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Brazil

Day 64: São Paulo

 
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Where there's muck, there's money. With Wilson Quintela as São Paulo's waste is buried behind us.
Michael Palin - BrazilWilson seems genuinely concerned about the social obligations. In an echo of the issues raised by Carolina's soap opera Avenida Brasil, there is, on his hi-tech site, a low-tech facility, run by a co-operative, which provides manual sorting work for some twenty people. Originally this was a job done by the pickers who scavenged the dumps, and rather than put them out of business Wilson acknowledged their contribution by giving them employment, despite it being hopelessly uneconomic to sort by hand. Many of the original, unionized rubbish-pickers have since moved on and the majority of the workforce at Wilson's co-operative shed are from the local jail. They are given a day off their sentence for every day they spend sorting here.

Wilson seems to revel in our curiosity. He's already rung ahead and cancelled his next meeting, giving us two more hours of his precious time, and now he wants to show his pride and joy. It's a very smart, bright, colourful education centre with a rather quaint, old-fashioned working model of the whole waste process. Over 60,000 children have visited and he says they've trained 4,000 teachers. He believes that it's vital for the future that children understand about waste and how to deal with it. And, most importantly for him, how best to make use of it. There is an enormous potential for turning waste into energy. He tells me that what he would really like is a Tyrannosaurus. For a moment I wonder if this could be the latest toy for the Brazilian who has everything, but it turns out to be a huge Finnish machine into which you put your waste and out comes fuel.

Like Embraer, Estre is a Brazilian company that wants to compete with the world. What they share is ambition but also a sense, dare I say, of altruism. What they do and how they do it seems as important as the profits.

São Paulo may seem like a city of Mammon – church towers break the skyline less frequently than anywhere else I've been in Brazil – but the undercurrent of revivalist religion that flows so strongly across the rest of the country has manifestations here as well. Tonight we drive across to the east of town to the bairro of água Rasa where, in a narrow street, we find a steel-fenced modern building belonging to one of Brazil's most successful Evangelical churches, the Assembly of Jesus. Outside, security men cast wary glances as a procession of women, many of them young and apparently on their way back from work, hurry past them and up the stairs into a modern glass-fronted auditorium. A sign outside announces that a Sanctification Congress is in progress organized by tonight's visiting preachers, the Princess Cult.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 64: São Paulo
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: São Paulo
  • Book page no: 271

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