations and sponsorship provide food, toys, and clothing for children.

Every day after school, Oliveira offers literacy, tutoring, reading, and craft workshops for children and adolescents. Activities are chosen according to the wishes and needs of the young people who attend the center. Oliveira shared the example of a 15-year-old girl who was illiterate. “She thought she would never learn to read.” But today, thanks to one-to-one work at the Home of Dreams, she is reading. “This is actually a basic support service that all children should be able to access,” explains Oliveira.

Oliveira also encourages children to attend school: “Children who are part of the project have to go to school.” But the Institute does not only work with children. Oliveira also seeks to raise awareness among parents about the importance of sending children to school. “The main thing is not to leave the children unaccompanied, spending time in the street without attending school or Home of Dreams.” According to Oliveira, this engagement keeps children away from drug trafficking: “I even attend schools in the community to see what is being taught and to connect with the teachers.” Oliveira also welcomes young mothers to discuss contraceptive methods.

Recently, Oliveira has created, with the help of a psychologist, a music project dedicated to the girls and adolescents of Home of Dreams. “Let’s get the girls playing drums, they have to get their anger out on the cans.” Motivated and hardworking, Oliveira is always looking for something better for her community.

*Cooperativa Transvida and Instituto Nacional Lar dos Sonhos are two of over 100 community projects mapped by Catalytic Communities (CatComm), the organization that publishes RioOnWatch, as part of our parallel ‘Sustainable Favela Network‘ program launched in 2017 to recognize, support, strengthen, and expand on the sustainable qualities and community movements inherent to Rio de Janeiro’s favela communities. Check out all the profiles of mapped projects here.