Brazil. Catadores. A path of dignity

The waste pickers in Marco Moura on the outskirts of Santa Rita, a city in the state of Paraiba, in the northeast of Brazil. A story of redemption that shows the way to hope, shared by a Comboni community living there.

Marcos Moura is one of the poorest and most violent areas of the city of Santa Rita, where the criminal gang leader known as ‘Al-Qaeda’, controls the drug trade. The district is home to about 40,000 inhabitants, 80 percent of whom live in miserable conditions. Everything is precarious there, the schools, health, trade … a forgotten neighborhood! Marcos Moura’s inhabitants have been deprived of everything, even of dignity. A barrio where people are discarded as if they were trash, as Pope Francis would say. In the absence of alternatives, many families of this barrio earn a meager living by sieving through rubbish and collecting, sorting and selling it. This way, catadores or waste pickers, can provide their kids with food.

A decade ago, the Comboni missionaries started to help the trash collectors to form a recycling cooperative, the Cooremm. Four years ago, the missionaries decided to move to the Marcos Moura barrio and share the trash collectors’ life and challenges.
A few years ago, the Comboni community launched the Projeto Legal, where about 120 children in difficult conditions are given two meals a day, and a place of recreation. The missionaries also opened the Casina Felice (Small Happy Home), a play centre for children.

The catadores, very often marginalized and forced to survive by collecting garbage, have decided to share an experience of love and solidarity with the Comboni missionaries. 
Today, the catadores are respected people for their commitment to hard work. The uniform they wear symbolizes an organized group which prevents recyclable materials from ending up in landfills, protects natural resources from use in production, and offers solutions to environmental problems. The catadores of the cooperative lead a dignified life now, and are aware of being citizens with rights and duties like anybody else.

This a community characterized by great faith and hope for the future, which is made of strong and capable entrepreneurs who are using their own initiative to improve the world they live in. The Brazilian Catadores are a success story which shows how discarded people have been able to indicate the way to hope. The hope for a new life, for the certainty of tomorrow, for their daily bread. The Brazilian Catadores make us feel brothers, more human and more in the image of God.