Stories of Change

The women receive their Communities in Action grant.

Taking care of their families by cleaning up their neighborhoods

Fifteen women walk the streets of Villamontes, Bolivia, early in the morning. They spend about five hours each day collecting and separating recyclables from nine neighborhoods in the center of the municipality. Each month they collect about seven tons of plastic, glass and cardboard; that’s an average of more than 450 pounds per day. This program helps the women earn an income for their families.

One of them is Getrudis Plata Oliviera. She’s 46 and a single mother of four children. She was worried about how to support her family, and she was also concerned about the problem of garbage in Villamontes. Getrudis became the leader of the Chañat neighborhood board in 2013. She was among the women who formed a group dedicated to environmental education of residents and getting asphalt on streets. “In 2015, the mayor of Villamontes called the neighborhood councils to see who could do something to address the municipal waste,” Getrudis says. “This group of women organized ourselves to help.”

Getrudis and her team trained 60 women from Villamontes in solid waste recycling. “We saw that we were capable of making it a business,” Getrudis says. “Fifteen of these women continue to collect and separate waste, and now we are entrepreneurs for recycling in Villamontes.” The women convinced the municipality’s regional sub-government to lend them a baler to compress the plastics, and they also got a piece of land in Chañat three years ago for a collection center.

CWS teamed up with the women in 2017. The entrepreneurs applied for a Communities in Action grant, which CWS and our partner CREAS offer to groups like theirs that support families and benefit the common good. Their proposal asked for help improving and strengthening their collection center.

“The biggest problem we faced was the lack of security,” Getrudis says. “We had to take care of the wrapping machine and make sure that strangers did not come in and steal or make a mess of the collected waste. With the help of Communities in Action, we closed the old center, and now we have a safer place where we can work together in peace. This place is like our house—we spend a lot of time here cleaning and selecting waste.”

“We no longer have to take turns standing guard at night,” says vice president of the initiative Silvina Ramos. The women no longer have to worry that someone might get in and cause trouble, nor about one another’s safety and integrity.

CWS and CREAS recognized the innovative work that these women are doing, and we want to help encourage similar initiatives in other cities in the Bolivian Chaco. That’s why the women also got a Communities in Action grant in 2018. This grant is for improving the hygienic conditions in the collection center and for helping the women get a legally-recognized status for the center. This status will help them enter other programs and initiatives.

“Since we have started working, we have seen the amount of garbage in the streets get reduced by 80 percent,” says Getrudis. We are proud to support these women and this program, which helps them support their families and means a healthier, cleaner environment for all their neighbors.