By Angela Cacciola - “I’d like to formally introduce Margarita – President, Luz de Futuro,” proudly announces Ivette Luna, Policy Development and Political Organizer for Neighbor to Neighbor in Massachusetts, USA. Ivette accompanied a group of MIT students during their two-week trip in January to work on waste management with blueEnergy and the Bluefields municipality. Margarita strides to the front of the crowded auditorium at INATEC school in Bluefields, Nicaragua. Her body language acknowledges no personal insecurities or any potential difference in status between herself, a waste picker at the Bluefields dump, and the students from MIT, blueEnergy international volunteers and local staff, or various workers from the Bluefields municipality and other NGOs.
|Margarita (R) tells the story of her mother,|
"Luz," for whom the new cooperative is named.
Margarita begins strongly, and after introducing the rest of the women who comprise the new organization’s board, she explains the significance of Luz. “The name ‘light’ comes from a colleague of ours who worked many years as a waste picker. She liked to work very much, and she got ahead. This woman, she was my mother. She encouraged me to become a waste picker. Now, I pick up everything I can to resell it. Thanks to this work, I have been able to get ahead too. I’ve been able to have my own house and my children… they study at school. One of my boys is in his first year, and the other is in his second year of high school.” She grins and takes her seat.
Ivette continues, “After observing how hard these women work each day, their vision ‘women working for a better future’ couldn’t be more perfect.” She highlights some of the other values of the organization, which include self-reliance, shared work and profits, better working conditions for working mothers (which they all are), and work training. Her presentation concludes with a synopsis of the students’ hopes for the municipality to enter in a contract with Luz de Futuro for the next five years. Through such an agreement, the municipality would provide the space and equipment (conveyor belt, compactor), materials (recyclables collected from homes), and delivery of recyclables to recycling center where Luz de Futuro would be housed.
|Families working together|
For two weeks in January, the MIT students got to know Margarita and 26 other women who work at the garbage dump in Bluefields. Their work was kicked off by a meeting set up by blueEnergy with Gerardo Bravo, director of the Department of Environment for the municipality of Bluefields. Gerardo stressed the passion of the women waste pickers, who had already started to organize themselves, and who needed to continue doing so for job security. “One morning, there were at least fifteen women waiting for me when I arrived at work, all dressed very well. I thought that maybe I had forgotten about a meeting I had scheduled, and was embarrassed by my own casual clothes. But in fact, there was no meeting scheduled in my day. These women came to me because they wanted to make sure that with the development of the new dump in Bluefields, they would still have access to the garbage they earn a living on.”
After meeting with the women many times at the dumpsite and bringing them to the blueEnergy house where they worked from, the MIT students harnessed their passion to help them formally establish “Luz de Futuro” at the municipal government offices in Bluefields. As an official cooperative, the women now have much greater bargaining power in the public arena. In terms of economic development, they are the first step in the three municipality recycling route MIT professor, Libby McDonald, is working to create with UNDP, blueEnergy, and her students. Recognizing the combined efforts of the MIT students and the local women, Gerardo Bravo stated at the end of the presentation, “It is impossible to just work [in Bluefields] on one problem in isolation. We also have to think about working together. … Today we’re seeing coordination so that our efforts can bear fruitful to this idea of a solid waste management system. I’d like to thank you all in the name of our mayor. I see you as a predominant force in this community that ensures we are going to get closer and closer to our goals.”
|Waste pickers at the Bluefields dump|
For a closer look at the extraordinary conditions the women of Luz de Future currently work under, see the short video, Snapshot of Life in a Nicaraguan Dump Site, by Libby McDonald and Daniel Alegría. Or, for more information on the work being done by Professor Libby McDonald and her students in Nicaragua, visit the blog they are continuing to update Waste Management Strategies in Coastal Nicaragua.