Last week disappeared very quickly in a kaleidoscope of visits to all manner of extraordinary places outside the city. The first visit was to La Vallol where went to visit a ‘Barrios de Pie’ home building project. Except there were no building materials and so no work was actually going on. Apparently the money/materials from the government had not arrived, so empty shells of half built houses lay dormant. The Barrios de Pie (step up barrios) are an organization of 1 million people across Argentina who work in solidarity with one another as workers collectives. This was one branch of the Buenos Aires group that was engaged in building 180 low cost houses. We understand that they also have branches which deal with cleaning the rivers of garbage as well as creating the building materials. Furthermore within their network they have the skills to create a hotpress. Certainly some of the houses they were building had some elements which could have been replaced with our plastic composite – especially the wooden ceilings which seemed quite expensive. This internal network of making the press, creating the panels and selling them to their own people to make building from seems to have a high potential for useful implementation of our material in production, helping clean the waste whilst providing an extra source of income. We need to learn more about this organization.
Every time we leave the city we travel through the most incredible deprivation, the villas miseries or shantytowns. Houses are basic constructions made of blocks and tin roofs and many of these areas have no electricity or water and sewage services. 100,000 live off waste in the province of Buenos Aires and many of the cartoneros travel from these areas into the centre of town to collect the city’s detritus.
We had a small detour at the end of the week – to the Sentido Commun – in a small town rather worryingly called Malvinas. We had got into discussion with a very friendly man who was selling organic mate in the street outside our apartment in San Telmo. Not having seen very much organic food here in Argentina I was intrigued and we learnt about the network of communities all over the world including Canada and England who lived the same way, in a community of people who cared for and lived by organic farming. Our friend was very happy to hear about our project and thought that it would be a welcome addition to their work. We were invited to come and stay a couple of weeks ago but had not had time so when another meeting was cancelled we got on the bus/train/bus and found Malvinas. Once again we were truly lost but eventually the police decided they knew the place. By this time we were a little nervous about what we were about to find. We finally called them and they came to find us and turned out to be the most amazing hosts we have ever had. They insisted on us staying overnight – asking children to vacate beds for us. They fed us lovingly made food, showered us with presents and took us around their farm, a bicycle tour to see their plans for a café in town, and shared with us their Friday festivities. It was, as might be expected, a religious community, somewhere between Christianity, Judaism and the Quakers. Women were subservient to men and demonstrated this with headscarves worn at dinner. Despite the obvious clashes with our beliefs, these people did seem to be truly harmonious and gentle. They had really shown us what it was to welcome strangers that they knew nothing about. We don’t know if the materials process will be useful to them, but they certainly had people with the right skills, much natural fibre and plastic waste in the nearby town, with many willing and creative sons to start the ball rolling. Who knows what seeds will be sown where.
A visit to Maria Virginia of Abuela Naturaleza on Saturday, proved to be extremely useful. She is an incredible ‘entrepreneur’ who has decided to spend her life working with waste recycling. She has been involved with this for 20 years, many years before the excitement about global warming. She teaches children in schools and fetes using puppets and other creative techniques about recycling and has at one time been involved with a cartoneros cooperative. What she is doing right now, however, is providing a huge source of information and encouragement about recycling whilst making herself a living. She has organized her local community to separate products that can be recycled and goes around in a van to collect it. Although her van is at the moment being mended, she still receives visits from her neighbors with their deposits of recycling. Virginia has found a market for practically everything she collects and showed us the huge number of items, all separated with the help of local workers that she employs. This is the most organized collection of recycled goods I have ever seen. Furthermore she receives for most items about 1.5 pesos per kilo. Not much, but when you consider that the cartoneros receive about 20 cents per kilo for much of their produce, sold to agents who may sell it directly overseas, we learnt that here was someone who had found a way to actually recycle material and make a decent living. She hopes to pass on her knowledge to cartoneros groups in the future. We also learnt about those materials that she cannot at the moment find a market for. These are a range of items made from plastic, cotton and cardboard, ideal for processing with our hotpress into composites. She even suggested a possible product for the materials.