Photo Credit: salvoguille
Picking up a hefty six litros of water from my corner store, I see a sight common to me on the streets of Buenos Aires after dusk. There is a six year old breaking down boxes and sifting through garbage on the sidewalk. She and her family work quietly, going through the street garbage in search of recyclables in order to make money. These “cartoneros” take trains to the Buenos Aires center from at least an hour outside of the city and pile up materials in carts to take back out. Most work during the night–it’s a frenetic pace to get as many goods stuffed into their giant bags as possible. Many men pull hand drawn carts throughout the streets, dodging collectivos and cars. In 2005, La Nacion reported that the cartoneros earn 250 pesos per month, less than $100 U.S.
As people often do with the poor, residents look down and pretend not to see them. It seems in bad taste to look at them or acknowledge the sadness of their work. The cartoneros never ask for anything; they are merely doing their job on the streets. It can be hard to find work in Argentina. The work is dangerous, as who knows what they find as they look through the trash–toxins, needles, glass?
I have felt helpless in my capacity to help the cartoneros or other Argentines living with little money or resources. Perhaps some of the Argentina dwellers (or others) have some ideas how to respond or support area charities? For those outside of Buenos Aires, how do you work to combat poverty in your part of the world? Blog Action Day 2008 provides some ideas on how we can react to poverty and make a difference.
Take a look at this short documentary on the cartoneros’ work: Cartoneros Documentary.