Introducing Araminta Romero, 73 year old mother of five and grandmother to seven, recycler and faithful church member. Born in the rural area of Pacho, Cundinamarca in Colombia, Araminta lived her first 6 years of life with her single mother and siblings before being sent to live on the farm of her godparents due to her immediate family’s economic difficulties. At age 12, she was sent to Bogota to work for a family as a housekeeper. At this point, her public education ended and she began what would become a life of private housekeeping. For the first few years, her mother would visit her occasionally and collect the wages that she had earned from housekeeping. Araminta spent her adolescence working for other families in exchange for room and board until at the age of 25, she married and moved out on her own. She continued to work as a day housecleaner, bringing her infant children with her to work and when they were a little older, leaving them under the care of neighbors or each other. After a few years, her husband left Araminta and her children. At the age of 50, Araminta, an avid saver, had saved up enough money to build her own house. She paid for a lot and construction materials in Duitama, Usme and her ex-husband put his construction career to use building the home for his children. At 64, Araminta grew tired of housecleaning and decided to search for an alternative source of income. Her creative alternative was to begin recycling, a job that is looked down upon in Bogota society but very necessary for the functioning of the city.
I accompanied Araminta one day in her work. She rises early on garbage days to begin work, sorting through garbage bags on the sidewalks for any recyclable material and picking up items that neighbors and businesses set aside for her to take away. After several hours of collecting, she returns home to organize the recyclables and load up her wheelbarrow with the materials she will bring to the ‘chatarreria’ or recycling center.
Room in Araminta’s home dedicated to storage and organizing.
Ready to head to the recycling center.
Recycling on the way.
Stopping to chat with other recyclers who have become friends.
By the time we arrive at the recycling center, her wheelbarrow amount has doubled in size.
Weighing in materials
Today Araminta receives $3.60 for all of her materials. On a normal day she can bring in about $1.80 worth or materials but today we brought in double the amount because I helped carry some.
On the return trip home, joyfully continuing to pick up bottles.
Recycling to use for another day.
Despite having grown up without a healthy childhood, Araminta has raised 5 children, all of whom have graduated from high school and one who has graduated from college. She has broken many cycles of exploitation and offered her children and grandchildren better futures. She works for the good of her neighborhood, is involved in her church community and actively doing creative work at the age of 73. She has taught our church community the value of recycling and inspired us to begin recycling as a church community. Despite the stigma that Bogota society holds against recyclers, she works with dignity and joy. Her faith in God and humbleness impacts others.
With the amount of garbage that we create on a daily basis, the contribution made by city recyclers is extremely important to the ecological wellbeing of society.Nevertheless, their value is not recognized – they are neither compensated fairly for their work by the state, nor esteemed by the majority of the urban population. Araminta has taught me to see anew the worth of the ‘dirty jobs’ in our cities ecosystem and to appreciate on a greater level this hard labor. Thank you Araminta for everything you do and who you are!