Jardim Gramacho. Have you heard of it? It lies on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. You know, the place with the famous statue of Jesus, arms outstretched, facing south, overlooking the city. Only Jardim Gramacho lies behind iconic statue, to the north. And it’s one of the world’s largest garbage dumps, receiving over 7,000 tons of garbage every single day.
Jardim Gramacho is also the home to over 13,000 people; a community of scavengers completely dependent upon the heap of garbage. A community of people who, during economic crises of the 70s and 80s, survived by scavenging for and selling scrap metal and recyclable materials that could be sold. Because of their efforts, because of this community removes 200 tons of recyclable materials daily, the life of this landfill has been extended and it has maintained one of the highest recycling rates for a landfill in the world.
The problem, for the 13,000 people who call Jardim Gramacho their home, and who are completely dependent upon the trade of scavenging sellable materials, is that the landfill is scheduled to close in 2012. Their home is scheduled to be shut down. The place that provides a standard of living—however humble it may be—for a group of completely unskilled laborers, is closing its doors.
This is why the name Vik Muniz is a name you should know; a name worth remembering. Vik Muniz is a visual artist from New York City and, along with the people of Jardim Gramacho, is the subject of the documentary Waste Land. Aware of the plight of the scavenging community on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, Muniz decided to use his art, his own trade, as well as the help of the community, in a way that would benefit an entire group of people. So Muniz went to Jardim Gramacho. He met the community. He interacted with the people, learned their stories, built relationships, and then recruited them into his project and allowed them to help him create something wonderful: very large-scale portraits of those whose stories he was learning, made from the very garbage with which they worked.
Now you should know that there isn’t any large-scale push to keep Jardim Gramacho open; at least not that I’m aware of. But there is a large-scale push to provide for those whose lives have depended so heavily on the dump. A push to raise awareness and support of this community and to provide training in skills that will allow them to function in a changing society.
So when Vik Muniz finished his portraits, he photographed their creations and took them to auction where he not only raised great awareness of the situation at hand, but gave all earnings to the cause of those whose stories he tells. Gave all the money made from the art he created to better the lives of a group of people he had beforehand never met. As he says, “What I really want to do is to be able to change the lives of a group of people with the same material that they deal with every day.”
That, gentlemen, is a cause worth celebrating. It’s simply the story of a man that decided to use his talent, his natural gifts, to make the world a better place. To bring hope to the world around him. That is true grit.
And that is something that each and every one of us have the opportunity to do each and every day. We may not be able to make enormous portraits out of garbage, but we do each have gifts that we are able to offer those in our community. We each have the opportunity to better the world around us in some way, however unique it may be. What is your talent? What is the gift you have to offer the world? To make it a better place? Will you do so?
Learn more about Vik Muniz and his project by visiting http://www.wastelandmovie.com/index.html.
Or watch the Waste Land documentary on Netflix.