This Women’s Day, We Honor the Women Who Are Transforming Waste to Wonder in Rio Favelas

March 8 is International Women's Day

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This is the ninth article in a year-long partnership with the Behner Stiefel Center for Brazilian Studies at San Diego State University to produce a series of monthly favela-sourced human rights and environmental justice reporting from Rio de Janeiro on RioOnWatch.

On this International Women’s Day, we pay homage to the women of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas that, on top of the work they do at home, also seek to make a difference in the world, promoting sustainability and preservation in the environments that surround them. Here, we’ve chosen to briefly present six women participants in the Working Group on Solid Waste, one of seven groups comprising Rio’s Sustainable Favela Network.*

‘Cris’ Zoraide Gomes — RecyclAction, Prazeres

Cris dos Prazeres, as Zoraide Gomes is popularly known, is a resident of Morro das Prazeres, a favela in Santa Teresa, Central Rio. She is one of the founders of the PROA Group (Prevention Undertaken with Organization and Love) through which she implements the RecyclAction project (ReciclAção). The project began after the 2010 catastrophe in which a landslide triggered in large part by trash accumulated in pockets on the hill killed over 30 people. With the goal of dealing with the build-up of uncollected trash in the area and engaging residents in recycling activities through environmental education, Cris and her partners created RecylAction. Residents deposit recyclable waste in 20 giant ecobags distributed throughout the community, and the material is then sent to the NGO and recycling entity EccoVida, located in Honório Gurgel. The returns are then reinvested in educational programs. Aside from reducing landslide risk and waste, the project also improves residents’ daily health, as areas with garbage accumulated on the street had become breeding grounds for diseases.

Through Grupo PROA, in addition to Cris and her colleagues developing workshops on the reuse of waste (for example, courses on how to transform leftover cooking oil into candles and soap, and coffee capsules into earrings) and conscious consumption of natural resources, recycling, and educational campaigns, they make numerous other initiatives possible in the community, ranging from HPV awareness to computer programming classes.

“If you want an example, you need to be an example. You need to show that you believe so that someone else will believe as well.” — Cris dos Prazeres

Ilaci de Oliveira — Transvida Cooperative, Vila Cruzeiro

Ilaci de Oliveira is a resident of Vila Cruzeiro, in Complexo da Penha, in Rio’s North Zone, and founder-director of the Transvida Cooperative. She has worked in diverse social projects for over 25 years, a life dedicated to the “poorest and most needy in Penha,” she says. Transvida seeks not only to deal with the question of trash in the community and promote socio-environmental awareness, but also to transform the lives of residents through resocialization via income generation from waste collection. The cooperative has already managed to rescue a local square that was covered in garbage, returning it to resident use. Ilaci had the idea to form the cooperative when she saw a group of residents collecting trash in 2011. Since then, she has worked intensively to strengthen members of the cooperative and realize the community’s transformation.

In addition to her work heading Transvida, Ilaci also works with literacy, after-school tutoring, and reading and crafts workshops for children and adolescents who accompanied the waste collectors. It was in this way that, out of her own home, she launched the Home of Dreams National Institute (Instituto Nacional Lar dos Sonhos).

“To mobilize people it’s important to listen to them, map out in the community who shows solidarity, and go to people’s homes to meet them and talk in person.” — Ilaci de Oliveira

Josefa Maria — Verdejar Socioambiental, Serra da Misericórdia

Dona Josefa is an artisan and a volunteer with Verdejar, a socio-environmental organization founded in 1997 to reforest the Serra da Misericórdia, the largest wooded area in Rio’s underserved North Zone, on the edges of the Complexo do Alemão favelas. The organization maintains a garden, holds environmental education workshops, and undertakes audiovisual projects. Dona Josefa holds workshops on how to reclaim cooking oil as soap and make handicrafts from reused materials (see photo above). She is also creating, in her own house, an EcoPoint, which will host workshops, recycling activities, and seedling distribution. The goal is not only to leave the community cleaner and more sustainable, but also to generate income for residents. 

