Tuesday, May 3, 2011


The question: Does poverty make an individual crave the need to acquire stuff. I personally grew up without a lot of stuff and at times my family struggled financially; however, I never felt poor. I always felt like there was something deeper in my DNA that set me apart from feeling impoverished, even when we had nothing. Many times over the years I desired to have nicer things. I strived to get those things and in many cases I did obtain them but something was always missing. So if it is not things what will make us happy once we get what we want and need?

I was cruising through our local mall the other day and I realized that there was absolutely not one thing I wanted or needed. I felt satisfied with that feeling and it made me take stock and ask myself, what do you want? What do you really want? I realized without a doubt that all I really want or need right now concerns my health and its improvement. I was further prompted to visit this question as other’s had answered it for themselves.
Vik Muniz standing next to self portrait

Vik Muniz, famous Brazilian artist came from very meager and humble lower working class beginnings and dreamed of have riches. No one thought he would do it but he did and in a very big way. Once he obtained his fame and wealth, he then realized that there was nothing material that he wanted. In fact, it became clear to him that he wanted less. So he took his money and his God given talent and did something so intrinsically satisfying.
The objective: Changed the lives of other’s through art. Not just art he would make but art that would involve its subject.
The project: Go to the poorest of places, the end of the line for the last honest place to earn a wage, the world’s largest landfill in Rio de Janeiro and meet the pickers. Somehow involve the pickers in a work of art that can be sold at an auction and the proceeds of the sale used to improve their lives.

Who are the pickers: These individuals earn approximately $20.00 per day and work in the filth, heat and disease of waste sorting the recyclable materials from the actual garbage.  They climb through mountains of the nastiest refuse; they dodge methane fires, heavy trucks dumping loads of the unwanted and unknown on top of them. One picker even said that she fell over backwards throwing up when she came across the body of a dead infant.
Why would they put themselves out there and why would they even do it? They choose this work as an alternative to prostitution, drugs or crime. It is a job that puts food on their tables and clothes their children. They are people of integrity that have been born into extreme poverty and most have no education.

Each and every day they make the decision to work an honest job, for a wage that is just barely enough to keep them and their families alive. Many of them take pride in it because they believe the work is honest and they understand the environmental impact they are having by removing recyclable materials from a land-fill that has exceeded reasonable capacity.
The project’s risk: well let’s just say there were so many risks, the biggest being loss of life, money and equipment. Imagine traveling into a place where the element of crime is the law. The poverty and desperation have been abandoned by local law enforcement and crime is not punished but ignored. The attitude is let them kill themselves off. They are the undesirables and are not worthy of protection. The outskirts the landfill is a village of shanties run by gangs so dangerous that the very people that work in this place worry about being robbed by their own neighbors. Worse yet they are often robbed just for sport.

Now imagine a man driving through this place with an entourage of film makers with the goal of giving the right group of people a leg up. The attention that would draw and the risk, is it worth it? Well for Vik Muniz it was because if he could change the life of even one person then his money and fame would give him something that it simply couldn’t buy otherwise. Grace.
What is grace? Every theology has its own definition of grace. To me it is simple, Grace is internal lasting peace. It is a gift that should not be squandered. As humans we strive to obtain that feeling of wellbeing and many believe it can only be achieved once heaven is reached but I am saying that grace can be achieved here on earth and I believe that Vik Muniz felt grace when his project was successful and lives he touched were forever changed.
If you want to know more about this I highly recommend that you watch Wasteland. It is a remarkable film, inspiring and true. The art is amazing as are the lives of the individuals Muniz involved. If you don’t enjoy this five star film, and agree that it was a tremendous feat maybe it is time to take stock and ask yourself, what do you really need?


thingy said...

Pretty amazing. $20 a day seems rather high? Is that correct?

Thanks for the mention, Kristen.

Kristen Haskell said...

Yes that is right but consider that they are not working eight hour days. They are working however long it takes them to collect enough by weight to earn that. Then they have to carry that weight to a recycling area. Where they might actually get robbed or raped or in some cases murdered.

EcoGrrl said...

i love simplicity and driving myself closer and closer to it each day. i know what you mean about walking through stores and realizing there really is nothing i need. often it's nothing that i'm willing to buy because of price, where it's made, lack of sustainability or recyclability, etc., but often it's like, hey i have enough :)

and yes i've heard of this documentary but haven't seen it yet - i wish they would allow that in our dumps, yet i feel people here would be too 'above' it...know what i mean?

Reflections said...

Wow... such an inspirational piece, reminding us to take stock in what is truly important. Do we really need that new top, or do I need two pair of shoes?

Wonderful post!

Myrna R. said...

Kristen what a great post. Thank you for raising my awareness.

The way you describe it, I want grace within me. Like you, there's really nothing material that I lack or need. May you be grace-filled always.

Catfish Tales said...

This post of yours made me ponder and agree that there are things I'm glad to own and would love to have, living in mainstream society. I grew up privileged but ran away and spent my teen years in flop houses and artist colonies. Back then we learned to live, shall I say, creatively...and sometimes 'not too'. It was tough, and I can't say that I really liked it. But I learned a lot and grew up perhaps faster than I really would have wanted.

When I grew older I taught for a living, ending up teaching internationally. My experiences in Russia and China, especially, were rude awakenings for me. China I returned to, noticing how quickly everything had changed since my last teaching assignment. There are so many products for sale on the market there, and so cheaply had for those who can afford to buy them. I spent many of my days when not teaching browsing malls and special market places till I finally became adverse to them all. At one point I thought if I entered another shopping centre full of stuff I'd run out screaming mad. :) And yet poverty persists throughout.

Experiences like these put it all in perspective where one asks, like you have mentioned: 'Do I really want anything more? And, if so, what??'

Thank you for this touching blog. This creative artist you've featured is a lovely man for what he's doing. I'm beginning to recognise the few in this world who stand out, such as he does, as 'earth angels'. They help us remember our humanity.

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