WITH responsibility for developmental projects, Minister within the Ministry of Finance, Bishop Juan Edgill, in a ceremony yesterday, honoured the newly accredited Guyana Total Recyclers Co-operative Society Ltd., as he recalled the journey “from Mandela to Haags Bosch.”
Speaking at the Haags Bosch Sanitary Landfill Site (HBSLS), Eccles, East Bank Demerara, the Minister offered congratulations to the recyclers for “overcoming all of the obstacles and challenges.”
According to Edghill, “We are sitting before a group of people who in Mandela… [were] referred to as ‘junkies.’” He added that a sense of dignity in the work, as well as recognition from the Guyanese public, has seen the GT Recyclers becoming productive members of the labour force operating under “a particular framework.”
In 2007, the Government of Guyana received a US$18.02M loan from the Inter-American Development Bank. This was utilised for the implementation of the Solid Waste Management Programme, which provided sustainable solutions to solid waste management.
According to Project Coordinator Mr. Gordon Gilkes, the Environmental Impact Assessment reflected that the solid waste plan, which would create the HBSLS, saw the “destruction of the activities of a group of persons identified as ‘Waste Pickers’”- acting individually or in small groups.
Recognising the possible implications of the closing of the Mandela dumpsite and having to move to the Haags Bosch site, the ‘waste-pickers’ were reorganised into a unified group with the intention of providing training, equipment and recognition.
The inaugural ‘show all’ event for the soon-to-be-unified GT Recyclers was their participation in the 2014 Mashramani Competition, earning them second place with a float made of recycled materials. More importantly walking away with a grand prize of public awareness.
The group subsequently applied for recognition as a cooperative society through the Ministry of Labour, and on June 30, 2014, were granted their much deserved prize as the Guyana Total Recyclers Co-operative Society Ltd.
“The organised groups were provided with hard-hats, gloves, boots, training in health and safety, medical visits for vaccination and checkups, first aid kits… supply of water for washing and assistance to obtain official documents such as ID cards, passports and birth certificates”, according to Gilkes.
Minister Edghill, stressing the importance of the Recyclers to the creating of a new culture of proper waste management and garbage disposal, urged the group to “become leaders.”
The Minister bemoaned that there is much work to be done in behavioural change, citing clean-up exercises which were conducted by Ministries and other Government Agencies that within a matter of hours, “you could find people dumping indiscriminately.”
“The fact that we are able to overcome the culture… of pulling down each other… [Instead] working with dignity to provide for themselves and their families, and organising themselves into a co-op unit, speaks volumes to what could happen to Guyana as a whole, if our people come together.”
Also speaking at the event was Minister of Local Government and Regional Development, Mr. Norman Whittaker, who stated that the role of the recyclers is often clouded by “negative aspects of the implementation of this project.”
The Minister was commenting on the unwarranted stigmatisation of the recyclers as ‘junkies’. “Despite the social stigma attached to what you do, you make an honest living.”
He charged the group stating that he is better able to appreciate their contribution after he considered the “depth from which you evolved”, he added with much conviction, “Today, your jobs take on a new importance.”
Confirming the recognition of the group was Minister of Labour, Dr. Nanda Gopaul, who expressed the full commitment of his Ministry to ensuring that the GT Recyclers are a success story. He however cautioned that there have been many groups which have registered but have been decommissioned because they had either become defunct or dysfunctional.
He stressed to the group that there is power in numbers, stating, “your efforts collectively will be supported by my Ministry.”
Inter-American Development Bank Country Representative, Ms. Sophie Mackonnen, in her remarks, lauded the work of the GT recyclers as a “significant achievement under the Georgetown Solid Waste Management Programme supported by IDB funding.”
She noted that the group had come a far way since they began as a small action to ensure compliance with IDB social policy. “Measures were taken to ensure that the group would be able to earn at least as much money as they used to, but in an approved safe environment.”
“Public perception of the work that these men and women are doing is important… [And] we have begun to see that they are not only picking waste, they are contributing to society and their own livelihood in a meaningful way,” the IDB representative added.
From the Pan- American Health Organisation, Country Representative Mr. William Adu Krow recognised the GT recyclers as “frontier soldiers.” He noted the possible results that their actions would have on sustainability and good environmental practices.
With oversight in the health sector, the PAHO representative pointed out that “from the health perspective, we are looking at the unsanitary nature of how they went about their business and how things are now.”
With much content in the paradigm shift of the situation, Krow, summing up the shared sentiments by those in the group, noted, “I applaud the IDB for their foresight and all persons and agencies that have played a role.”
(By Derwayne Wills)