“We see so much material wasted. I don’t see plastic, I don’t see garbage. I see money wasted. Not just for me, but for the other residents. I want to pass along to them that there is a right destination to be given to these materials.” — Dona Josefa

Lidiane Santos — EcoNetwork, City of God

Lidiane Santos is one of the coordinators of the EcoNetwork (EcoRede) project, an initiative of the Alfazendo community-based organization in City of God, in Rio’s West Zone. She has lived in the community since the age of five and, in 2017, received her Biological Sciences degree from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), becoming a teacher. EcoNetwork is a project of Alfazendo, an organization that, since 1998, holds literacy classes, a college entrance exam prep course, and other educational services for the residents of City of God. EcoNetwork, by comparison, focuses on collective solutions through participatory methodologies for environmental challenges faced by the community, seeking to promote health and improved quality of life for residents. This is done through environmental education, communication, continuing education, the professionalization of informal waste collectors, and local development.

In addition to planting gardens in schools, promoting workshops for the creation of playground equipment with recycled material, and nutrition awareness, EcoNetwork also believes in the professionalization of informal waste collectors, which thus includes a training course, information on their rights and access to public services. The EcoNetwork also promotes habit change among residents with regard to discarding waste and the establishment of EcoPoints where proper trash disposal can occur. The EcoNetwork participated in the 2018 Sustainable Favela Network exchanges (click CC for subtitles in English):

The project organizers believe that all of these actions cause residents to value their community, leading them to want to improve their area rather than leave it. Lidiane says that Alfazendo’s mission revolutionized her life, and that the goals of the EcoNetwork allowed her to join elements of her personal and academic training that previously made little sense together because here, she saw an opportunity to be a protagonist in the environmental transformation of the place where she lives.

“We hear so much about protecting the Amazon rainforest, why not try to preserve the place where you live?” — Lidiane Santos

Valdenise Brandão — Comlurb, Maré


Valdenise, or Val, as she is known, is a resident of Belford Roxo, in Rio’s outer Baixada Fluminense, but as a street cleaner for the municipal waste collection utility Comlurb, she works in the favelas of Maré, in Rio de Janeiro’s North Zone. Through her work with Comlurb, she began to engage in social projects in the community, as an official part of her job and then beyond, as a volunteer, such as with sustainable gardens of seedbeds in the public squares where previously there had been irregular dumping of waste, cleaning the Ramos bathing area (Piscinão de Ramos) and with the recycling of objects found in the trash, creating original works in the form of playground equipment, tables, and benches for public spaces. Her experience, creativity and dedication have led to her receiving numerous invitations, including from the press and to present her work in a number of public forums. It even earned her an invitation last year to speak on the topic of urban upgrading to a group of architecture students, the subject she dreams of studying, at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ) in Petrópolis.

As a teenager Val already created, with her friends, pamphlets for awareness-raising on environmental preservation.

“We have to get rid of this idea that we are only working for others. I, for example, also clean the streets for myself [my own well-being]. Garbage has an immense value that not everyone recognizes, not even the government.” — Valdenise Brandão

Vania Nascimento — Lata Doida, Realengo

Vania Nascimento, an artisan and environmental agent, began Lata Doida (Crazy Can) in 2004, together with her children Vandré and Vanielle. Lata Doida is a non-profit association that is also recognized as a Cultural Point in Realengo, in Rio’s West Zone. Lata Doida develops socio-cultural and environmental projects and seeks to occupy areas and transform them into spaces for artistic manifestation, community engagement, sports, and leisure. To this end, the group undertakes music workshops and workshops on how to create musical instruments out of recyclable materials, instruments that are even used in concerts by the Lata Doida band:

While her children focus on the music workshops, Vania gives handicraft workshops to the mothers of the students, produces the backdrops for musical presentations, and paints the instruments. Other activities include workshops on bodily and mental health with waste collectors, and recycling, undertaken through the project Collecting Ideas (Catando Ideias), in partnership with the Armando Palhares Aguinaga Family Health Clinic. In this project, the idea is to promote the recognition of waste collectors as professionals, in addition to holding art workshops dedicated to environmental education and the collection of vegetable oil for the production of soap and subsequent sale to generate income.

“When I woke up to this question of trash—that there is a lot of trash in the street and that this was a problem for my community—I began to pay attention to the collectors as well. At that moment I began to pursue a degree in environmental management and I created [Collecting Ideas], and I began to speak about how important it was for us to clean our community and […] collect waste in the right way.” — Vania Nascimento

*RioOnWatch and the Sustainable Favela Network are projects of Catalytic Communities.

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